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Vaccines for Dogs and Cats

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Article by Dr Elaine Cebuliak

Animal Wellness and Being Wellness Profile | Email | Website
Animal Wellness and Being Wellness Holistic Integrative and Advanced Veterinary Treatment and People Naturopathy.
Dr Elaine Cebuliak - Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist, Aromatherapist, Remedial Massage Therapist, Veterinary Surgeon and Physician, Educator.
1016 Stanley St East
East Brisbane
Australia 4169
07) 3324 2291

Vaccines for Dogs and Cats

What are vaccines and what are their purpose?

Vaccines are biological preparations used to stimulate immunity to a disease.

They commonly contain a piece of infectious agent (bacteria or virus) that has been changed to make them less dangerous but more stimulating to the immune system. They do this usually by being killed or “live attenuated”. Most these days are live attenuated or modified live.

The vaccine also contains “adjuvants”: additives that boost the immune response. These adjuvants are things like aluminium. They also contain preservatives to stop them becoming contaminated.

The commonly used vaccines in dogs contain several organisms together: eg the C3 vaccine contains three viruses; the C5 contains 5 infectious agents (the core 3 viruses and 2 agents of kennel cough).

Vaccines are delivered into the body in different ways. Most commonly they are injected under the skin. In the case of kennel cough vaccines, they can be delivered “locally” into the nose.

Why are vaccinations important?

Vaccinations are important to protect against infectious disease, especially those that can kill. In dogs these are the core vaccines, against distemper, infectious hepatitis and parvo virus.

Vaccination programs have successfully reduced the number cases of deadly, infectious viruses and in so doing have made dogs healthier. Distemper, which was common when I was a child, is now almost non-existent. Likewise parvo virus, which swept the world in an epidemic in the 70’s and was rampant in the 80’s, is much less commonly seen. This is largely due to vaccination.

Vaccines also protect against common, but not fatal illnesses like kennel cough. Like a flu vaccine, it is possible to catch the illness, but symptoms are usually less severe. These are called “non-core vaccines”.

How effective are vaccines?

Vaccines are general speaking very effective at producing immunity if used appropriately. They do however vary in their effectiveness to produce immunity in an individual animal.

The effectiveness depends on several factors, including:

  1. The strain of the infectious agent used in the vaccine (some strains produce a strong immune response, such as the newer parvo vaccines).

  2. Completing a proper vaccination schedule (multiple doses are typically needed, at correctly spaced intervals)

  3. The individual genetic predisposition of each dog (some may be overly sensitive to the vaccines and more prone to side effects, whilst other individuals do not develop sufficient immunity despite being properly vaccinated).

Are there any problems or side effects with vaccines?

YES!! It is important that you know this. Vaccines are not benign, harmless substances. They work by affecting the immune system and can have long term, far reaching effects on it.

There are three main categories of side effects or problems.

The first one is the least dramatic and most common: local pain or swelling at the injection site. This usually passes within a day or two. Just be careful handling your dog or puppy in that area.

The second one is quite uncommon and is an acute, sudden anaphylactic (allergic) reaction to the vaccine.

The dog may become ill in the hours following vaccination: common signs are aches and pains, fevers and chills, reluctance to move. Rarely your dog or puppy may show other signs of neurological, gastro-intestinal, or respiratory disturbance. Mostly these are mild but occasionally strong and severe reactions are recorded. Veterinary assistance should be sought.

DO NOT VACCINATE your dog again if your pet has ever experienced a vaccination reaction, as it is likely to be worse next time.

The third category is a delayed immunological response, up to 45 days afterwards. The signs commonly include milder symptoms like fever, stiffness, sore tummy, sore joints, increased susceptibility to infections, itchy skin and ears. Rarely, stronger signs are seen, including neurological and brain disorders, blood and bleeding disorders, liver and kidney failure and bone marrow suppression.

We highly recommend titre testing in lieu of revaccinating atopic or itchy dogs, as we have seen them become increasingly pruritic each year following vaccination. After all, vaccinations are there to prime the immune system and make them more hyperactive.

Why are there such side effects from vaccines?

We are still trying to understand all that goes on when we vaccinate, and afterwards.

It is thought that a number of factors are involved including:

1.       Using more effective (stronger) modified live (attenuated) vaccines.
2.       Possible preservatives, adjuvants and contaminants.
3.       “over-vaccinating”: giving a booster every year. Latest research shows that most dogs only need a booster as an adult every 3-5 years minimum.
4.       Mixing too many agents together in one vaccine: this provides too great a challenge at once.
5.       Vaccinating animals when they are stressed or unwell.
6.       Giving the agents by injection, rather than locally into the area affected.

What can we do then to maximize the benefits of vaccinations and reduce the harm and side effects?

1.       Only vaccinate your dog or puppy when they are healthy and not stressed.
2.       Do not give heartworm injections or other treatments at the same time. Wait two weeks at least.
3.       Have your dog receive the minimum number of puppy vaccines and adult boosters.
4.       Replace the annual booster vaccination visit with a full wellness exam, including blood tests.
5.       Ask your vet to use only “core vaccines” by injection : distemper, hepatitis and parvo virus (C3)
6.       Kennel cough vaccine, if needed, is best administered in the nose.
7.       If multiple injections are needed (eg to cover for leptospirosis as well) then wait at least two weeks between them. Use the minimum number of  agents at any one time.
8.       Do not vaccinate your dog against giardia or corona virus. These diseases are rare and the vaccines provide questionable immunity.
9.       Do not vaccinate puppies younger than 8 weeks.
10.    Seek veterinary advice regarding vaccination for geriatric animals and those with chronic health issues.

What vaccination protocol is recommended then?

Puppies: I recommend two vaccines only, and do not give any before 8 weeks of age. Final vaccines can be given at 11 or 12 weeks, if your vet is using one of the newer products, such as nobivac. This means your puppy can be fully protected and out and about with all important socializing from 13 weeks.

Teenagers: Give a first booster 12 months after the final puppy vaccination. It is not necessary to vaccinate again sooner than this.

Adults: Do a blood test every year (titre test) to check if immunity is low and if a booster vaccination is required.

Titre tests are available for the core vaccines but not for kennel cough. If boosters are needed for kennel cough for boarding, agility, showing etc, then the intranasal vaccine is recommended.

If your dog does not need a kennel cough booster for one of these reasons, then I suggest you pass on this and keep to a healthy diet and lifestyle and immune boosting supplements instead.

Train yourself to go to see your vet for an annual wellness exam for your dog:

NOT a booster vaccination. The wellness exam should include blood work for titre test, and any other tests you and your vet deem necessary or important.

In Conclusion:

Vaccines are important tools in keeping your dog healthy. However, they need to used carefully to cause no harm. Please discuss vaccination for your pet with your vet. If in doubt, a second opinion never hurts. There is also lots of information available regarding vaccines and vaccination protocols. W Jean Dodds of California, USA is a world authority and research leader in this field. I highly recommend her work to you.

ANIMAL WELLNESS ph 61 7 33242291

Veterinary Integrative Care Clinic AND Advanced Veterinary Dentistry
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Shop 6B/700 Logan Road,
Greenslopes Qld 4120

Dr Elaine Cebuliak

BVSc MACVSc dentistry, Dip Ed, Dip Rem Massage, Cert Chinese Herbs Cathay, Cert IVAS Qual Acupuncture, CMAVA, (Charter Member Australian Veterinary Association) Adv Dip  Naturopathy, Adv Dip Herb, Adv Dip Nutrition, 

mob ph 61-422413404

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3 Oct 2016

Article/Information supplied by Dr Elaine Cebuliak

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.