If you missed Part 1 in this series you can read that be clicking on the title: Questioning Pet Vaccinations (Part 1 – Why I Questioned)
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.
When I started doing my research on vaccinations two years ago, the first piece of information I turned up was that many veterinarians (especially holistic) and researchers believe that we are over-vaccinating our pets. The days of annual vaccinations should be long gone, yet there are still many veterinarians that stick to that practice, including my own.
Until we had those issues with Cricket that I wrote about in Part 1, and I started questioning things, that was what we did. It was my vet’s standard practice to vaccinate yearly with DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis-also known as adenovirus and may show up as an A in some combos, Leptospirosis, parvovirus, parainfluenza) and Lyme. Rabies is every three years as required by our state (after an initial one year booster). When Cricket had her first reaction at a year old – lethargy for two days and yelping when I tried to touch her- the first thing our vet did was to remove the L from that vaccine, and that made it into a 3 year vaccine. Yet we still did the yearly version for the other dogs, and never had an issue with any of them.
Many will say that the reason vets still do this, even though the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) revised their guidelines in 2003, is to make money, or to be sure you visit them yearly. I do not think that is the case with my vet. He believed that the Lepto was necessary, and I just don’t think he was up to date enough on protocols to consider that the L could be given separately. When we did finally ask to separate vaccines, he was mostly concerned at the inconvenience to us to have to come back for multiple visits.
What I really discovered through all of this is that we have to be advocates for our own pets. Even if we trust our own vets, they are not experts on everything! Humans have to advocate for their own health as well – I don’t blindly trust everything my medical doctor tells me either. As much as we’d like to think that medicine is an exact science, and they have all of the answers, it is not. I experienced plenty of that when going through a migraine diagnosis and treatment. I had to do my own research to help myself in conjunction with a doctor’s care. If my doctor tells me I should have a flu shot, and I don’t agree, I don’t get one. So why wouldn’t I do the same thing for my pets?
Not everyone has the time or inclination to spend hours researching this subject on the internet. I never would have if it hadn’t been for Cricket’s reactions. That’s why I’m writing this series and I want to share with you what some of the safest practices might be when it comes to vaccines (and hope that you use this information in conjunction with advice from your own vet).
I believe what I have learned, that we are over-vaccinating our pets. What many people don’t realize is that vaccines can contain ingredients like aluminum, mercury, and formaldehyde. Even if your pet never has a reaction to a vaccine (and in truth reactions are not common), why would you want that going into your dog any more than necessary? This is what my research has turned up that we should be doing:
1. Your pets need to be vaccinated and puppy shots are important. But at what point is enough enough? Many of the vaccines humans receive are good for years, or for life. It stands to reason the same is true with pets. After the puppy shots and boosters at one year old, your dog should only need three year boosters for DHPP and Rabies (unless your state rabies requirement is different, I believe it is three years in most states).
But even that may not be necessary for their whole lives. There is evidence that these vaccines can last up to 5 to 7 years. Some holistic vets suggest not vaccinating at all after 1 year old, but I’m not sure I would go quite that far personally. You also have the option of “titer” tests – which are blood tests that check the levels of antibodies and immunity to those diseases. However, some vets question the accuracy of these tests, so I will be covering that in a subsequent post.
2. You should split up the vaccines by 2-4 weeks. If your dog is due for both DHPP and Rabies in the same year, don’t do them all at once. In full disclosure, we did not split up Luke’s vaccines this year. We split up all of his puppy vaccines though. The only reason we didn’t was because of his fear of strangers – it was challenge enough actually getting him those shots, and I wanted it over with all at once. If we decide to get him the Lyme this year that will be at a different time, and the same if we were getting him Lepto. I don’t think we’ll be doing either of those anyway.
3. Combo shots are not a good idea. Everything I read indicated that anything above a 4 way combo is bad – there are even some up to 6 or 7! The first 3 in the 4 way combo are the only ones, along with rabies, that are considered “core” (necessary) vaccines everywhere. Any others should be considered individually. Some people choose to even split up the 4, and get individuals, and that certainly can’t hurt, but we haven’t done that ourselves.
4. Vaccinations should only be given to healthy dogs! That’s why they should be the last thing your vet does at your appointment. Everything else should be checked first. Not only might the vaccine distract your pet’s immune system from important work, the vaccines also might not work as well. Our vet was great about this, when Luke was a puppy he was sick a couple of times and that was what slowed down his vaccination schedule. They would not vaccinate him when he was sick.
5. Even if your pet is not due for vaccinations, you should take them for yearly vet visits for a wellness check, and some even recommend twice per year for senior pets. When we took Cricket this year, with no vaccinations, her wellness check only cost us $39! Our vet found she had a heart murmur, and even though it is only mildly concerning right now, he wants to recheck her in 4-6 months. If it worsens, she may need medication, and we would never have known about this unless she developed a cough from it.
The most important thing I learned is to ask questions. Our vet didn’t offer much of this information to us, but when I asked he was happy to answer. We haven’t agreed on everything, but he respects our decisions. If you have a vet who won’t answer your questions, or pushes his own agenda when you disagree, you might want to consider finding a new one.
In subsequent posts I plan to cover the following topics:
- Antibody/titer blood tests
- Lyme, Leptospirosis, and Bordetella vaccines
- Vaccinating cats
Do you rely on and trust your own vet to make the right decisions for your pets?
I got some of my information from this book, which was recommended to me by a Facebook friend when Cricket had her last issue. Click here to be taken to the website if you are interested in purchasing your own copy. It explains vaccines very well in layman’s terms that are easy to understand.