Vaccines: the big, the bad, the ever changing topic. There’s enough information to write about this for a whole week, but for now I’m going to keep it to a few posts. This week, I’m doing a 2 part series on dog vaccinations. Today, I’m going to summarize the most current vaccine recommendations for canines.
Tomorrow, I’ll share some of the tidbits I got at the Western Veterinary Conference that give us some additional insight about how to use these to optimum benefit. Here’s to our dogs’ health!
Reacting to Reactions
One of the most terrifying experiences of my early career involves a vaccine. I was administering a distemper vaccination to a one year old poodle with no history of vaccine reactions.
“Since this is a smaller dog,” I said to the owner, “I’d like to wait to do rabies for another couple of weeks. I know this is an added visit for you, but I like to minimize the risk of vaccine reactions.” She agreed.
I gave the dog her vaccine, then went into the back area to get some heartworm medication. The technician followed me out. “Poor thing,” she said. “She’s so nervous.”
I went back in and watched the puppy start to drool. “Oh, she gets motion sickness,” said the owner. I lifted her gums, observing their slightly pale color.
“I’d like to take her into the back,” I said to the owner, who was just starting to realize my concern. “I think she’s having a reaction.”
Then she fell over. About 4 minutes after giving the vaccine, the dog was entering anaphylactic shock.
“Ah ha!” the vaccine naysayers are now saying to themselves. “I knew vaccines were a bad idea.” Hold on there, partner.
Vaccine reactions, while not uncommon, are not ubiquitous either. An uncomfortable and scary but temporary swelling of the face is the most common reaction. Life threatening shock symptoms are much less common, thank goodness. I have seen two in my career, and I’ve given a lot of vaccines. (Both did just fine with treatment, thank goodness.)
In contrast, how many distemper cases have I seen? About 10. How many parvo cases? I’ve lost count.
Vaccines are NOT one size fits all
Vaccines, when done properly, are a lifesaver. Too much of a good thing and you have an allergic reaction. Too little, and you have a horrible disease. The art of disease prevention is figuring out what your pet needs, and how often.
So what, exactly, does your dog need?
That’s the thing. I don’t know. I don’t know you or your dog well enough to say. Vaccines in companion animals are NOT a one-size fits all approach, and anyone who says otherwise is really off the mark with where this field is going. Your vet should discuss the risk factors for your pet based on age, lifestyle, geography, and health, and make recommendations based on that.
So how do I choose what is right for us?
I use the American Animal Hospital Association guidelines to help guide clients and their dogs. I find their recommendations to be the most current. The latest guidelines are summarized here, though there will be an updated version out this year. If you want the long version, it’s here.
Here is the down and dirty:
1. Core vaccines: Barring medical problems, all dogs should have these
- DAP (distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus)
This is the “standard” 3-way puppy vaccine most people are familiar with. Give at 3-4 week intervals to puppies until at least 16 weeks of age, though the newest recommendation is to give it to 18-20 weeks in shelter dogs where the exact date of birth is unknown. Boost one year later, then every 3 years.
The requirements vary by region, but generally speaking is given at 3-6 months of age, one year later, and then at 1 to 3 year intervals.
2. Non-core: Dogs with sufficient risk should have these
This is the “kennel cough” vaccine, though it doesn’t cover all the causative pathogens. The intranasal vaccine is preferable to the injectable in efficacy. In low risk populations, yearly is sufficient, though those that board frequently may consider getting it every 6 months.
A rather nasty kidney bug that is potentially transmissible to you. For those who elect to vaccinate, it’s a two vaccine series to start, followed by yearly boosters.
Although it is recommended in area where Lyme is endemic, its efficacy is a great source of debate. Tick prevention is still the number one way to prevent Lyme disease. The initial series is a set of two, followed by yearly boosters.
3. The ‘Maybe’ pile- Vaccines that are newer in the field.
- Canine influenza, porphyromonas, and rattlesnake vaccine fall into this category. I’m not against these, but owners should be aware of the limitations and ask their vet what the likely benefit is to their own dog.
- I expect the upcoming 2011 guidelines will have some updated information on these now that they have been out for a bit.
Anything not on this list, I don’t bother with.