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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!


Tuesday 5th of January 2016

1) there are titers for rabies just supper expensive . Even if the animal has the rabbies vaccine u can still get rabbies. And even more redicules is if u ( human) get rabbies , getting the medication for it is expensive and can be 2) vaccinesz is a relatively new consept being administered by scientist who don't fully understand the human body Let allone the immune system . It wont be until generations have passed before we trully understandhow vaccines interact with the human body. Furthermore we test to the best of our ability. All humans are genetically different and its inpossible to properly test vaccines ( aka human study group would need the same diet, environmental conditions and would be illigal ). So if one test group showed a rare problem it might be difficult to replicate. i dont have any problems with the viral part of vaccines. Its the preservatives and other crap. Some vaccines even had mercury in them. Now we want to apply vaccines to dogs when there is less research and with the weird belief that we need to give boosteres every year?!?! The only booster humans get every years is the flue shot and thats due to the flue virus changing every year. Im still for vaccines but I believe people shoul always have a healthy skepticism when anyonebe it a vet or doctor tells them something. ;)

Renchan Li

Monday 28th of March 2016

I am afraid that a veterinarian or a human doctor won't feel happy when detecting my "a healthy skepticism". One experienced ophothalmologist had directly told me that I were questioning his expertise after my polite question about my eye condition in late 2015. I might not have a pleasant manner, but I seem to feel that many doctors are quite proud of their expertise and won't easily take "a healthy skepticism".

Are You Overprotecting your Dog with Yearly Vaccines? | TBN Ranch

Friday 3rd of August 2012

[...] That Mutt  [] Ask Dr. Shawn Titer Test Your Pet New Guidelines Addressed [...]


Thursday 15th of March 2012

Oh...and regarding 'dog medication'...I simply meant what a particular medication is used for in a dog and the dosing and reactions or side effects a dog can get from them. Obviously a lot of the actual medications used in humans and animals are the same. :)

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 24th of March 2012

Yep, makes sense!


Thursday 15th of March 2012

As a pharmacist I'm certainly no expert on dog medication and I don't expect the dog's body to react exactly like a humans. However...once again, as a Pharmacist, I have no problems with vaccines. The benefit of vaccines outweigh the risks associated for most people. Obviously not to those with allergies but in other situations, the potential risk is outweighed by the benefit from a vaccine.

Of course, we shouldn't over-vaccinate but really, I would rather over-vaccinate than under-vaccinate. There's a lot of conjecture over the dangers of vaccines but the benefits of vaccines are PROVEN. Certain diseases (in the human world) have been wiped out due to the availability of vaccines. As far as the whole autism and vaccines thing which is really what spurred the flurry of fear behind human vaccines, there is a LOT of controversy over that and the study that discovered the link has largely been discredited. In fact, the study itself was pulled from the journal it was published in which it was published in which says a lot about its credibility. That, coupled with the fact that the study has never been able to be replicated and its results repeated, really makes the autism-vaccine link a weak connection.

Really, the biggest actual concern to have with vaccines would be allergies. But here's the thing...if your animal doesn't have an allergy to vaccine, there is no concern there. Just like I don't have any concern eating a peanut-butter jelly sandwich because I have no allergy to peanuts even though many, many people out there do. For some reason that logic is lost when it comes to things like vaccines. Of course allergies can develop...just because you're not allergic to something doesn't mean you can't become allergic to it but luckily vaccines for pets are usually administered in a vet's office where they have the means to help your pet if he/she does develop an allergic reaction.

I think it's important to further investigate the dangers of vaccines but just like we take medications that can have side effects, it's really about weighing the pros vs. the cons. Sometimes we get to focused on the cons without realizing that they're trivial compared to the benefit we get.

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 24th of March 2012

Thanks again for your thoughtful comment, Star. I'm not worried about my dog having an allergic reaction to a vaccine. I am, however, worried about the *potential* side effects such as cancer. I don't want to give my dog more vaccines than necessary.


Saturday 3rd of March 2012

Over-Vaccinated Animals, Autism and SIDS" is an interesting article that talks about vaccines linked to delayed vaccine associated anaphylatic shock in humans and animals.