|Dr Schultz, professor and chair of pathobiological sciences at School of Veterinary Medicine, has been studying the effectiveness of canine vaccines since the 1970s; he's learned that immunity can last as long as a dog's lifetime, which suggests that our "best friends" are being over-vaccinated.
Once a year, Ronald Schultz checks the antibody levels in his dogs' blood. Why? He says for proof that most annual vaccines are unnecessary.Based on his findings, a community of canine vaccine experts has developed new veterinary recommendations that could eliminate a dog's need for annual shots. The guidelines appear in the March/April issue of Trends, the journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).Every year, when we take our dogs to the veterinarian's office, they could receive up to 16 different vaccines, many of which are combined into a single shot. Four of these products protect against life-threatening diseases, including rabies, canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2), canine distemper virus (CDV) and canine adenovirus type 2 (CAV-2); the rest protect against milder diseases to which only some dogs are exposed, including Lyme disease.
But, as many veterinarians are realizing, over-vaccination can actually
jeopardize a dog's health and even life. Side effects can cause skin
problems, allergic reactions and autoimmune disease. Though the case in
cats, not dogs, tumors have been reported at the site of vaccine
"These adverse reactions have caused many veterinarians to rethink the
issue of vaccination," says Schultz. "The idea that unnecessary vaccines
can cause serious side effects is in direct conflict with sound medical
For 30 years, Schultz has been examining the need to vaccinate animals
so often and for so many diseases. "In the 1970s, I started thinking
about our immune response to pathogens and how similar it is in other
animals," says Schultz. "That's when I started to question veterinary
Just like ours, a canine's immune system fires up when a pathogen, like
a virus, enters the body. The pathogen releases a protein called an
antigen, which calls into action the immune system's special
disease-fighting cells. Called B and T lymphocytes, these cells not only
destroy the virus, but they remember what it looked like so they can
fend it off in the future.
It's this immunological memory that enables vaccines, which purposely
contain live, weakened or dead pathogens, to protect against future
But, as Schultz points out, vaccines can keep people immune for a
lifetime: we're usually inoculated for measles, mumps and rubella as
children but never as adults. So, can dogs be vaccinated as pups and
then never again?
While evidence from Schultz's studies on both his own dogs and many
other dogs from controlled studies suggests the answer is yes, Schultz
recommends a more conservative plan based on duration of immunity and
Schultz says that core vaccines, or the ones that protect against
life-threatening disease, are essential for all dogs, yet he does not
recommend dogs receive these shots yearly. "With the exception of
rabies, the vaccines for CDV, CPV-2 and CAV trigger an immunological
memory of at least seven years," he explains. (Studies testing the
duration of immunity for rabies shots show it lasts about three years.)
For these reasons, Schultz suggests that dogs receive rabies shots every
three years (as is required by law in most states) and the other core
vaccines no more frequently than every three years.
Some non-core vaccines, on the other hand, have a much shorter duration
of immunity, lasting around one year. But, as Schultz points out, not
every dog should get these types of vaccines, because not every dog is
at risk for exposure.
Today, many vaccinated dogs receive a shot for Lyme disease. However,
Schultz says that the ticks carrying the Lyme disease pathogen can be
found in only a few regions of the United States. More importantly,
Schultz adds, "The vaccine can cause adverse effects such as mild
arthritis, allergy or other immune diseases. Like all vaccines, it
should only be used when the animal is at significant risk." He notes
that the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the UW-Madison School
of Veterinary Medicine rarely administers the Lyme disease vaccine.
Another common vaccine that Schultz says is unnecessary protects against
"kennel cough," an often mild and transient disease contracted during
boarding or dog shows. "Most pet dogs that do not live in breeding
kennels, are not boarded, do not go to dog shows and have only
occasional contact with dogs outside their immediate family," Schultz
recommends, "rarely need to be vaccinated or re-vaccinated for kennel
Schultz says that it's important for veterinarians to recognize an
individual dog's risk for developing a particular disease when
considering the benefits of a vaccine. "Vaccines have many exceptional
benefits, but, like any drug, they also have the potential to cause
significant harm." Giving a vaccine that's not needed, he explains,
creates an unnecessary risk to the animal.
Recommending that dogs receive fewer vaccines, Schultz admits, may spark
controversy, especially when veterinarians rely on annual vaccines to
bring in clients, along with income.
But, as he mentions, annual visits are important for many reasons other
"Checking for heartworm, tumors, dermatological problems and tooth decay
should be done on a yearly basis," he says. "Plus, some dogs, depending
on their risk, may need certain vaccines annually." Rather than
vaccinating on each visit, veterinarians can use a recently developed
test which checks dogs' immunity against certain diseases.
Schultz adds that veterinarians who have switched to the three-year,
instead of annual, vaccination program have found no increase in the
number of dogs with vaccine-preventable diseases.
"Everyday, more and more people in the profession are embracing the
change," notes Schultz. And, that the new vaccination guidelines
supported by the AAHA, along with the task force members representing
the American Colleges of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Veterinary
Microbiology and the American Association of Veterinary Immunologists,
is evidence of just that.
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Dog Vaccine Unnecessary