Does My Dog Need Vaccines Every Year?
Because of the controversy surrounding the danger of vaccinations, some poorly informed dog owners have decided to skip vaccinations altogether. Having seen many of the diseases that we are able to vaccinate against, I can tell you that this is a poor decision and one that your dog may pay for the rest of her life, even it is a short and painful one.
But which vaccines does your dog need?
Distemper is not seen much anymore in the US because it is avoided by an excellent vaccine; it protects against a disease all of us used to be worried about. (Before vaccinations this was the number one cause of death in dogs.)
There never was an effective cure for distemper and all we could do was support the dog and perhaps she would live. Dogs that managed to live usually had neurological symptoms afterwards and might be affected by a Parkinson’s-like twitch, a failure to thrive, an inability to move around, and even an inability to lift a leg like a dog and urinate on a tree!
Seeing a dog pee on himself and then fall over for the effort is really sad when you know that it could have been prevented.
Parvo is another disease that we are now able to prevent with vaccinations. When the parvovirus first appeared I remember most of the cages of the clinic filled with dogs suffering from bloody diarrhea and having little chance to live. Although there are some strains still resistant, most dogs will be protected and the vaccine is well worth giving.
Rabies is a disease that was once common and is now so rare that most of us never worry about it; a lot of younger veterinarians have never even seen it. Before the advent of rabies vaccinations dogs had horrible reputations and many people were afraid to take a dog into the house for fear that she may eventually turn into a biter and cause the death of family members.
When the vaccines were developed laws were passed mandating their use in dogs. Since this disease is still a problem in wild animals, the vaccine program needs to continue to keep our dogs safe and the owners free from worry.
(If your dog is allergic to vaccines, however, talk to your veterinarian about obtaining a "free pass" so that he does not require the vaccine.)
Infectious canine hepatitis and parainfluenza are also commonly vaccinated against at the same time as distemper and parvo. The multi-valent vaccine sold almost everywhere already contains these antigens so your puppy will have additional protection. If your veterinarian uses a vaccine with only distemper and parvo virus, and is not vaccinating against these diseases, it is no cause of alarm.
Lyme disease vaccination is probably not for everyone but may be worthwhile for dogs living in affected areas. Some dogs that are affected do not even show symptoms until it is late in the disease and damage is already done. This vaccine is so ineffective though that a lot of veterinarians will not even recommend it.
Periodontal disease can be decreased (but not prevented) by a new vaccine. It prevents some of the bacteria that cause bone loss in your dog´s mouth. Having your dog vaccinated does not give you an excuse from taking care of her teeth, however.
The bordetella vaccine, which is being marketed as a “kennel cough” vaccine, may not prevent the disease but will prevent some types from getting worse. There are a lot of other bugs involved, and unless she is exposed through boarding and grooming, this is not even a vaccine you need to put on your puppies list.
Are Annual Vaccinations Necessary?
Although I am sure you need to vaccinate your puppies, are annual vaccinations for your adult dog even necessary? Probably not, and since all vaccinations have potential side effects (like allergic reactions and immune-mediated hemolytic anemia) you need to ask yourself if your friend is in more danger from the vaccine or the disease. The best way to decide whether or not to get vaccine boosters is to check the levels of antibody in the dog´s serum but it is expensive and may not even provide an accurate picture. (There are cells in the body that can become active when stimulated by the virus and become active in producing antibodies.) If you do not take your dog to a groomer or boarder that requires vaccinations every year you can get by testing every three or four years, and then vaccinate only is she needs it. If your veterinarian tells you he wants you to vaccinate every year (like with the “wellness plan” where the costs of the vaccines are covered but serum titer levels are not) it is up to you to protect the health of your dog by refusing the boosters.
Distemper is one of those diseases that are effectively prevented by vaccinations. The protection probably lasts at least seven years, maybe as much as fifteen. Parvo is another one of those diseases that your adult dog will probably never get if vaccinated properly as a puppy. If you choose to vaccinate your dog for Lyme disease you have to give it every year, and bordetella needs to be bolstered every six months when administered intra-nasally.
Personally I would recommend puppy vaccinations up to 16 weeks and then boosters at your dog's fourth birthday, eighth birthday, and twelfth birthday. I make this recommendation because I am semi-retired and have no financial motivation to urge you to any sort of activity. There is a lot of controversy out there but I am sure that vaccines last at least three years so there is no need to put a dog under unnecessary stress.
In an area like that in which I live, where testing the serum for antibody levels is not even an option, a vaccination every four years is all I give my dog. Even rabies vaccinations can be given every three years and still be effective and legal in most areas. (You have to check your local laws to see if this is acceptable. Even though they are effective some places do not allow three year rabies vaccinations.) I might even get by on vaccinating a lot less but my dog does not have any health problems that would contraindicate vaccinations (like autoimmune diseases). If she develops vaccine allergies or any other diseases I will not vaccinate her as I would not accept the risk.
I do not mind providing this coverage for her and hope you take care of your dog. She thanks you for your concern every day!