Vaccination Guidelines for Dogs (2017 Protocol)
Why Are Vaccine Protocols so Highly Debated?
For decades, the veterinary community in the United States has been struggling with vaccination protocols for dogs. The continuous problem is that researchers just don't know enough about the canine immune system to establish specific protocols for that species. Another issue is that some dogs have adverse reactions to some vaccines, ranging from soreness or inflammation at the injection site, to more serious consequences such as breathing difficulties or seizures. The possibility of such side effects is influencing pet owners' decisions regarding vaccination.
The more serious reactions are uncommon but they do happen, and the internet and social media have become repositories for vaccination horror stories. Similar to the horror stories of pet food killing pets, almost all of the vaccination horror stories have no basis in fact or are largely exaggerated. Many people end up believing that vaccinations are bad just as they believe commercial pet food is bad.
Vaccines Remain the Most Cost-Effective Tool Against Infectious Disease
Add the disdain and distrust many hold for “big pharma," and we’ve arrived at a time when more and more pet owners are questioning the need for vaccinations. In the rush to condemn vaccinations, it seems that many pet owners have lost sight of the fact that vaccination remains the safest and most cost-effective tool against many infectious diseases.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the organization that accredits veterinary hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, has established guidelines regarding vaccination recommendations. The guidelines were created in 2017 by the AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines Task Force. As stated on the AAHA website:
“ . . . the Task Force includes individuals with extensive experience in primary care practice, academia, shelter medicine, public health, and veterinary law related to clinical practice.”
Why Follow Vaccination Guidelines?
The emphasis is on the word "guidelines," recognizing that a number of factors contribute to an individual dog’s vaccination recommendations. It’s a living, online document, subject to updates as new information becomes available, that serves as an educational resource for veterinarians and pet owners. While only about 15 percent of veterinary hospitals are accredited (accreditation is not a requirement in the U.S, as it is in hospitals for humans), most veterinarians will follow the American Animal Hospital Association’s 2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines.
Created by five expert veterinarians and 18 contributing reviewers, the guidelines, which underwent a formal external review process, are a combination of clinical experience and scientific evidence. As has been the case for decades, there are core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are recommended for every dog; non-core vaccines are recommended for dogs at risk for contracting specific diseases or viruses.
What Are the Core Vaccines?
The core vaccines include rabies (which, by law, must be administered by a licensed veterinarian and is required by law in all 50 states), distemper, adenovirus-2, parvovirus, and parainfluenza, with the latter four usually given in a single combination shot. Beyond that, the recommendations diverge.
For instance, in my home state of Massachusetts, Lyme disease is relatively common, therefore, that vaccine might easily be considered core whereas it wouldn't be considered core in Montana, where the disease is uncommon. Then, there are the factors peculiar to your individual situation.
Your veterinarian will do a little sleuthing to determine the specific vaccination recommendation for your dog. Do you bring your dog to dog parks, day care centers, or groomers? Does your dog compete in shows, swim in freshwater lakes, or do you live on converted farmland?
There are many factors, some quite obscure, that would put your dog at risk of contracting certain diseases. Your vet probably wouldn’t think of all of them, either. So, AAHA came up with a resource for veterinarians called the Lifestyle-Based Vaccine Calculator.
The calculator "thinks" of things you and your veterinarian might not think of. Here are a few examples:
- Does the dog walk or lay on soil where wildlife or livestock could have urinated?
- Does he drink from freshwater rivers, lakes, or puddles?
- Does he spend time in a yard currently or previously used by livestock?
- Does he spend time in an environment with a high population of wild rats?
Does My Dog Need Booster Shots?
What about booster shots? Most vaccinations only require a booster every three years, but each dog’s immunity is as individual as he is. You might consider having titers performed. These are blood tests that measure the amount of antibody response the dog has to specific diseases.
You have to also keep in mind that no test is absolutely accurate. Therefore, most vets will recommend routinely vaccinating for specific diseases that may be common in a specific geographic area. Vaccines, such as for Lyme disease in Massachusetts, may be considered core in a specific area.
The 2017 Guidelines also address some special situations:
- Dogs with an unknown or out of date vaccination history. Recommendations for core and non-core vaccinations are offered.
- Shelter dogs. These animals are at a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases that can be prevented by vaccination. A section in the guidelines deals with shelter dogs and those in long-term shelter situations.
- Antibody testing. There’s a section in the guidelines that deals with indications for testing and also suggestions for follow-up based on positive or negative results. Knowing antibody status is important for dogs currently in chemotherapy, dogs on drugs that suppress the immune system, dogs that have previously reacted adversely to vaccination, and dogs with an unknown vaccination history or that are overdue for vaccination.
Contrary to what Dr. Google may say, serious vaccine reactions are rare and the AAHA holds the position that the risk of contracting a dangerous disease by not vaccinating a dog outweighs the potential for vaccination side effects.
American Animal Hospital Association
- 2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2018 Bob Bamberg