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Are too many vaccinations bad for adult dogs?

Note: Thank you to Jana Rade over at My Dog’s Symptoms for sharing these tips. Vaccination recommendations and requirements vary depending on location. Do your own research and ask plenty of questions.

If you’re anything like me, the topic of vaccination for adult dogs gives you a terrible headache. The range of conflicting opinions out there is not helping.

While there are still veterinarians who insist on annual boosters, the general consensus is that we should vaccinate less.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who believe dogs should not be vaccinated at all.

All we owners want is to keep our dogs safe. Safe from dangerous infectious diseases, and safe from negative health consequences of vaccinating too much. There is a downside to each of the extremes.

For adult dogs, how much vaccinating is too much and how little is too little?

Vaccinations and adult dogs - Rottweilers sniffing in a field
“That’s why we vaccinate for lepto.” – The dogs’ vet 🙂

Before we can make any decisions regarding vaccinating our dogs, we need to understand what vaccines are out there.

I am going to stick to the basics.

The most important vaccine, and also legally required, is the rabies vaccine. We all have an idea that rabies is a deadly disease to both dogs and humans. With rabies you’re pretty much stuck with whatever legislation is applicable to you.

Generally the law might indicate either annual boosters or a booster every three years. We are lucky to have 3-year booster legislation up here in Ontario.

The main headache is the combo vaccine which contains the three core vaccines: parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus.

These infections are most dangerous for puppies but your adult dog could get very sick also. There is an ongoing debate about whether or not, after initial puppy vaccinations, dogs have immunity for life or how long the immunity lasts.

The conclusion is that it certainly lasts longer than one year!

Here is what the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) says about that: “Following initial puppy vaccinations, revaccination is recommended at intervals of every 3 years or longer.”

The AAHA clearly indicates the minimum interval but leaves the other end open. So how does one determine what the “longer” stands for?

I love my dogs very much and I want what’s best for them. The problem is that what is best for them is sometimes very hard to determine. I chose the approach that I believe is the safest and covers all the bases as well as presently possible.

We decided to titer. Both Jasmine and JD’s titers in the past two years showed sufficient immunity and no need to booster.

What the heck is a titer for dogs?

A titer is a blood test that measures concentration of specific antibodies.

While there are disagreements regarding titers also, the bottom line is this:

  • vaccines are meant to teach the body to recognize and to react to a certain antigen/infection and make antibodies against it. Antibodies are a specialized army to fight a specific infection.
  • titers look at the blood to determine whether a particular army is present.

So as long as the army is there, there is no reason to recruit another one, right?

Even if your dog has specific antibodies, that does not mean she can’t get sick. Sometimes the army just might not be strong enough and might require ally support.

And if your dog does not have those antibodies present in the blood, it does not mean she will get sick. Her body might have filed away the information about the infection and might be able to recruit the army at a drop of a hat when she does get infected.

Titering is the best tool we presently have to determine whether or not the dog needs to get a booster.

As long as the antibodies are there, vaccination is not going to improve anything.

All this really applies to the core combo vaccine above only (for parvo, distemper and adenovirus).

Although it may be possible to titer for rabies, whether or not it would legally be accepted as a replacement for the vaccine is another story depending on where you live. Legislation in this regard is strict.

There are some exceptions possible, but make sure you know what the laws are if a biting incident were to occur.

What about non-core vaccines like bordetella?

There are also many non-core vaccines. Some might make sense for you to consider and some will not.

The bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine is often mandatory if you are boarding your dog or if you take him to a doggy daycare facility.

If your dog spends a lot of time in places with a lot of dogs such as dog parks, you might considering this vaccine. We did have a kennel cough outbreak in our dog park a couple years ago.

If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, particularly in the woods or on farmland, you might want to think about vaccinating against leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can infect both dogs and people, and it can be quite nasty also.

It is spread in the environment through urine of infected animals. Your dog can get exposed through drinking, walking through or swimming in contaminated water.

Our guys are very outdoorsy dogs and we make the decision to vaccinate against leptospirosis.

There is a vaccine for lyme disease also. I wouldn’t consider it unless your live in an area highly infested with ticks, particularly if your area has high incidence of lyme disease.

These three are bacterial infections, and the immunity from these vaccines does not last very long. Annual boosters are recommended in these cases.

Of course there are way more vaccines available – 14 total! It is a judgement call. I prefer to vaccinate as little as possible. There is growing documentation showing that vaccines do have the potential to cause serious side effects, both short and long term.

Hopefully one day soon we’ll know what is best. The bottom line with vaccines though remains—less is more.

Further reading:

Vaccinations for your dog: A complex issue

Titers: What they are and how they can help protect your pet

Puppies and vaccinations – when to walk

Are you concerned you are over-vaccinating your pet?

Let us know in the comments!

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