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.