At pawcurious, we’re both saddened and bemused when scrolling through the clickbait pseudoscience of “natural pet advice” websites.
We decided, initially, to post a Top Five List of some of the just plain bad advice commonly dispensed by people with no formal education in veterinary medicine, science, or critical thinking. But after getting through just one, I was so exhausted by cutting through the garbage caked on like tartar on the teeth of dog who’s had nothing but anesthesia-free dentals that I had to take a break.
One of the cardinal rules of pseudoscience: it reduces complicated realities to oversimplified half-truths. It’s fine if what’s at stake is whether or not you patronize Subway, but in this case we are talking about dogs dying of preventable disease due to dangerous advice from someone who can’t be bothered to pick up a science book (Then read it. And comprehend it).
So let’s start with this one snippet of “wisdom”, pulled from an article on the internet, where everyone’s an expert and no one’s accountable.
“It only takes ONE vaccine to protect a puppy for life”
According to veterinary vaccine researcher Dr Jean Dodds, only 30% of puppies will be protected from a vaccine given at 6 weeks of age: yet 100% of them will be exposed to disease when taken to the vet clinic for that shot.
Moreover, vaccines create immune suppression for 10 to 14 days.
So, choosing to vaccinate a puppy at 6 weeks means exposing him to the most disease ridden location he could possibly be in – the vet clinic – while creating immune suppression at the same time. Your puppy is much more likely to get the disease he is being vaccinating for, and all in exchange for a 30% chance the vaccine will work.
As for the other problem, a course of vaccines is not necessary: it only takes ONE vaccine to protect a puppy for life – ONE AND DONE.
Guys, remember the Dunning Kruger effect. Just because someone strings some words and numbers together doesn’t mean it makes any sense. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
Why the puppy series is a series
When puppies are born to vaccinated bitches, they gain a certain amount of protective antibody, known as maternal antibody. During the first few weeks of a puppy’s life, this provides some measure of protection against disease. It is highly variable as to how much is present, as well as how long it lasts. Some dogs have protection until 4 months, others lose it by six weeks.
While it is kind of protective, it also interferes with the long term development of antibodies. In order for the vaccine to do its job, it has to be given after the maternal antibody has worn off. So we repeat the vaccines in intervals, in order to make sure it hits during that small and unpredictable optimum window.
It’s like choosing between the rhythm method or taking a birth control pill every day. The first method is all-natural, relies heavily on timing and luck, and has a 24% failure rate. Pills, when used properly, have less than a 1% failure rate. Yes, there’s a risk of side effects, but the tradeoff is better protection.
The idea that vaccines are riskier than natural disease for puppies applies only if you are completely divorced from reality, which some people are. These are the same people who refuse to wear seatbelts because they read about someone who drove off a bridge and drowned due to being held in, ignoring the fact that many more people die getting flung out of windshields onto the freeway.
Questions? Let’s Ask Science
I understand that you might not trust me, a random DVM/ Evil Shill/ Whatever and this is fine. A healthy dose of skepticism is good, especially on the internet. Never trust one sole voice on important matters; consensus is important. I appreciate you following up on that.
Groups of people testing theories is good. A willingness to adapt when evidence demands it is better. Underpinning all of this is a faith in science over ego. With that being said, might I present a journal article?
Linked above is a journal article written by scientists who performed an experiment. It’s a little dense if you’re not used to reading scientific articles, which most people aren’t and that’s ok, but it is a good piece and it reflects real science, not gobbledegook. It shows you what happens to maternal antibodies in a group of dogs from age 6 weeks on, some vaccinated, some not. If you’d like to discuss the specifics, I’d be happy to. But let me sum up:
In this experiment, some puppies were given vaccines. Some were not. All of them were exposed to real diseases.
Number of vaccinated dogs who got ill from disease: 0
Number of vaccinated dogs who got ill from vaccine: 0
Number of unvaccinated dogs who got sick from disease: all of them
Number of unvaccinated dogs who died from disease: half of them
This study- and more broadly, the entirety of immunology- directly refutes the strange concept that vaccines suppress the immune system and make pets more susceptible to natural disease. The exact opposite is true. Vaccines are Red Bull for the immune system. But you know, it’s your choice who you want to believe- a coconut oil salesman, or published authors in Trials in Vaccinology.
That’s a pretty high gamble with a puppy’s life.
Where Puppies Are Most Likely To Get Sick
The most disease-ridden place you could possibly take your dog is the local dog park. Depending on their illness protocols and as an unfortunate nature of the business, doggie daycares may come in second. When a pet is diagnosed at the vet with a severe infectious disease such as parvo, distemper or kennel cough, they are quarantined and the facility is deep cleaned and disinfected. You get no such guarantee with the other two options, or at Petco, or walking down the street. Besides, as the journal article shows, vaccinated dogs are highly unlikely to break with disease, which is why we vaccinate them.
One and Done?
If one vaccine were enough to protect a puppy for the rest of their life, then why even bother with titers? Seems unnecessary. Seems contradictory. If one and done were reality, titers would always show protective levels. (Spoiler: they don’t.) Dogs who only had one vaccine would never break with natural disease. (Spoiler: they do.)
Even Dr. Jean Dodds, the preferred expert of people who don’t otherwise believe in experts, recommends a minimum of four parvo vaccines in the first year, recognizing that the risk factors in puppies are very different than those of adults. So why are we one and done, do you say? Or is it possible that each pet has different health risks and you need to talk it out with your vet?
This One Little Tip Could Save Your Dog’s Life
So what’s my one tip? Don’t take health advice from someone whose main area of expertise is selling magazine subscriptions.
But don’t take my word for it. You want to get free vaccine recommendations that will actually protect your dog, from the vaccine expert who’s studied them for 30+ years? Dr. Ronald Schultz, the guy who challenged the yearly recommendations and changed the way the profession vaccinates with accurate science, the one who argues for titers and against the yearly booster, has it all laid out right here. And here. And just for good measure, also here.
The truth is out there. And it doesn’t require you to download a single ebook.
Thus concludes Part One of “5 Things A Dangerous Website Tells You That Aren’t True.” Let me know if you’d like me to do another four. I’m happy to do a series. The heartworm claims are near criminal, except you can’t be held criminally culpable for giving horrible advice when you’re a layperson.
Your friendly vet blogger who’s been doing this free labor of love, pissing off various contingents, for nine years because I love you, I love dogs, and I love the goddamn truth.
There you go again Dr. Vogelsang, using ACTUAL SCIENCE to muddy the waters for folks who just LOVE a good conspiracy theory!
Pseudoscience has become one of the greatest threats to society. It’s a great platform for attention seekers, who will say anything to get “clicks”, even if it leaves “blood on their hands.”
I don’t remember a single lecturer from a pharmaceutical company lecturing to us on immunology in veterinary school! I DO remember hundreds of hours of instruction on immunology, virology, and bacteriology!
Vaccinate your puppies and kittens people! The WHOLE series!! While you’re at it, get your HUMAN children vaccinated too! The life you save may be the one who takes care of you in your old age! 😉
Mike Fitzgerald says
Let us hear more
Lisa W says
Yes to the other four, please!!!
My best friend has a litter of 3 week old Maremma Livestock Guardian pups and we have just been discussing this very subject. These are much needed working dogs and we are trying to do everything right with this litter. Thank you for this very timely article, it is much appreciated and I hope to hear more. There is sooo much crap info to wade through these days, it is nice to get straightforward and real information. Please do keep up the great work!
Please please please do more!
Hillary DVM says
Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floor!
I can hear the pseudoscience dying all around me! Another excellent piece Dr. V!
I was on a puppy adoption site that recommended the “one and only one vaccine” They also recommended feeding your dog raw meat. I wonder how many vaccinated dogs developed autism? Seriously though if you bring your pet to a Vet and your child to his doc. You should trust and follow their advice.
I am having a hard time reconciling your statement about dog day cares being as high risk as dog parks. I assume you know that the vast majority of day cares require ALL the vaccinations you recommend, and more? So if the vaccinations “protect” like you say, then what’s the risk of a bunch of vaccinated dogs running around together?
Dr. V says
Thanks for asking for clarification on that statement. Let me be clear first and foremost that I am being somewhat tongue in cheek and mirroring the verbiage of the original statement about vet clinics being disease-ridden when I used that term. I patronize both veterinary clinics and doggie daycares happily, and once my dog is a little older, we’ll go to dog beach too.
It boils down to this: A dog is most likely to catch disease from a place with a high concentration of dog interactions. Proximity is by nature going to result in exposure. You could be the most careful facility in the world and still have a kennel cough outbreak, because bacteria and viruses are impossible to eradicate completely. When I listed dog parks followed by doggie daycares as the most likely places for a pet to be exposed, it’s 1. Completely anecdotal based on my own experience; any input from an infectious disease specialist is always welcome, and 2. Because they are the most popular places to find other dogs.
It also depends on the nature of the disease and the facility. A dog park is a natural harbor for a disease like parvo that thrives in the environment for long periods of time; you just can’t disinfect a grassy area. The latest flu outbreak seems to have spread most rapidly at dog shows, where owners are as fastidious as one can be; proximity just happens in these environments. Boarding facilities are common places for more of the respiratory-transmitted diseases because the dogs are in close contact and often are exposed to more fomites. In my experience, while most facilities do a great job at keeping their place as spic and span as possible and have good protocols for possible outbreaks, sadly not all of them do, so it’s important for owners to ask how they handle that. There are absolutely great facilities out there. And again, even a great facility can experience an outbreak.
And to address your last point, I absolutely agree. You note I put dog parks above anything else because boarding facilities do tend to be strict about vaccine requirements, and hooray for that, while dog parks do not. And yes, a fully vaccinated dog is going to be well protected even if they are exposed, which is of course why we vaccinate in the first place. As soon as Dakota gets neutered I plan to take him to doggie daycare when I need to work long days, and if you’re in the area I’d love to check your place out.
I realize this is a long answer to a short question but I’m trying to be as thorough as I can in a limited space.
Thank you Dr. V for the thorough explanation. And yes, if/when you are interested in trying out daycare, would be happy to chat. 🙂
PLEASE update the article on Dr. Shultz’ s comments on lyme disease. It was written in 2003. It was written 15 years ago and lyme disease bearing ticks have spread far and wide now. Makes me wonder if the rest of what is said is true. I’d like to be able to count on it.
Dr. V says
Hi Linda, thanks for asking for clarification. I included the link to the 2003 news article because it was one of the earliest examples of a prominent researcher arguing against the need for yearly vaccinations. It was because of his work, and that of others like him, that many vaccines are now given on a three year schedule or titered.
The second link I listed there is the AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines, last updated in February of this year. The task force reviews and updates regularly as we get new information. That link again is here: https://www.aaha.org/guidelines/canine_vaccination_guidelines.aspx
The most current recommendations for Lyme are that it is considered a non-core vaccine, meaning it may be beneficial to certain populations of dogs but not every one: https://www.aaha.org/guidelines/canine_vaccination_guidelines/practice_vaccination.aspx
Whether an individual dog is at risk depends on many more factors than where the dog lives, so they don’t make blanket recommendations as to who should and should not get it. As always, a veterinarian who will sit down with you, who knows your pet’s lifestyle, travel, current health, past vaccines, current tick prevention, and risk of exposure will always give you better guidance than anyone else.
Yes and Yes! Your humor and science are a perfect match! ❤️
This was great. Thanks, Dr. Vogelsang.
So Autism is caused by eating raw meat, sorry, no. It’s suspected to be the hormonal and other growth-promoting agents in meat products, particularly Chicken. A hypothesis that still requires thorough investigation. Read Science direct article here.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987714002783#ab005 So…what do you think your kibble is made from? Meat, and possibly 4D meat on top of that! Seriously, “You should trust and follow their advice”? Blindly following advise, even from a professional, is a dangerous thing. They are humane, no different from you with the exception they are educated in a particular field which gives them an advantage, but humane no less. I take their advice into consideration along with educating myself before I decide the best course of action/treatment for my pets and children.