Features March 2013 Issue

Time to Vaccinate the Dog?

5 tips to help you develop the best dog vaccination schedule for your dog.

Every new dog owner looks for a definitive dog vaccination schedule to follow, but the truth is that the best vaccine protocol for your dog is very subjective. Puppy vaccinations are important, but when to vaccinate your dog will always depend on your individual dog's immunization history and immune function.

I am surprised at how frequently the subject of vaccinations comes up with my dog-loving friends. We often talk about the pros and cons of certain vaccines and look for the latest information. We struggle to understand the complexities, and to sort out the facts from the controversy. 

When it comes to vaccines, being an advocate for our dogs may be the most important thing we can do. Being an advocate doesn’t mean being an expert, but it does mean taking action. These tips can help you take action that supports your dog’s good health.

1. Acknowledge the benefits AND the risks of vaccines for your dog.

You don’t need to know everything about infectious diseases, and you don’t need to know every possible risk associated with immunization. But you do need to know that there are both benefits and risks. It is just not as simple as “Vaccines save lives,” or “Vaccines can make your dog sick.”

“Over-vaccination is just as risky as not being protected,” says Evelyn Sharp, DVM, of My Personal Vet in Santa Cruz, California. “Some of the risks associated with vaccines include autoimmune diseases and anaphylaxis.” But Dr. Sharp emphasizes that you can minimize these risks, while still protecting your dog.

To evaluate the risks and benefits, consider the need for a vaccine each time it is due. Vaccines should not be “routine.” Understand that even the core vaccines may or may not be appropriate for a specific dog, at a specific time.

2. Team up with your vet.

Even if you choose a vaccine clinic or to administer vaccines yourself, a discussion with your veterinarian first may help you make the best decisions. Your vet will likely know the diseases prevalent in your area, your dog’s overall health, genetic risk factors, and more. You may want to ask:

- What vaccines do you recommend, and why?
- Are there disease risks that are unique to your area?
- What are the possible side effects of the vaccines?
- Does the veterinary clinic offer titer tests (to determine whether your dog may already possess sufficient immunity to the most common diseases)?

vaccinate your dogs

3. Consider your dog’s lifestyle.

Your dog’s lifestyle can influence disease risk. Your vet may want to know things like:
Where you walk your dog or if you go to dog parks.

If your dog goes to dog shows, is boarded or visits doggy day care. (If your dog is a regular at doggy day care, you and your vet may discuss the pros and cons of bordetella – plus, it may be required by the day care facility. But if your dog is never boarded and does not participate in dog activities, he or she may not need that particular vaccine).

4. Check out titer tests for dogs.

Titer tests are both accurate and cost effective, according to Dr. Sharp. “One newer test checks for antibodies in your dog’s blood for parvovirus, distemper, and infectious hepatitis, and the cost is much less than some of the older titer tests.” A titer test can tell you:

- Whether your dog or puppy had a positive immune response to a recent vaccine (basically, did the vaccine do its job?)
- Whether your dog has antibodies (showing immunity) from a previous vaccine (lacking these, you should consider a booster).
- Whether a newly adopted dog has been previously vaccinated.

5. Remember, with vaccines, one size does not fit all dogs.

Each dog has his or her own risks when it comes to disease and to immunization. Plus, circumstances and risks can change. A decision you made for your dog last year may not be the best decision this year.

It is a stretch to think that each of us (no matter how many conversations we have about vaccines with our dog-loving friends!) can be an expert on what our dog needs when it comes to vaccines. But by asking questions, talking with our veterinarians about our particular dog, and considering all options, we can be our dog’s advocate.

Mardi Richmond, MA, CPDT-KA, is a writer and trainer living in Santa Cruz, California, with her partner and a wonderful heeler-mix named Chance.

Comments (8)

Unfortunately, vaccines are a money maker for vets and the ones in my area (Hudson Valley in New York) charge exorbitant rates for titer testing to encourage just re-vaccinating instead. My Australian Shepherd is on his 8th year of a 3-year rabies and still has adequate titers. Because I've chosen to not re-vaccinate, I'm unable to license him, which so far has not been a problem. I'm trying to figure out how to titer test without going through a vet to bring the costs down. Vets here charge an office visit fee, blood draw fee and waste fee all before the blood is even sent out to be tested, which amounts to nearly $100!

Posted by: starlightwoods | July 13, 2014 10:12 PM    Report this comment

No one has yet mentioned Dr Jean Dodds, a tremendous asset to all of us, our pets and the vet community. Unless something has changed rabies titer testing can ONLY be done at Kansas State, and Dr Dodds' Hemopet (on line info) can do the processing. It was under $100 last year and well worth the cost to avoid unnecessary vaccine. Of course I worry that the AAHA standards remain what they are and the vets in the practice we go to follow them...so if my little one, god forbid had to be there for any time I worry that they would require her to receive something, in spite of up to date titer testing which I do annually.

Posted by: robin r | July 13, 2014 12:01 PM    Report this comment

Please write a more in-depth article about titters. I have a dog w an auto immune disorder brought on by over vaccinating (we travel, & keeping vets, receptionists & vet techs abreast of current vac. status failed despite my efforts). So I don't want to vaccinate at all, but vets act like you are either stupid or insane when you suggest autoimmune disorders resulting from vaccines &/or request titters. Also, I was told titters are only available for 2 or 3 of the 7 or 8 viruses we vaccinate for. And it did cost a fortune. How do you know wether to look for a more 'current' vet, or believe what he/she says? Trusting vets has already resulted in a more than a few unnecessary tests, meds & undue pain & suffering. Also, aren't titter results only as accurate as the lab tech is educated/experienced?

Posted by: Laura T | January 14, 2014 2:10 PM    Report this comment

I am an advocate for my dogs and do vaccine titers. I am wondering though donleruss, how are you supposed to know whether your dogs immune system isn't working vs immune system memory when you have a low titer? I did my 2 dogs, a 11 yr old Greyhound and a 7 yr old Aust Cattle Dog and they were high. Accoring to Texas A&M, normal was 80, the dogs were 600 and 800 (don't remember which was which) and that was about 3-4 ys after vaccinating. When I titered them a couple of years later, the Greyhounds was low (after not having vaccines for at least 6 ys) and the ACD was still high. Worrying that with advanced age he might be more susceptible to disease (we have a lot of people who don't vaccinate ever and lots of parvo virus), I decided to give him one more vaccine knowing he would be gone in a year or so. I am continuing to do titers (despite vets who say they aren't accurate and that you don't now how long they will be covered for), but would feel better if I knew for sure that they were indeed covered for life with one puppy set and one booster?

Posted by: Nancy B | September 30, 2013 11:12 AM    Report this comment

I give my pooch the Rabies vaccination that lasts for 3 years because I understand in NY its required by law. And I was told it is very expensive to titre rabies. Please correct me if wrong.

Are titres available for Lyme disease?

But I have had blood titres done for, (I think its), distemper, parvo, hep B and have never needed to have any additional vaccination since doing so (started when pooch was 2 years old) as the titres show immunity.

Posted by: Unknown | September 29, 2013 11:17 AM    Report this comment

One issue for titers is that they can't guarantee how long a dog will retain sufficient levels of immunity. I routinely discuss this topic with my vet and one of his concerns is with veterinary malpractice if he doesn't vaccinate. While evidently still rare, vets have been successfully sued for loss of a pet while relying on titers.

Posted by: MARK L | September 28, 2013 10:55 PM    Report this comment

I agree 100% with the above comment. The best time to titer a dog is 1 yr after the vaccine was given. Of course, this is if you know when the dog was vaccinated. Our holistic vet explained to us that doing the titer at that time tells if the vaccine was properly processed. If it was, the dog has lifetime immunity. If you run a titer test 10 yrs later, it may not show the same results but immunity is present thanks to the immune system memory. Our pets have suffered far too much damage from over-vaccination and it's changed the DNA. My family has decided we will no longer vaccinate our beloved dogs. Feeding them a raw, organic diet, using homeopathic nosodes, and doing everything possible to give them a strong immune system is what we believe is best. We don't take them to dog parks or anywhere else like that so their risks of exposure are also very low.

Posted by: YorkieMom | September 28, 2013 2:21 PM    Report this comment

While I am continually encouraged to see more articles promoting more owner awareness, education , fewer vaccines and Titers as an option, I am dismayed that the writer implies that a lower number on a titer means a dog needs a Booster Vaccine. They have missed including a very important detail of immune system memory, which means a dog is still just as immune if exposed to the illness. I feel it still gives too much power and ammunition to the vets who want to vaccinate every chance they get, instead of giving additional information to the owner so they feel more i powered to say "No" to unnecessary re-vaccination.

Posted by: donleruss | September 28, 2013 10:31 AM    Report this comment

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