Updated: Feb 20
Is your dog or cat over-vaccinated?
First of all, let’s discuss what over-vaccination means, because there is a difference between being properly vaccinated and being over vaccinated.
Over-vaccination occurs 2 ways. The first is that your pet receives necessary vaccines more often than needed. The second is that your pet receives unnecessary vaccines.
Core vaccines are those that protect a dog or cat against a dreadful possibly fatal disease that is very common. They are called core vaccines because every single dog or cat needs to be vaccinated against them. Rabies in both species is considered a core vaccine. It is also government regulated and we can’t change the frequency of vaccination for rabies. The rabies vaccine is required in all dogs, cats, and ferrets in North Carolina between the ages of 12-16 weeks, it is administered again a year later, and then every 1-3 years thereafter depending on the vaccine used. We’ll discuss this in much more detail in a future blog all about rabies.
These are our Canine Core vaccines. We use the Merial (now Boehringer Ingelheim) vaccines because they are the safest available. Our canine rabies vaccines are Thimerosal Free (TF).
DAP, which stands for distemper, adenovirus, parvo, is a core vaccine in dogs. Sometimes it is referred to as a DHP vaccine, for hepatitis, which is what adenovirus causes. It’s the same vaccine either way.
The feline distemper vaccine - which is a terrible name BTW as there is no such thing as feline distemper virus- is really against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR), Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. Here’s the funny thing, panleukopenia is a parvovirus of cats! So why the FVRCP vaccine is called feline distemper is beyond me but I wasn’t in charge of naming the vaccines! Anyway, FVRCP is the core vaccine for cats.
Our feline vaccines are all PureVax, which contain no adjuvants. Adjuvants can cause Vaccine-Associated Sarcomas, an aggressive type of cancer that can kill your cat. Never ever allow anyone to vaccinate your cat with anything other than adjuvant-free vaccines!
We’re going to go over each of the core vaccine diseases in a lot more detail in future blogs, so stay tuned. We discussed vaccinology and immunology in our first blog, so if you need a refresher on some of these terms, check it out here.
Both DAP and FVRCP are considered core vaccines because naive animals- those without either maternal antibodies or without vaccination- are at risk of dying from these diseases. Since all of these disease are extremely widespread in the environment, we have to rely on vaccination to protect our pets.
Our vaccine schedule for the core vaccines is all dogs and cats undergo a puppy/kitten series of vaccines. This ensures that as maternal antibodies wear off, the pet is protected. We administer the puppy/kitten vaccine series starting at 6-8 weeks, and every 3 weeks until the pet is 18+ weeks of age. Then we give a booster a year later. That booster in the now-adult dog or cat is good for the lifetime of the pet.
That’s right, the FVRCP and DAP vaccines last a lifetime. There is very good evidence that when given to a healthy adult dog or cat, these vaccines will protect the pet for a life time. I’ve included references at the end of this blog.
So why do most practices still vaccinate adult dogs with distemper/parvo vaccines and cats with FVRCP vaccines?
Here are the excuses, I mean reasons, that I have heard from vets who are over-vaccinating:
1) They haven’t figured out how to explain to their clients that the most important parts of the annual veterinary visit are the examination and consultation with you. They tell you vaccines are needed because most clients don’t know better. Since most people understand the importance of vaccines, they come in for the vaccines they don't need but hopefully get the exam and consultation they do need.
2) They think they are following the AAHA Canine Vaccine or AAFP Feline Vaccine Guidelines. Both Guidelines state that core vaccines should be given no more than once every 3 years. A lot of vets missed the “no more than” part and vaccinate every 3 years. They haven’t evaluated the research that clearly shows the duration of immunity is for life.
3) Vaccine clinics have packages that include the core vaccines. If you take your pet to a vaccine clinic and get the package every year, I guarantee your pet is woefully over-vaccinated! They don’t have the time or desire to explain what vaccines your pet really needs.
4) Some vets believe that more vaccines gives a pet more protection. This isn’t true. A healthy adult pet vaccinated with core vaccines is just as protected as one that gets vaccinated every year. The way the immune system works, the pet is either immune or not.
The second way pets are over-vaccinated is when they are given a vaccine that they don’t need. For example, a totally indoor adult healthy cat does not need a feline leukemia vaccine because it is never exposed to cats with feline leukemia. The exception would be if the owner of the cat picked up a new cat and brought it home without testing it for FeLV first. That said, healthy adult cats over 3 years of age are naturally very resistant- but not immune- to FeLV. So it would definitely be wise to test any new cats before introducing them into the house hold, especially since FeLV can be transmitted in food and water bowls, on your clothing or shoes, etc.
Just a reminder, NEVER let anyone vaccinate your cat with an adjuvanted vaccine. Despite this MASSIVE surgery, this cat will most likely die because someone vaccinated it with an adjuvanted
vaccine that it probably didn't even need (FeLV). Maybe $20,000 in radiation therapy can save it.
Dogs that are never exposed to rodent urine don’t need a leptospirosis vaccine. Lepto can enter a dog’s body through their skin, so any time a dog is standing in fresh water (not salt water), they can be exposed to lepto. That’s why we vaccinate dogs that live near ponds or on farms or go places like hiking where there may be a lot of rodents.
If your dogs are like mine and never leave your property, they obviously won’t be exposed to dogs that are coughing due to influenza or kennel cough. They may need to get those vaccines if you need to board them or if they get groomed, but they don’t need to continue getting them if it is not going to be a frequent situation. We do like to vaccinate all puppies for kennel cough because we want to encourage owners to take the puppies everywhere for socialization.
The reason we ask so many darn questions about your pet’s lifestyle is we are always evaluating your pet’s risk so we can administer the correct vaccines to protect your pet, no more, no less. We understand things change. A dog previously going on hikes and camping trips where we’d vaccinate for lepto may be too arthritic to do that any more. So we can stop giving the lepto vaccine. Or perhaps you used to groom your pet but decided that it’s a pain in the butt and now take it to a groomer, so now we need to administer a kennel cough vaccine even if the groomer doesn’t require it.
So what’s the harm in over-vaccinating anyway, besides obviously paying for something your pet doesn’t need?
In the past, we used to see a lot of vaccine reactions, ranging from swollen faces and hives to anaphylactic shock. Sometimes the vaccines would trigger the immune system into destroying the patient’s red blood cells or platelets. Nowadays most vaccines are much “cleaner” in that they don’t contain a lot of the extra proteins and such that were the cause of these serious reactions. That said, they can’t have a reaction to a vaccine they’re not getting!
Some people are concerned with vaccines causing other problems, like autism, but that fear is based off a study in human medicine that was completely bogus. The physician who authored it was stripped of his medical license and convicted of child abuse! There is no disease similar to autism in dogs or cats, and even if there was, vaccines don’t cause it.
Unfortunately a lot of boarding kennels and some animal hospitals still require core vaccines and other vaccines in order to be admitted. In those cases, since we don’t control what other businesses require, we have to vaccinate your pet according to the facility’s requirements, even if it’s only a 1-day situation. Thankfully with the improvements of the vaccines over the years, and using only the safest vaccines available, we have not seen serious reactions as described above.
In our opinion, the greatest harm in recommending vaccines that your pet doesn’t need is that you won’t trust us when you find out the truth. We are confident in the science our colleagues are producing, and there are many independent studies that reach the same conclusion-core vaccines last a lifetime when administered to healthy adult dog or cat. We want you to be able to ask us anything about your pet, and be absolutely confident that our response is the truth as we understand the science now. As your furry family member’s doctor, we need to establish and maintain a trusting relationship in order for your pet to receive the best care possible. And that’s what we’re all about, working together to help your dogs and cats live longer, happier, healthier lives.
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