While it’s necessary to protect dogs and cats from infectious diseases, mainstream veterinary medicine has perhaps gone too far the other way when it comes to vaccinations.
Millions of animals receive vaccinations for a multitude of diseases they’d probably never contract anyhow. They’re also re-vaccinated far too often. The result is a host of health problems that are sometimes even worse than the disease the animal is being protected from in the first place. Reactions to over-vaccination can range from fever, stiffness and sore joints to seizures and nervous system disorders, liver and kidney problems, vaccine site sarcomas, and a variety of autoimmune issues.
Finding a happy medium
So what’s the solution? How do you protect your animal from infectious diseases while minimizing the risk of vaccine reactions?
Here’s the best plan of action:
- Only give your dog or cat the core vaccines (see below); in other words, those that protect against diseases with a high mortality rate and wide distribution area.
- Avoid annual boosters. Most vaccines have duration of immunity ranging seven to nine years, which means your animal’s initial shots are enough to protect him for most of his life! Only have your animal revaccinated when titer tests indicate it’s necessary (more on titers below).
The core vaccines
Canine distemper (CDV) – Attacks the respiratory, GI and central nervous systems; pups up to six months most susceptible.
Canine parvovirus-2 (CPV-2) — Very contagious; attacks intestinal tract, causing vomiting, diarrhea, fever, dehydration and often death; mortality rates can reach 100% in pups under one year.
Canine adenovirus-2 (CAV-2) — A respiratory infection that produces tracheal and bronchial inflammation; associated with kennel cough.
Feline panleukopenia or parvovirus (FPV) – Attacks and destroys growing cells in intestine, blood and nervous system; can be fatal in kittens up to six months.
Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) – Most common URI in cats; very contagious, spread by direct contact, sneezing and contaminated surfaces; kittens often die from the disease.
Feline calicivirus (FCV) – Another common URI in felines; spread by direct and indirect contact; the younger the cat, the more severe the disease; can cause chronic gingivitis.
Dogs and cats
Rabies (RV) – Infects central nervous system, causing encephalitis and death
When should core vaccines be administered?
“The core vaccines should be given three to four weeks apart, starting kittens ideally at eight weeks of age, and puppies at nine weeks,” says veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds. “There are two doses. If the vaccines are given a week earlier to start, then three doses may be needed to overcome interference of residual maternal immunity.” Either way, this is followed by a booster at one year of age.
Dr. Dodds suggests the following vaccine protocol for puppies and kittens:
Age of puppy Vaccine type
9-10 weeks Distemper virus + Parvovirus, MLV
14 weeks Distemper virus + Parvovirus, MLV
20 weeks or older, or by law Rabies, killed 3-year, 3-4 wks apart fr. other vaccines
1 year Distemper virus + Parvovirus, MLV
1 year Rabies, as above
Age of kitten Vaccine type
8 weeks Panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, trivalent killed or Recombinant MLV
12 weeks Panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, trivalent killed vaccine or Recombinant MLV
20 weeks or older, or by law Rabies, killed 3-year product, give 3-4 weeks apart from any other vaccine
1 year Panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, trivalent killed vaccine or Recombinant MLV
1 year Rabies, as above
Homeopathy can help minimize or prevent potential side effects when giving core vaccines to young animals. “You can use Thuja for general vaccinations, Lyssin for the rabies vaccine, and Ledum, given at the time of the rabies vaccination,” says Dr. Dodds.
Duration of immunity and titers
Because core vaccines have been demonstrated to have a much longer duration of immunity than conventionally thought, annual boosters are unnecessary. The best way to determine if your animal needs his vaccincations updated is by antibody titers, which are available for all the core vaccines. “Any veterinarian can do titers today, because all major reference labs now offer them,” says Dr. Dodds. “It’s too costly to titer for all diseases, however, so it is only necessary to run them for the clinically significant, more common diseases — that is, distemper and parvovirus for dogs, and panleukopenia for cats – to assess immune competence of the animal.” It’s recommended that these titers be performed every three years.
What about nosodes?
Nosodes are not as widely available as titer tests, although some homeopaths and naturopaths offer them.
Nosodes are homeopathic remedies that are prepared from diseased substances. They are sometimes regarded as “oral vaccines” since their purpose is to homeopathically immunize the body against disease. They are sometimes used in place of conventional vaccines in cases where the animal had a previous bad reaction to a vaccination, or has a health condition that makes vaccination inadvisable.
However, the jury is still out on whether or not nosodes can really take the place of vaccinations. “There’s no good evidence that nosodes protect against serious infectious diseases,” says Dr. Dodds. “In fact, the one parvovirus nosode trial conducted some years ago by Drs. Ron Schultz and Susan Wynn did not adequately protect dogs from parvovirus. So I would not recommend relying upon nosodes for protection.
“On a positive note, however, there’s a large body of anecdotal evidence from veterinarians, allied health professionals, and the public at large – who use homeopathic nosodes against various infectious disease agents – indicating that their animals have kept healthy. These are not animals that are secluded and would be unlikely to be exposed to infectious diseases. Nevertheless, these reports do not scientifically prove that the nosode worked.”
The rabies issue
Unlike the other core vaccines, rabies is required by law throughout most of North America, primarily because rabies is a fatal disease that can be transmitted to humans. Like it or not, your dog or cat must get a rabies booster either every one or three years, depending on the type of vaccine your vet uses.
The good news is that a new study has recently got underway to challenge this legislation. Spear-headed by Dr. Dodds, Kris Christine, and Dr. Ron Schultz of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, the Rabies Challenge Fund aims to demonstrate that the duration of immunity of rabies vaccines is five to seven years, and that more frequent vaccinations are unnecessary. Find out more at www.rabieschallengefund.org.
Should small dogs receive half-dose vaccines? Find out here.