Should I vaccinate my puppy?
It’s never just a simple yes or no answer for some. Many people feel they don’t know enough about vaccines to want to do that to their new puppy, I decided to write a detailed post to try and shine some light on the subject.
You found the right seller, selected the right puppy for you and now you want to do right by it by keeping it healthy.
The age-old question, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
Many of the media moms will have their own opinion on vaccines and to be honest, that’s fine for them to express their opinion on vaccines. I mean it’s not like they are forcing their methods down my throat or imposing their beliefs on my dog so let them live their life. However, I did go to school and learned about vaccines and how it helps dogs so I cannot attest to any of their claims. I can, however, say I have witnessed deaths in dogs that were not vaccinated and have vaccinated millions more who have been healthy as can be, my dogs included!
I have also created an eBook called Adventures of Puppy Raising, that has loads of information and charts and links that every new owner should know!
I am here to guide you along determining if and which vaccines are right for your dog. So let’s dive in!
First, Veterinarians are not the cause of the whole “Over-vaccinating” fiasco. According to AAHA regulations, vaccines are to be given starting at 8 weeks old but it’s also on the internet to start at 6 weeks old which is too young. Why do we wait until 8 weeks? While the puppies are nursing they are taking in more than nutrients, they are ingesting tiny microscopic cells calls antibodies. These are from their mother’s immune system, which if she was vaccinated or encountered any diseases in her life, her antibodies will have memory cells. To make it more sense lets use a football analogy, say you are a new high school team with a new coach, and you are about to play the long-standing cross-town champions. Going into the game you can use the plays you were born with and see how it works, but what if your new coach was the old coach for that team! He knows every play like the back of his hand and up until game day he coaches his new players against the other team. When they face on game day, either team could take the win, because the new team was better prepared to handle what was coming to them. Consider the vaccine a secret playbook for a new puppy.
Now, since the puppy has his mom’s antibodies if he were to encounter a disease his new immune system is better equipped for this. Puppies are weaned and often go to new homes after 8 weeks old, so mom’s antibodies are no longer on the regular menu. It’s now up to the puppy to develop his own immune system, but how do you do that? The way antibodies create memory cells is by “tasting”. Now that’s not to say you can just let your unprotected puppy into a parvo ridden yard for 5 minutes and hope he isn’t badly contaminated. This is done under careful monitoring and administration of the vaccines. Pretend a vaccine is a newborn baby antelope and the immune system is a baby pride of lions, you have seen on BBC the mother lion teaching the cubs how to tackle and trip and bite the right way on the baby antelope. This isn’t performed on a full-grown antelope, no because it’s more dangerous, but they practice on something more their size. The vaccine just has enough science in it so that a handful of cells are all that’s necessary to defeat it, but in that, memory cells have been created. Then they tell their friends, and they tell their friends until everyone in the body knows how to defeat the disease.
So the vaccine triggers the immune response to recognize the disease in the future and is equipped to defeat it.
Well if all that goes down in the body, then why do we need a series?
This is all science and studies, basically, it was determined that dogs that got a full 3 vaccine series had a stronger titer than ones that only got an initial vaccine. Some vaccines require a “refresher” vaccine, still safe because it’s within the limits set forth based on the AVMA, yet more effective than just one injection.
The same goes for why we need annual vaccines, we have tested dogs for a long time to find out at what point the titers read low or at an “at risk” level. That determines at what interval to booster vaccines.
I heard about titers, what is it?
A titer is a blood test that is sent to a special lab, basically, it tests where at that point in time the antibody levels are. There is a range that determines full protection, if you are below that range then your dog is not fully protected and at risk if he were to encounter the disease organically. A lot of people elect to do this with their dogs, however, what is not said about titers is that you still must vaccinate a dog. A dog who was never vaccinated or past due will likely have a low or no titer at all, in which case they will need to be or just run the risk. Tests can vary in cost but can get upwards into the hundreds of dollars and you would still need to get the test done at regular intervals to ensure protection or abide by the law in some cases. This is also a Blood test, not just a vaccine, with a vaccine it’s poke and you’re pretty much done. With blood tests it can be slightly more stressful on a dog, so pick your battles. Again I say, just because you have the titers it does not exempt you from having to follow up with the county. If you refuse to get vaccines and elect for titers, you still must retest when the time comes. In California the Rabies and Distemper/Parvo vaccines are good for 3 years at a time after the age of 1, so that’s about how frequently you would need to titer in order to comply with regulations otherwise risk a fine. Titers are useful if the cost and all that doesn’t bother you! If I personally had the money I would do both to be honest with you.
So there are options for you!
I did an entire post on Why does my small dog get the same sized vaccine as my large dog. That you can read here.
Okay, so what vaccine should I get?
There are a lot of vaccines out there and pretty much all of them have some confusing hard to pronounce name (I should know, I hear clients pronounce them incorrectly on the daily) that also means clients may not understand just which vaccine is which. I have a simple handout that I created for our clients, it’s my own spiel regarding reactions and what to do in the event of a lump, etc. That handout is included in my Ultimate Puppy eBook that you can check out here!
There are 2 categories of vaccines:
Core– These are required by law to be given and in some cases such as Rabies, it is a public health risk for unvaccinated dogs to be in public and it must be given by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
The main vaccines in this category are Rabies and the “Combo” vaccine aka Distemper/parvo. Other common names: 5in1, Distemper, Parvo, DA2PP. Basically, this vaccine can include the following but not limited to Distemper, Parvo, Adenovirus, Hepatitis, and Parainfluenza. Not all these diseases are the same, however, it has been proven effective to be inoculated as one vaccine and given at the same time. The other vaccine in this category is Rabies. Rabies is transmittable to humans and therefore it is regulated for the safety of the public. Mortality for the infected is almost always guaranteed unless medical attention is sought immediately after infection.
Rabies comes in 2 forms: Dumb- where the animal appears drunk and hypersensitive to light. This method is most commonly seen in horses and cattle, back in the day it was called Hydrophobia because the reflection of light from the water would spook the infected animals and so farmers thought it was the water they were afraid of. The other form is the Aggressive- This is mostly associated with dogs and our domestic animals, bats, cats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes are all carriers and have been found in parts of Los Angeles as positive cases. The Rabies virus is a virus which means there is no cure, only treatment of symptoms (for humans as well), a virus must run its course. The Rabies virus affects the neurological system of the animal, causing it to not only act abnormally (why you see nocturnal animals in the daylight, or otherwise docile animals show aggression) but it also affects the motor skills in the face. Because the reflexes and swallowing action is inhibited, this results in the salivation or “foaming from the mouth” effect and the animals slowly lose its ability to eat as well as abnormal behaviors can cause them to bite and transmit the disease. Mortality is usually seen within 10 days of infection.
I really am surprised how many people refuse the Rabies vaccine. So confident their pet will never get Rabies, their cat never leaves the house so how will it encounter a wild animal?
I’m going to say what I tell EVERYONE; you know what family never thought their dog would get Rabies? Cujo’s, or better yet, Old Yeller. 2 innocent family dogs affected by Rabies as they were simply going about their day. In fact, in Old Yeller, they display both forms of Rabies, when the cow Rose gets Hydrophobia and then the rabid wolf who in turn infects Yeller. I’m sorry to bring up such sad cases but Rabies is a serious condition that still millions of people die from in 2nd and 3rd world countries, we are just lucky in America a 1st world country, that we have ways of treating and preventing this virus from spreading though that doesn’t mean it isn’t present.
Below are results from the last 2 years of POSITIVE Rabies cases in Los Angeles County (complete with map)
The next category of vaccines is Elective vaccines:
These are the vaccines that are more based on lifestyles than a public health risk. These diseases do not affect the human population but are contagious to other dogs. Often these vaccines are recommended if your dogs do one or all the following:
- Dog parks,
- Daycare where they will be with other dogs
- Daily walks where they greet nose-to-nose other dogs
Basically, if your dog can be exposed to another dog where YOU don’t know THAT dog’s vaccine history, then there can be a risk. Not all diseases are easy to spot from a distance and often signs get missed to the untrained eye. Also if your dog goes hiking or camping there are others to watch out for than just strange dogs. Ticks, fleas, and snakes are also out there on the trails and can pack a punch of their own on your dog’s health. These vaccines are not required by law and you proceed at your own risk however for the optimal protection having your dog vaccinated can really make the difference between life and an expensive hospital bill. Alternatives to some vaccines such as Lyme are Flea/tick preventions. These can come in an over the counter form as drops or oral prescription medication (preferred, I love Bravecto!)
Here is the list of vaccines in this category:
- Lyme- Cause by Deer ticks, however in other areas of the country where certain ticks are heavily populated other vaccines are offered.
- Leptospirosis- Transmitted via stagnant water, likely from wild infected animals urinating in or near a drinking source
- Rattlesnake- The vaccine buys you valuable time while hiking in isolation it doesn’t prevent envenomation. If your dog is bit SEEK EMERGENCY HELP!
- Bordetella aka Kennel Cough- Your dog does not need to be in a shelter situation to contract this, it can be transmitted as easily as greeting another dog on a walk. Sometimes this can run its course and resolve on its own but in many cases, antibiotics and cough suppressants, as well as isolation, is best.
Some of these vaccines require a series on starting and each one has a different booster period.
- Lyme- Typically a 2-vaccine series 3-4 weeks apart. Booster yearly.
- Leptospirosis- Depends on the veterinarian but typically a single vaccine that is boostered yearly.
- Rattlesnake- When starting the series it is a 2-3 vaccine series, 3 for extra large breed dogs. Then every year in the spring it’s boostered.
- Bordetella- This can be given in a variety of ways: Orally (along the gumline), Intranasal (into the nostrils), and Injectable (into the skin, this has more reactions and can be painful but usually the required method for aggressive dogs.) Boostering is yearly but can be given every 6 months as its safety margin is bigger and often facilities will require fresh boosters.
Here is a schedule that you should go by:
20 weeks– Combo vaccine #4. This is only required as part of the series if the breed of puppy is more immune compromised. Breeds such as Alaskan Sled Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and American Staffordshire Terriers.
Also if any vaccines in the Combo series have lapsed, then that requires an additional booster so just because your dog isn’t one of the listed breeds above, not sticking to the schedule could result in further vaccines.
Elective vaccines should be given after 4-6 months of age. Since at 4 months of age your puppy is getting both Rabies and a final Combo, it would be safer to wait about a month after before starting more vaccines.
Well, I had dogs before and none of them got vaccines.
Good for you, you are one of the lucky ones. Farmers live on a ranch for years before ever losing a dog to snake bites, I know plenty of people who never neutered their dogs and never had issues. That’s great, you must remember you are One person and One dog. Working in a field where all and any health issues are brought in to a localized facility, we see all the prostate cancers, we sit with the parvo cases, we see that which you are blind to. Not because you aren’t looking but because it’s my profession, just as yours may be car insurance. You see all the devastating aftermath of accidents and so you know what not to do or play around with, you aren’t elbows deep in bloody vomit or holding the paw of a 5-month-old puppy as we end its painfully long battle with Parvo. Just because you don’t see the cases in front of you, doesn’t mean it’s not out there, and that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Well, I don’t have money to do all these vaccines!
Vaccines really aren’t that expensive and there are loopholes.
First, Rabies is the only vaccine required by law. It’s usually the cheapest of all the vaccines because it’s a requirement so most clinics offer it at a lower rate, I’ve seen it for $10 at vaccine clinics to $25 at hospitals.
The 5in1 or Combo vaccine is a little pricey the first year you get it because of the series, but after that, it’s only required every 3 years and it will only be a single injection at that point. Those vaccines often run $20-$35. So in 3 years if you can’t hang on to $35 for a vaccine then I don’t know.
You can also find this vaccine at a feed store for cheap. Use caution when using those, however:
• It’s usually a cheap generic brand of vaccine.
• You can’t guarantee if it was shipped or stored correctly, which can result in defective or dead vaccines = wasted money and unprotected dog.
• There is no medical oversight, nobody is monitoring the shipping or transportation of this item so again it can just be a wasted vaccine.
• It’s sold to literally anyone, whether you know how to give injections or not. Buyers do your research before doing at home vaccines if you don’t know how to do it. You can enter a bloodstream accidentally; some vaccines are very particular in the method they are given and giving it incorrectly can cause fatality. *I almost gave Beowolf an Intranasal Bordetella vaccine into the muscle. Giving in the muscle was all I knew and didn’t think it was a big deal, my instincts stopped me from potentially killing my dog! Only when I learned about vaccines months later did I realize my almost mistake.
• If nobody is regulating, the vaccine is a dud, and it was given however then no company or vet clinic in the WORLD is going to cover the costs of treatment if your pet is sick or contracts the disease you vaccinated against. Companies like Merial, Zoetis and Rabivak will cover the costs if there is a severe reaction or if the dog contracts something they were vaccinated against. This only works when proper documentation is presented to prove that all precautions were taken while vaccinating.
The other vaccines run about the same cost as the combo, except you are not required to get it. However, in comparison, the vaccine cost pennies compared to treatment and heartache if your pet got any diseases. I have seen Lepto cases and it’s horrible. First, the emergency visit to address the internal organ failure cost the client upwards to $4000! Then for about 5 months the dog was coming in for routine injections and medications, not to mention, Lepto affects more than just organs but the overall quality of life. This dog lived 5 months in a crate because he could barely walk and didn’t want to eat or drink and the owner had to carry him outside to go potty and it was an Irish Setter so though it was light, it wasn’t a small dog.
I don’t mind getting my dog vaccines, but he had a reaction once and now I’m worried!
Some dogs just have reactions, it happens, it even says on the vaccine label there could be reactions. Some vaccines have more of an increased chance than others, for instance, at my clinic, we never gave Rabies and Rattlesnake at the same time. Rattlesnake is still new, and they are both big punch vaccines that are both to be given in the Right shoulder so that increases the odds of reaction and pain.
There are precautions you can take:
• If your dog had a reaction let the clinic know! Countless times clients come in and never say a peep until years later and we vaccinated several times. How is the clinic supposed to use precaution when you don’t tell them about your pet! So please speak up, even if it’s just to notify them. Tell them what the reaction looks like and where it is, they will do the rest regarding medications, recommendations to do at home, and preventing it from happening in the future.
• You can give your pet Benadryl prior to vaccination; the reaction is an allergic reaction so giving Benadryl beforehand may reduce the risk. Call your doctor for dosage and recommended frequency.
• The doctor can give your dog an injection of Diphenhydramine, this will reduce the risk of reaction as well. Just let them know while scheduling the appointment so they can have it ready for you.
• Spacing out vaccines. After an initial series the frequency of vaccines and be played with so we can spread out certain vaccines to give your dogs system time to adjust.
• In some cases vaccines CANNOT be given, yes this happens. If the doctor determines the vaccine would cause more harm than good they will write you an Exemption Letter (this will have to be done every year the county requires Rabies, but for other cases, 1 letter should suffice.)
Protect your dogs the best you can and hopefully, this post helped you understand the importance of vaccines in dogs.
If you want to see more information about vaccines or other useful tips and downloadable forms that should go in your puppy book, check out my new book here!