Validate before you Vaccinate
Routine inoculation may not be necessarily be the best way to protect your dog from disease (writes Dr Vince MacNally BVSc VetMFHom MRCVS in this month's S&C magazine).
Risk versus Reward
I’m old enough to remember the Parvovirus outbreak in the early 1980’s when dogs were dying in droves and there was a scramble by the veterinary profession to find a way to protect the canine population from contracting this deadly and devastating disease.
As a newly qualified vet, at the time working for the PDSA, it was harrowing to witness the daily procession of affected animals. Despite treatment with antibiotics, intravenous fluids and anti-emetics, many of these pets died.
Shortly after the disease first emerged in 1978, a new parvovirus was isolated and identified as the cause. As it would take time for a vaccine to become available, inoculation using the closely-related feline panleukopenia virus began to provide some degree of protection.
There is no doubt that this and the development of a canine vaccine saved many pets whose lives would have been lost. The same is true of similar vaccines developed to protect dogs against Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH) and Canine Distemper Virus (CDV). As with most things in life however, a risk reward ratio is involved.
If inoculating dogs was a completely risk-free procedure, then providing ongoing protection against the major infectious diseases would be a simple matter of regularly giving vaccines.
While many pets appear to tolerate this well, a wide range of vaccine reactions have been reported to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, which include:
- Haemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)
- bone marrow suppression
- neurological dysfunction
- autoimmune diseases
- abnormal swellings
- ongoing ill-health
It is also important to bear in mind, that it may take months or years for adverse reactions to appear, meaning a causal link to the development of many immune related diseases such as IBD, allergies and arthritis, is almost impossible to prove.
Given that vaccinations can cause harm, even if only in a small percentage of cases, it is wise to vaccinate only when necessary to avoid taking an unnecessary risk with a dog’s health.
Puppies with high levels of antibodies from mum can be immune to infection until 12 - 18 weeks of age. A vaccine given any sooner is likely to be neutralized to some degree, resulting in a weakened immune system response.
Delaying the first injection until 18 weeks is likely to result in a much healthier reaction, but leaves puppies vulnerable to infection. Great care must therefore be taken to confine pets to safe areas, when adopting this approach.
But why not vaccinate earlier, ‘just to be on the safe side’ and then repeat the inoculation at 18 weeks or over? This is an option - but the adverse reactions already described need to be weighed in the balance when making this decision. This includes disrupting an immature immune system, which can lead to a wide range of dietary and environmental sensitivities, chronic itching, skin inflammation and eruptions, digestive disturbances and other forms of ill health.
Extensive research by Ronald D. Schultz indicates that following initial vaccination (and a booster a year or so later if necessary), many dogs are immune for five to eight years and probably for life. This being the case, vaccinating routinely without first evaluating a pet’s immune status poses an unnecessary risk to health.
Keeping in mind the benefits of vaccination, but also the potential risks involved, how then to protect dogs against infectious disease as safely as possible?
The following can help:
- When a booster is due, consider having a titer test done first. This is performed on a blood sample taken by a vet. It measures the level of antibodies present against Canine Parvovirus, Canine Distemper Virus and Infectious Canine Hepatitis. If the readings are adequate, there is no need for a booster (see http://vaccicheck.com/ or speak to your vet about the options available). In addition to this, no pet with an existing health problem should be vaccinated, in accordance with the manufacturers’ guidelines, as this can make matters worse.
- Feed as fresh and as nutritious a diet as possible to ensure the immune system receives the nutrients it needs to function normally. You can enhance the diet with clinically proven, natural supplements, rich in immune supporting nutrients not found in ordinary food. (Immunity and Vitality are perfect for this.)
- Reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. A wide range of chemicals can be detrimental to health, and for this reason it is important to reduce unnecessary exposure to as many of these as possible.
- Wormers. An alternative to giving chemical wormers routinely, is to screen for parasitic worms every three to four months. If no evidence of parasites are found there is no need to give anything.
- Flea and Tick Products. Instead of chemical flea / tick products, consider natural alternatives.
- Pesticides and Herbicides. Avoid non-organic fruits and vegetables where possible to reduce the intake of pesticide residues frequently found in these and similar foodstuffs, including wheat, rice, corn, maize, soya etc.
- Environmental Chemicals. Many of the chemicals dogs are exposed to on a daily basis can have an ill-effect on immune system health. For this reason, it is best to use natural products in and around the home whenever possible – this includes the avoidance of plastic dishes and toys.
In summary, we can best protect our dogs against the major infectious diseases by the responsible use of vaccines, providing maximum nutritional support to the immune system, and by reducing exposure to as many toxic environmental and dietary chemicals as possible.
About the author
Dr Vince MacNally BVSc VetMFHom MRCVS is an expert holistic vet with 35 years’ clinical experience. In addition to consulting at a number of locations in the UK, he is the founder of Vince the Vet® Superfood, which supplies a unique range of integrated holistic products and services to pet owners who wish to proactively monitor and manage their pets health.
Launched shortly after this article was written, as part of the Vince the Vet® Pet Remedies range, Injection Visit is a clinically proven* blend of plant and mineral extracts which support the body’s natural adaptive and recuperative powers.
Given before and after injections to relieve stress and support normal, healthy immune sytem responses, it can be used whenever vaccines or any drugs are administered by this route.