I’ve been planning a post about vaccines and pets for over two years now, ever since Cricket had her latest reaction to a DHPP shot. It was one of many mild, not life threatening but concerning, reactions to different vaccines over the years. Since there is a lot to cover on this subject, I decided to break it down into a series over the next few weeks. For this first part I want to give you background on Cricket’s reactions, and other reasons questions arose for me concerning vaccinations.
First of all, I want to make one thing clear: I am not against vaccinating your pets. I will be sharing our experiences, as well as information I have learned through research and from our own veterinarian. My intent is only to share information that might be important for pet families to know. You should always consult your own trusted vet when it comes to the care and safety of your own pets’ health.
From the time we had our first dog, we had them vaccinated at our vet’s recommendation yearly. The only vaccination that we did as a 3 year was the rabies, per the requirements by our state. We had done the same with our cats in more recent years. Many years ago, I took in my childhood cat from my parents. The only time Concha had been to a vet in all her years (she was probably around 12 when I took her), had been when she was spayed after having several litters of kittens. Concha was a stray that we kids had talked my Dad into letting us keep, and my parents really weren’t financially able to take her to the vet yearly. At the time I took her I really didn’t see the need to take her to the vet either (bear in mind this was about 25 years ago).
In the early 1990’s there was a big rabies scare in our area, and rabies clinics popped up everywhere. We felt we would be neglectful to not take our cats and have them vaccinated. Our other cats visited the vet more regularly, but we felt Concha should have that vaccine and took her to a clinic. By then she was 18 years old but very healthy. If memory serves me correctly, it was about 3 weeks later that she went into kidney failure and we had to have her put down. I’ve always questioned our decision to get her that vaccine. Was it just a coincidence? Most likely, but I still have my doubts and have never forgotten that.
However, we still kept our pets vaccinated over the subsequent years. Once the cats became indoor cats, we did find out they needed fewer vaccines, which is an added benefit and savings to having indoor cats.
There was never an issue with these vaccines for either cats or dogs until our beagle Cricket came along. When Cricket got her first round of shots as a puppy, I don’t remember any issues. The next year when she got what included rabies, Lyme, and DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza and parvovirus), initially she was fine. But within 24 hours afterwards she was lying on the bed refusing to move, and yelped when I tried to touch her. We immediately called the vet but were reassured this sometimes happens, and to keep an eye on her. She was better within a couple of days. When it came time for her next round of shots the following year, of course we had a discussion about this. Our vet felt there was a good chance that she reacted to the “L”, Leptospirosis, in the DHLPP, because that is the one that most commonly gets reactions. So that was removed, making that vaccine into a three year instead of yearly (when they add the “L” it has to be given yearly, otherwise it can be a 3 year vaccine).
I don’t remember exactly how it went after that, but I do remember there was another time she was lame again, and after that we started splitting up the vaccines. Honestly, I’m not sure we ever hit on exactly which one was bothering her, but we thought it was either the rabies or Lyme (initially she had those at the same time and I think that was when she was lame again). We did not think that the DHPP was responsible, so when she had that two years ago we were surprised at what happened. This time she was scratching herself non-stop just a few hours after that vaccine. Of course I was on the phone with our vet again immediately, and we gave her Benadryl and were instructed to watch for swelling or breathing difficulties. It took two doses of that to finally get her to stop scratching and fall asleep. That was when my research began. Last year the only shot she was due for was Lyme, and we skipped that. This year she was due for her rabies (which is required by our state every 3 years), and there was no way she was getting that shot without a big discussion about it with our vet. My feeling is that she possibly reacts to something else in the vaccines. The allergic reaction especially scared me, even though it wasn’t extreme, I know that in people sometimes the next reaction can be worse and life threatening.
Once I had done my initial research two years ago, I knew when we took our golden retrievers Sheba and Moses for their yearly exams, that we wanted to switch them to a three year vaccine schedule as well. Those two plus Kobi had been getting yearly vaccines with no issues, but I had learned that might not be necessary. They were to be given a DHPP that year, without the L (which could be given separately if needed, but is not highly recommended in our area). Moses had lost some weight at that point, but he had been a bit overweight so our vet was not concerned. He had the shots he was due for – DHPP and Lyme. Three weeks later Moses was diagnosed with cancer, and went for surgery to hopefully remove it. The cancer was too far spread, and there was nothing to be done. We chose not to have him revived. Do I think that the vaccines caused the cancer? No, not at all, I think he already had the cancer; but I do suspect that having those vaccines might have accelerated it.
I feel like I’m probably leaving you with more questions than answers, but I felt it was important to illustrate why I’ve had so many questions. There’s a lot of media these days about human vaccinations, and I don’t want you to think that I’m just buying into some of that hype and applying it to my pets. I hope you’ll come back to read more of what I have found out in my quest for information, and where we are going from here.
Have any of your pets ever had reactions to vaccines?