Something Is Not Right

Why are vaccines pushed, but not basic care?


Why are vaccinations so over-promoted by veterinarians? I’m begging for someone to explain this. Because, from my perspective, there are so many more serious threats to dogs’ health and well-being than whether they receive the fourth or fifth or tenth DHLPP vaccine in their adult lives.

Nancy Kerns


Let me be clear: I sincerely wish for all dogs to be vaccinated when it’s necessary. Spend enough time in an animal shelter in a poor district and you will see precisely how deadly it is to be an unvaccinated dog. Puppies and adolescent dogs should be vaccinated, and then – in my opinion and that of a slowly growing number of enlightened veterinarians – dogs should be given an antibody titer test. This will determine whether they are adequately protected from the diseases for which they were vaccinated. For more detail on this topic, see Lisa Rodier’s article, “Annual Vet (Not Vaccine) Visits.”

Practically every time I go to a vet clinic, though, I witness the most disturbing exchanges between the office staff and the clients about vaccinations. I’ve been astonished at the aggressiveness with which the vaccines have been promoted – particularly when the clients’ dogs had more serious health issues that were screaming out for attention!

For example: A man comes in with an old dog; she looked at least 12 or older. She’s obese, arthritic, and covered with what appear to be fatty tumors. She has no collar. Why are they there? A wellness exam and blood chemistry? To find out how to reduce the dog’s weight and improve her mobility? No. “I got one of them postcards?” he says to the receptionist, and he gives his name. “Right,” she replies. “Your dog needs her annual vaccinations. Take a seat, we’ll be right with you.”

I thought, “Okay, don’t jump to conclusions. If it wasn’t for the postcard, this guy may not have ever brought the dog to the vet. Maybe once the tech and the vet see the dog, they’ll realize she has more serious health issues that need to be addressed.”

Only that didn’t happen. A few minutes later, a technician calls the man’s name, and he takes the dog into an exam room, and comes back out about two minutes later. Pays his bill and leaves. Zero conversation about the myriad things that are far more likely to kill his senior dog than parvo or distemper.

Another time I visited a vet hospital during a “low-cost vaccine clinic.” (I was there to buy heartworm preventative.) In front of me was a couple with two mixed-breed dogs. Both dogs had skin problems. Both had collars; neither had an ID tag. The male was intact; the female clearly had a litter of puppies in recent weeks – judging from the appearance of her teats, probably not her first litter. They were there to get the dogs vaccinated. What for? They didn’t know, and the dogs had not been to that office before. They asked the receptionist, “What do they need?”

If they asked me, I would have answered, “Sterilization surgery, identification, heartworm tests, and a flea control product.”

But the receptionist didn’t blink. “Well, we have a lot of vaccines. There’s the ‘annual,’ plus rabies, and a lot more . . .” The matter was settled by how much money the man had in his pocket; they got the “annual,” plus rabies. Not one word about the puppies.

The profit on vaccines (especially at a low-cost clinic) can’t be that great; a vet could make way more money by providing the services dogs really need. So why don’t they do that? Or, at least, spend a few minutes educating their clients about their dogs’ more urgent needs? I’ll bet more adult dogs die in American shelters from a lack of ID than from a lack of vaccinations. And why wouldn’t a vet promote spay and neuter surgery to people whose dogs clearly need it?

I honestly don’t understand.