New Thinking in Canine and Feline Vaccination

Roxanne Hawn

Vaccine Options for Pets
In the old days, dogs and cats received vaccinations every year. Many people, including many veterinarians, say that practice must change.

Let me be clear on this. No one recommends pets do not receive vaccines at all. The newest ideas on vaccination focus on ways to protect pets from dangerous diseases without vaccinating them as often or as much. Depending on how you define vaccination frequency intervals or vaccination dosages, that’s where the controversy or “hot” nature of this topic lies.

I found myself on the front lines of this issue in January 2012, when my then 7-year-old Border Collie suffered a rare and severe adverse reaction to a rabies vaccine. We’ve been in a fight for her life ever since.

You might assume that makes me “anti-vaccine,” but that is not the case. Will I change the way my future dogs are vaccinated? Yes. Does that mean no vaccines ever? Not on your life. Truly, just because my dog can never receive another vaccine, I am not saying yours shouldn’t.

So, what options can you consider?

Current Vaccine Guidelines: Recommended Reading

If you have not already, I suggest you read these vaccination guidelines, which essentially replaced the everything-every-year model. The consensus suggests vaccinating not more often than every three years:

Pay particular attention to puppy and kitten vaccine schedules because those have not changed as much as vaccination schedules for adult pets. Some think they should.

Titer Testing Instead of Boosters

One of the common misunderstandings of the vaccination guidelines is that people think they mean you should vaccinate every three years no matter what. That’s not the case.

It’s an option, of course, but the other option is to titer test for the core diseases every three years instead. If those blood tests show immunity to the diseases remains, then there is no need to revaccinate. If not, then a booster is recommended.

Ronald D. Schultz, PhD, Dipl. ACVM, professor and chair in the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, is perhaps the leading researcher on these issues. If you want to learn about titer testing and how it can be used in pets, he is the guy to follow.

Because of the rabies risk to people, it’s the only pet vaccine mandated by law. Some states do allow medical waivers in cases like mine, but none that I know of allows titer test results instead of an actual rabies vaccine.

Smaller Vaccine Doses for Smaller Pets

You may be surprised to learn that all dogs or cats – no matter their size – get the same dose of vaccines. Unlike other medications that are dosed based on body weight, veterinarians give vaccines as if one size fits all.

Take the rabies vaccine, for example, all dogs get 1cc injected. For comparison, all horses get 3cc injected. Think about the size difference between a horse and even the biggest dog you know. Now, think about the smallest dog you know.

Giving smaller pets smaller doses of vaccines is controversial. Really controversial. Potentially ruin-your-career controversial. One veterinarian in Stamford, Connecticut, lost his job and may lose his veterinary license for giving smaller doses of vaccines.

While Dr. Schultz supports the use of titer tests to see if booster vaccines are necessary (or not), he isn’t a proponent of smaller doses.

Another leading mind on these issues, Jean Dodds, DVM, does suggest in some cases that veterinarians consider giving smaller pets smaller doses.

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