Do you know what shots and vaccinations to give your dog?
Or do you just blindly trust your vet to make that decision for you?
Every year, like most people, I take my dogs to the vet and consent to whatever shots my vet suggests. Recently I’ve started to question if I’m making the right decision. Since my first Doberman died of cancer, I’m maybe more paranoid than most people about my dog’s health. And with both of my current Dobermans being seniors, I want to keep them healthy in their old age. Which led me to consider the vaccination issue.
Should you get dog vaccinations every year? The short answer is, it depends. (Don’t you hate that answer?)
Now before I go any further, I want to avoid any hint of Veterinarian bashing. Some people have a
very negative, almost a conspiracy-theory attitude about vets. I believe people who enter this field
do so for the love of animals and science, not money. I’m sure they get empathy burn-out like people in other careers, but I don’t believe vets are conspiring to get rich at the expense of our dog’s health. We know much more about vaccinations than we did years ago, so cut your vet some slack. But having said this, it’s important that you, as your dog’s protector, question your vet about vaccinations. You should understand why you’re giving your dog shots every year. And help your vet make the vaccination decision together.
Please educate yourself, and beware of any opinion that sounds extreme. There are people who believe you should NEVER vaccinate. These people may need reminding, that in poor countries children still die from diseases that have been eliminated in developed countries, because of vaccination. Vaccines are not bad.
But, vaccination of dogs is not a black or white, yes or no issue. In general, the benefits of vaccination outweigh their costs (which are adverse reactions). Here I discuss vaccinations in adult dogs, puppy vaccinations will need different considerations.
The Basics To Know About Vaccines
People object to regular vaccines because of the risk of adverse side effects. I’m sure some dogs with poor immune systems have had problems because of a vaccine. This is not the norm although. How many dogs do you know who have had a vaccine reaction? Now, how many dogs do you know who have gotten an infectious disease? Again the benefits outweigh the risks.
The big benefit to vaccines is that your dog won’t DIE or get seriously sick, from something that’s preventable. If you decide not to vaccinate, and your dog gets infected, the treatment will be long, painful, expensive, and with no guarantee of survival. I’ve seen one statistic that 80%-90% of dogs infected with the Parvovirus die. That’s a scary, sad statistic.
Which brings me to the Doberman and breed-specific vaccines. The Parvovirus might be the most important vaccine to consider. It’s thought that some breeds are at a higher risk of getting parvo or get more seriously ill, this includes Dobermans, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels, and Alaskan sled dogs.
The vaccine you may wish to avoid for Dobermans is Lepto. Some people believe that Dobes have a higher risk of a negative reaction to this vaccine. Also, note the lepto vaccine is short-lived for only about 3-4 months and covers only a few of the many strains. Lepto is caught by drinking urine infected water or soil. Usually, it’s found in wet, wooded areas with stagnant water.
Core Vaccines For Dogs
It’s been shown that vaccines have a Duration of Immunity longer than expected. Although in most areas, we now have a three-year dog vaccination schedule for Core vaccines, this may need updating. The CORE vaccines for dogs in Canada are: Rabies (usually required by law), Distemper, Adenovirus, and Parvovirus.
- Parvo has a DOI of 7 years
- Rabies has a DOI of 3-7 years
- Adenovirus-2 has a DOI of 7-9 years
- Distemper has a DOI (depending on the strain) of 5-15 years
Parvo and Distemper vaccine antibodies can last 5-7 years. So why do we automatically vaccinate every three years? It doesn’t give them extra protection, it just puts a strain on their body.
Ideally, before you vaccinate your dog, you want to do a TITER test. This test will show if antibodies are still present from the last vaccination. (Note that titer tests are not always accurate. A dog with low titers may still have protection. A low titer may just mean that the dog hasn’t been recently challenged.)
I asked my vet why titers tests aren’t common, I had never heard of them before. He replied that the titer test is more costly than the vaccines themselves. Therefore, dog owners would just choose to get the shots anyway. That may be the case, but I was a bit disappointed that I had never been asked if I wanted a titer test first. I would have appreciated being given the option.
Now some people may notice that some vaccinated dogs still get infected. Keep in mind that vaccines don’t prevent the dog from getting the disease. The vaccine prevents your dog from getting a full-on attack or getting much worse, much sooner.
The other statement people sometimes make is that their dog doesn’t get vaccinated and he’s never been infected. Well, you can thank all your neighbors who DO vaccinate, for that.
Also, there is some debate about the size of the dog and the vaccine amount given. Some people think a small dog should only get half the vaccine of a large dog. Makes sense, right? But that’s not how vaccines work, it’s not size dependent, it’s immune system dependent. Just picture a large football player and a smaller nerdy kid. That nerdy kid might have a stronger immune system that can fight off colds better than the big guy. Maybe not the best analogy, but I hope that helps explain the concept in a very basic way.
Are you confused yet? Well, just to complicate things, you need to consider a few more things when deciding on shots and vaccinations for dogs.
- Age – dogs who are too young or too old are more at risk of bad side effects from vaccines.
- Health – dogs who are sick, stressed, have allergies, or have cancer are also vulnerable.
- Breed – some dog breeds are predisposed to negative reactions or are at risk of catching a specific disease. For Dobermans, Parvovirus is a higher concern for infection. And, Dobermans have more risk of a bad reaction from the Lepto virus.
- The number of shots – too many shots at once can cause problems, space them out from year to year if you can.
- Location– Do you live in a risky area for certain diseases? Do you live near areas where your dog might drink infected water? Do you go to places with lots of mosquitos? Is Lyme disease common in your area?
- Lifestyle – Is your dog usually housed inside or in the backyard? Does he play at dog parks or get exposed to other dogs who might not be vaccinated? Do you travel and need to board your dog at a kennel? If you never kennel your dog, go to dog parks, or go to dog shows, why give him the Bordatella shot?
Does my Dog Need Heartworm Pills Also?
Again, consider do you live in a risky area? What is the temperature where you live? If you live in Canada you don’t need to have your dog on heartworm pills year round. When the temperature goes lower than 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit), the lifecycle of the heartworm is broken. In Canada, this usually means only giving heartworm preventative pills from June to November.
Also, be aware that heartworm pills only kill larvae, they don’t kill worms. If your dog is infected, he’ll need a different treatment. For this reason, you’ll want to do a heartworm blood-test first to make sure your dog is clear, before starting a monthly pill. Lastly, avoid heartworm pills with added pest control for fleas and ticks. Your dog doesn’t need another chemical assault on his body. There are natural safe alternatives to prevent fleas and ticks. Some people swear by neem oil to prevent fleas on dogs.
Lyme disease vaccination is usually only given in high-risk areas. But some people think this vaccine is not effective enough to outweigh the risks.
What shots does my dog really need?
If you’re still unsure which shots and vaccines for dogs to get, ask your vet these questions at vaccination time.
- Do we live in a risky area? Are there Lyme, Lepto, or heartworm cases in the area?
- Is my dog a senior? Can his body handle the vaccine shots?
- Can I get a titer test first?
- Can I just give my Doberman the Parvo vaccine?
I decided to stop vaccinating my 11-year-old Doberman, because of her age and the low risk of her being exposed to these diseases. I hope this look at the pros and cons of vaccination for dogs helps you decide. For further reading, this article is interesting, Canine McCarthyism.
Do you vaccinate your Doberman?