No immunity to vaccination controversy

Recently there has been media attention to an issue that has been building over the past two years. Urban wildlife, including raccoons and skunks, are becoming sick and dying from a virus (canine distemper virus) that also causes disease in companion animals.

This has made the issue of vaccinating companion animals prominent, and I get questioned regularly on the pros and cons of vaccinations.

This is not a simple issue. There is ample evidence that overvaccinating contributes to an increase in chronic health disorders. On the other hand, having a pet permanently damaged or dead from a preventable disease is something most people want to avoid.

Over-vaccinating can pose significant health risks, including over-stimulation of the immune system resulting in allergies, recurrent skin and ear infections, immune mediated diseases (such as thrombocytopenia or hemolytic anemia), as well as certain kinds of cancer.

“What to vaccinate for” and “how often to vaccinate” remains a controversial topic amongst veterinarians. Many veterinarians are now changing their protocols based upon clinical studies that show that many vaccines labeled to be given annually actually provide protection for a much longer period of time. Due to increased pressure from enlightened veterinarians and pet guardians, pharmaceutical companies are now making vaccines that are licensed and labeled for 3 year duration of immunity. The Rabies Challenge Fund Charitable Trust raises money to support  research on rabies vaccine duration of immunity. The goal is to extend the required interval for rabies boosters to 5 and then to 7 years. This project depends primarily upon grassroots gifts for funding the costs of conducting the requisite vaccine trials.

Annual vaccination is NOT required by law in Ontario. Compulsory rabies vaccination is governed by Ontario Regulation 567/90, which requires all catand dog owners to ensure that their pets are immunized against rabies. Under provincial legislation, a pet is considered vaccinated against rabies if the time that has elapsed since the vaccination was given is less than the duration of immunity as set out on the vaccine’s label.
To reduce the health risks of vaccinations I suggest:

  • Regular physical examinations (once a year up to age 6, then two to four times a year for senior pets) to optimize health and maintain balance.
  • Supporting your pet’s immune system using nutrition, acupuncture and herbs.
  • Individualized vaccine protocols based upon your pet’s risk of exposure, age, lifestyle, and health.
  • Checking antibody* levels (titres) annually and only vaccinating when levels are low.
  • Using thimerisol (mercury) free vaccines wherever possible.
  • Using adjuvant free vaccines to reduce the risk of vaccine-associated sarcomas (cancer).
  • Using 3 year labeled vaccines when available.
  • Puppy and kitten core vaccines given at about 12 weeks of age, boosted 3-4 weeks later, and again 1 year later.
  • Vaccinating for rabies is the law and is given every 3 years where possible, unless the pet has had a documented vaccine reaction.
  • Lyme, leptospirosis, bordatella, and feline leukemia vaccines are given on an individualized basis dependent upon specific risk criteria (indoor versus outdoor; family pet versus show pet; travel plans, daycare/kenneling, etc)
  • Vaccination for FIV is not indicated at this point in time as the vaccine is only partially effective, and there is no test that differentiates a vaccinated cat from an infected cat. Vaccination may increase the euthanasia rate of stray/homeless cats at shelters due to positive FIV tests in vaccinated cats.
  • Avoid vaccinating pets when they are sick, as this could result in worsening of their current condition by creating more stress on an already burdened immune system. In addition, certain antibiotics inactivate Bordatella vaccine, making it ineffective.
  • Canine corona virus vaccine is not indicated at this time because studies show that many dogs that are exposed to the virus do not develop any evidence of disease (enteritis, diarrhea), and many infected animals have very mild clinical signs that are self-limiting and resolve on their own.

*Antibodies are immune proteins that neutralize specific foreign materials such as viruses or bacteria in the body. They form part of what is called the “Humoral” or “Memory” immune system response. The body retains a “memory” of prior exposure to foreign material so it can quickly neutralize it at future exposures. There are 2 other components to the body’s immune response, called the “Cellular” and “Mucosal” systems. Unfortunately, tests of the latter two systems are not available at present.
My vaccine protocols are based upon the individual pet’s risks and comprehensive integrative physical examination findings, the American Animal Hospital Association’s 2006 Vaccine Guidelines, and the 2007 American Association of Feline Practitioners Advisory Panel on Feline Vaccinations. For more information visit
AAHA guidelines
AAFP guidelines

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