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The confusion over vaccines; a guide to sort out the details

Vaccines and regular veterinary visits are part of keeping dogs happy, safe and healthy.
Vaccines and regular veterinary visits are part of keeping dogs happy, safe and healthy.
photo by Beth Moody

Vaccinations for your dog used to be a simple thing. You got a distemper vaccine every year and a rabies vaccine every three years. It was plain and clear to veterinarians and owners alike.

In the last few years however, there have been more and more being said against what some call "over vaccination" of our pets. There are those who believe that vaccines cause health problems in our dogs. Everything from allergies to cancer can be blamed on vaccines by some.

Studies have been done and discussions have been made by the American Veterinary Medical Association and veterinarians are divided on how to proceed. It seems there is no straightforward answer for this controversial issue. Some veterinarians are on board with changing the accepted vaccine schedule to every three years for adult dogs. Others are not so confident. If veterinarians cannot agree, its no wonder that owners are confused.

The problem is that no all dogs are created equal and neither are their risk factors, which is why the veterinary community cannot seem to agree.

One simple solution is to have your veterinarian run titer testing on your dog. This is a blood test that checks for levels of immunity and will let your veterinarian know if you need to vaccinate or not. Titers can be pricey but for those who are concerned about their dogs health, it seems a small price to pay.

Owners of dogs who have a high exposure to diseases such as search and rescue dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs and dogs who spend time at dog parks or dog day cares are at higher risk of contracting some diseases. This needs to be considered when deciding on the vaccine protocol that you will use.
Your dogs age is another thing to consider when deciding on a vaccine protocol. Young dogs do not have as much immunity as adult dogs do. Following the standard protocol from puppy-hood vaccines into adulthood most likely provides your dog with adequate protection.

Some breeds are more prone to diseases like parvovirus, and this is another thing that needs to be considered before a decision is made. Dobermans and Rottweilers are overly susceptible to parvo, therefore you could be taking a bigger risk to decide not to vaccinate one of these breeds.
Always discuss all of the risk factors and your dogs specific needs with your veterinarian before making any decisions regarding vaccines. Your dogs specifics such as age, lifestyle, health, medical history and breed are all factors in the decision on how to best keep your dog healthy.

One concern among the veterinary community is the need for our dogs to have yearly check ups. If owners are not bringing their dog to be vaccinated the dog may not get in for a yearly check up. Most veterinarians use vaccine time to talk to the owner about the animals general health and well being. The animal gets a physical at the same time. Dogs cannot tell us what is wrong with them or where it hurts so we must depend on our own observations and a competent veterinarian to help us know how our pet is doing. Things can change fast for our pets, especially as they get to middle age. Three years between check ups is a very long time and many things can change between visits. Finding out about a disease, such as renal failure, in the early stages can mean a relatively normal life with the proper treatment as opposed to finding out too late to offer any treatment.

No matter which vaccine protocol you decide to follow, make sure that you have educated yourself and discussed the issue openly with your veterinarian. This is not an issue to be taken lightly. Your dogs life depends on you making the right decision for him.

For more information on vaccine protocols and the health of your pet go to the AVMA website.