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

Does she need to be vaccinated this year? Blood Titre test can help decision-making.

Recent studies have shown that most core vaccinations last longer than one year. One study found adequate serum antibody titres to last for at least 6 years for feline panleukopenia virus, 4 years for feline calcivirus, and 3 years for feline herpesvirus. Many veterinarians are now adjusting their vaccination protocols and determining the frequency of vaccination based upon each individual patient. When determining the frequency of vaccination, several things must be taken into consideration:

  • Medical history and presence of disease or active allergies
  • Antibody titres
  • The age of the animal
  • Prior adverse reaction to vaccination
  • Potential for exposure to the disease
  • Prior vaccination schedule

Titres are tests that determine the amount of antibodies to a particular agent in the blood (i.e. a virus such as parvovirus). This information helps to determine an animal’s immune response upon exposure to the agent, and is used to help decide whether revaccination is required. Titres do not distinguish between immunity generated by vaccination and exposure to the “wild” disease; generally the magnitude of immunity produced by vaccination is lower. An adequate titre is only a measurable quantity of the immune system’s “Memory” response. Neither vaccination nor an adequate titre guarantees protection, which is why it is essential to ensure proper function of the immune system.

Benefits of Checking Titres:

  • May reduce the frequency of vaccination
  • Reduces the risk of allergies, cancer, and other immune mediated diseases
  • Reduces the risk of an anaphylactic reaction associated with vaccination
  • Reduces exposure to toxic chemicals and foreign proteins that are found in some vaccines

Year of the Tiger

I want to dedicate this article to the memory of Clara, who left our world peacefully on Sunday Feb. 14th, surrounded by friends and companions. She was a real little tiger for all her 21 years, and will be fondly remembered by all who knew her.

We have entered the Year of the Yang White Metal Tiger (Geng Yin) in the Oriental 12-year Lunar cycle. This is a time of change; in Chinese astrology, the tiger is one of the most dynamic and powerful signs. Its nature is unpredictable, courageous and volatile. Therefore the year of the Tiger is usually associated with major changes and social turmoil.

On the health front the Metal element system includes the lungs, colon, skin and immune system. This means that your pets may be much more predisposed to developing conditions like skin allergies, rashes or infections, asthma, bronchitis or kennel cough, colitis, irritable bowel disease, diarrhea or constipation, compromised immunity or autoimmune conditions such as IMHA, thrombocytopenia and polyarthritis. The Metal element controls the Wood element, much like an axe prunes a tree. Wood element system organs are liver, gall bladder and nervous system. Over- or under-control leads to disharmonies such as anxiety, hepatitis, cholangitis and liver tumours. I would advise you to work on preventing the development of these type of condition by ensuring that your pet gets regular exercise, a proper diet for his or her constitutional type, and the use of acupuncture, as well as herbal and nutritional supplements.
Walking your dog and playing with your cat engages you both, with the added benefit of reducing your own stress and tension by lowering your stress hormones. Incorporating functional foods that possess healing properties into your diet as well as your pet’s diet can help you avoid illnesses. This is one of the main foundations of Chinese medicine. I would suggest adding a small amount of the following foods into your pet’s diet (but not all at once!): dill, *oregano, cilantro, *rosemary, sage, peppermint, turmeric, basil, coriander, fennel, anise, cardamom, ginger, collard greens, Swiss chard, *mustard greens, parsley, dandelion greens, *daikon radish, turnip, beets, artichoke, pear (especially Asian pear), papaya, pineapple, cherry, blueberry, almonds, pine nuts, and flax seeds. There are also foods that should be avoided, such as: cow’s milk dairy products, sugar, wheat, deep fried and fatty foods, processed and refined foods, tomato, eggplants, green peppers and white potato. All foods marked with a * should be avoided by our feline friends, the “little tigers” in our lives.

Being proactive also includes using herbal and nutritional supplements appropriately to support your pet’s health and wellness. I have considered herbs and supplemental nutrients as part of my family’s diet and have used them effectively for prevention for many years. Be aware that our furry companions have different digestive and metabolic systems than we do. Consult with a veterinarian trained in herbal and nutritional therapy before using any supplements for your pets.

In summary, the Year of the Tiger will bring about more change, even turmoil in the world and in your life. However by using this as an opportunity to shape your life, like sculpting a beautiful and useful object out of raw wood or molding from metal you can ride the tiger triumphantly towards your goals. Cultivate patience, kindness and peace so that your interactions with others can promote harmony and love. Take walks and get out in nature with your pets to refresh your spirit. Eat well and get plenty of sleep and cultivate health in the five areas of your life—body, mind, spirit, finance and relationships so that you can manifest balance, wellness and fulfillment in 2010, and be able to be the best companion to your pet that you are able to be.

The Magic Curing Pill

Are you looking for an easy quick solution to your pet’s health issues?
Is your pet vomiting or having diarrhea? Does she have a dull, dry, itchy coat? Arthritis? Bad breath, dental disease, ear infections, flatulance, or runny eyes?
Do you want a cheap, easy to give pill that would solve the problem?

In that case, please stop reading this immediately and go elsewhere- that is not my approach to health care for pets.

Many conventional medications do work rapidly, BUT they just deal with symptoms, and usually not underlying causes.
Your dog or cat will be temporarily better, until the same issue recurs or another problem pops up.

Is there a BETTER way?

Yes! Treating your dog or cat holistically- NOT just dealing with the symptoms, but looking for and correcting underlying issues.

A veterinarian trained in TCVM has the tools to identify and correct systemic imbalances that can lead to disease, eliminating both the underlying problems as well as the symptoms.

Through diet, herbs and acupuncture, the body can heal itself and return to a balances state of wellness.

Holistic VS Homeopathic- what’s the difference?

Differences between Holistic, Integrative, Naturopathic, Alternative and Homeopathic therapies and practices:

 Do you use holistic, homeopathic and naturopathic interchangeably? Have you ever discussed holistic health and discovered that the other person was defining holistic totally differently? This is not surprising, since no accepted standards exist for holistic, holistic health, or holistic medicine.

Many people, myself included, define holistic as a whole made up of interdependent parts; an inclusive view of the animal in its environment, encompassing its relationships with other pets and the guardian (family).  When applied to illness, it is called holistic medicine and includes a number of factors, such as dealing with the root cause of an illness; increasing client involvement; and considering both conventional (allopathic) and complementary (alternative) therapies.

Some people use Holistic as a synonym for alternative therapies. By this definition, “going holistic” means turning away from all conventional medical options and using alternative treatment exclusively. This meaning mainly relates to illness situations, and sometimes is used for controversial therapies.

Integrative Medicine is the combiantion of conventional and alternative therapies, using multiple modalities to gain the “best of both worlds”.

Naturopathic Medicine is focused on prevention and the use of natural treatment options to promote healing.

Alternative Medicine is defined as modalities of therapy that have not been taught or embraced by colleges of veterinary medicine, used in place of conventional therapies. This definition is very fluid, as different universities in different locations in the world all have variations in what is taught. Over time this also changes. For example, 30 years ago, essential fatty acid supplements were alternative, now they are mainstream. Alternative therapies can include a wide range of modalities such as:  acupuncture, chinese and western herbs, orthomolecular medicine, nutritional supplements, low-level laser therapy, Tellington Touch, acupressure, Reiki, Craniosacral therapy, chiropractic, flower essences, ozone therapy, homeopathy, massage and many other modalities.

Complementary Medicine is defined as modalities that are not taught or embraced by colleges of veterinary medicine, used in addition to conventional therapies (see Integrative Medicine)

Homeopathy from the Greek words homoios (similar) and pathos (suffering) is an entire system of medicine, notable for its practice of prescribing water-based solutions that contain extremely diluted ingredients. The theory of homeopathy was developed by the Saxon physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843) and first published in 1796. Homeopathy calls for treating “like with like” (law of similars). The practitioner considers the totality of symptoms of a given case. He or she then chooses a homeopathic remedy that has been reported in a homeopathic proving to produce a similar set of symptoms in healthy subjects. This remedy is usually given in extremely low concentrations.

Talk to Your Vet

More and more, people are playing an active role in the health care of their animal companions. It is important to work closely with your veterinarian to achieve the best possible level of health care for your pet. An important part of this partnership is clear communication. Ask the right questions and you will receive quality information about prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. This will help make your decisions about the care you desire for your pet. It will also ensure safety, prevent errors, and improve your pet’s health.

For example:

  • Being honest about symptoms can help your veterinarian order the right tests and make the right diagnoses
  • Sharing questions about prescriptions can prevent giving too much or too little medicine to your pet
  • Clear instructions from your veterinarian or the hospital staff after an illness or operation may be the difference between complete recovery or relapse
  • Having a plan of action for followup testing ensures that timely adjustments are made to therapy, and that relapses are prevented or caught early

If you are worried about being too upset to fully understand the issues, take along a family member, friend or caregiver to help you communicate with your veterinarian. Writing down your questions or concerns in advance of your appointment is also very useful to clarify issues and to remember all the symptoms or the course of events. Ask for a written summary of the diagnosis and plan, and options for therapy available for your pet. If you feel that the veterinarian you are seeing with your companion animal is not communicating with you in a clear and understandable manner, don’t be afraid to ask questions to help clarify the situation. If that is not effective, you may seek a second opinion from another veterinarian within the same practice, at another practice, or by asking for a referral to a specialist.

Arthritis therapy: Integrative approach

Many patients I see suffer from joint pain, loss of mobility, stiffness, and decreased quality of life due to degenerative joint diseases such as arthritis.

A multimodal approach is required for this very challenging condition. Usually an increase in mobility, a decrease in pain and a much better quality of life results. Key modalities are diet, acupuncture, cold-laser therapy, herbal supplements, nutraceuticals (nutritional supplements such as omega-3 EFA, green-lipped mussel extract, glucosamine,  chondroitin, MSM, antioxidants), injectable joint-support products such as Cartrophen and Adequan, Prolotherapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Metacam, and Deramaxx, and non-sedating narcotics such as Tramadol.  Sometimes steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used, but they are usually reserved for cases where the benefits outweigh the greater risks of that class of drug. Physical therapy such as underwater treadmill exercises and swimming in a controlled environment is helpful for improving mobility and building muscle strength lost due to inactivity. For the very difficult cases, nerve-pain drugs such as Amantadine and Gabapentin are added. Surgery is needed when there is significant joint instability leading to partial or full luxation (dislocation), bone chips in the joint space or for hip replacement. A new cutting edge modality now available is Vet-Stem Regenerative Stem-cell Therapy for dogs!

The cornerstone of diet therapy is to maintain or acheive a lean body condition. Often these pets have not been able to exercise for a very long time, and subsequently gained weight. This added weight is a serious complication for painful joints, as every extra gram the animal has to carry stresses the affected joint more. Sometimes weight loss is all that is needed for the return to full mobility, but in the majority of cases additional modalities need to be used. To determine how much weight needs to be lost and a safe rate for the slimming program, consult your veterinarian. There are prescription weight loss diets available, as well as a medication (Slentrol-for dogs only) to help acheive ideal body weight.

Acupuncture is an often-overlooked modality, but it really shines for treating chronic pain. In the hands of a practitioner trained in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, the whole body is treated, not just the affected joints, so many other issues can be addressed at the same time. The cost of acupuncture treatments is usually comparable to or even less than conventional drug treatment. Side effects are rare and usually very minor such as mild bruising at the acupuncture site.

Cold-laser therapy can be used for laser acupuncture, to stimulate acupoints without needles, or as regional therapy directly over the affected joint. The laser treatment reduces pain, increases blood flow and stimulates healing. It is usually given very frequently at first, such as 3-4 times per week, then tapered down to weekly or even monthly.

Herbal supplements are available at many pet and health-food stores, as well as online. The english name of the herb on the label is not sufficient, as many very different herbs have similar common names. The part of the plant used needs to be identified, as some plants have toxic roots but safe leaves, and vice versa. The product should be tested for contaminants, such as bacteria, mold, heavy metals and other toxins. Finally, the extraction process and amount of herb present in the product should be listed. Sadly most of the products available directly to the consumer are lacking in many if not all of the above. Another issue is the use of herbs that may be safe for people, but are toxic to pets; cats are  especially sensitive to many things that are safely used for dogs and people.  Remeber that herbs, like drugs, can have severe and even life-threatening side effects. Do not be lulled by the fact that they are “natural” products; they contain a wide range of chemical compounds that can work synergistically to help OR harm. Please consult a veterinarian trained in herbal medicine before using an herbal remedy for your pet. Listings of qualified veterinarians can be found at and

Stem-cell therapy: successful procedure in the news

Read the article on Chip’s recovery from crippling arthritis in The Toronto Star, July 18, 2009 (you’ll need to scroll the frame below the photo):



Is the economy affecting your companion’s health care?

If pet care expenses are getting you down, you are not alone. Today there are so many more avenues of care than there were 30 years ago, and while the quality and quantity of care is amazing, health care costs for everyone are soaring. Continue reading Is the economy affecting your companion’s health care?

Another Pet Food Recall

More reasons to consider home-preparation of food for your companion! Even though cats can be very finicky, a minimally processed whole-foods diet is usually worth the effort. Make sure to check that the recipe you use is properly balanced and suitable for the individual requirements of your pet. Dr. Sherebrin can formulate a diet based on TCVM principles that can address current or potential health issues.
On May 21, Nutro Products announced a voluntary recall of two of their dry cat food products due to incorrect levels of zinc and potassium in the products. The following products are affected by the recall: Nutro® Natural Choice® Complete Care® Dry Cat Foods (with “Best If Used by Dates” between May 12 and August 22, 2010)Nutro® Max® Dry Cat Foods (with “Best If Used by Dates” between May 12 and August 22, 2010). The recall does not affect any other dog or cat food or treat products. Products were distributed across Canada and in ten other countries. While there have been no reports of illness pet owners whose cats may have ingested these products need to watch for symptoms that can include a decline in appetite or refusal to eat, weight loss, vomiting or diarrhea. Pet owners who have purchased these products should return the food to the retailer. For more information, call 1.800.833.5330 or visit