November 23, 2012

To vaccinate or not vaccinate.

Since it's addressed to Halladay, what are the chances they will accept kisses instead of cash?

Halladay turns four years old in April 2013. Ever since he was 8 weeks old, we've been bringing him to the vet for his yearly vaccines which include DHPP, rabies, and bordetella. For good measure, we also throw in monthly doses of Revolution over the summer and into fall. Randie and I joke that we take better care of our dog's health than we do our own.

But do we really?

Studies are showing, time and time again, that dogs are not likely to require yearly vaccines because their antibodies are usually high enough over time to be considered immune to the disease. By over vaccinating, we're putting our pooches at risk for a whole slew of health issues that can affect their blood, organs, liver, kidneys, and so on.

Take Maggie for an example. Maggie, a three year old (best guess) bloodhound joined the Hopeful Hearts family in July as a stray. With no access to her vaccination history, we weren't overly enthused at the idea of vaccinating her, so we sent Maggie to Carleton Place Vet Hospital for a titer test. Her blood work was shipped off to Cornell University and then six weeks later the results showed up in my email box: all levels were high, vaccines were unnecessary, and Maggie would not need repeat blood work until 2016 at the earliest. We saved Maggie at least four years of unnecessary vaccines.

But then on the flip side you have dogs like Charlotte. At ten years old, Charlotte was dumped off at a kill shelter because her owners didn't have time for her. Unfortunately the shelter wasn't given any kind of vaccination history on her by her owners, and although unusual, the shelter didn't bother to vaccinate her before sending her to rescue either. This left the rescue in a pickle. One would think that a ten year old dog had received plenty of vaccinations at her age, but if you're going to adopt dogs out to the public, you need to (or should, if you're a reputable rescue) have some kind of proof that a dog it up to date on vaccines. So off to CP Vet Hospital for Charlotte. Another 6 weeks went by and the results that came back were a little shocking. All the levels were low and she needed at least her core vaccines - DHPP and rabies.

Titer testing is similar to playing Russian Roulette. On one hand you might be saving your dog from being unncessarily vaccinated (and also saving yourself some money in the process) but if the levels come back low, you've not only put out $300 for the titers, but you now have to pay an additional $150-$200 dollars for vaccines. 

This topic is still under debate in our household though. It's difficult to break people out of the old-school way of thinking that your vet knows best when it's clear that's not always the case -- the kind of food your vet recommends is a great example. Unfortunately not all veterinarians support titer testing for one reason or another. Personally, if Jean Dodds agrees with it, then I do too.

However, for the time being, Halladay will be off to the vet next weekend for his rabies vaccine, and hopefully next year we can come to some kind of compromise before he and Wookie are due back for their annual poking and prodding.

What are your thoughts on titer testing? Do you vaccinate annually?


  1. Nola's had all her puppy shots and the one year boosters (she's 2 now), and she got the three year rabies in June. I've decided to have her vaccinated for the DHPP once every 3-5 years (have to talk it over with the vet more), the rabies every 3 years (by law) and no kennel cough, lepto, lyme, ect.
    Titers are interesting, and I think I'll get them done on Nola

  2. We take Eleanor to the same Vet, and also have to take her in for her annual soon. She's had terrible reactions to vaccines in the past- specifically Lepto, so we always have the same thoughts when it comes to Needle time. Rabies we have to have according to bylaw, and our pet insurance, but we tend to skip some of the other ones.

    1. I have to look into it more, but I think if you can provide proof that your dog is up to date on vaccines - even if this was done via titering - then I believe that is sufficient.

      On the other hand, if you want to cross the border with your pup, they need to have their rabies vaccine.

  3. The pack get their DHPP and Rabies vaccines every 3 years. I take it as a happy medium between not vaccinating and getting it done annually. We've also nevered bothered with lepto, and since lyme and kennel cough are a hit and miss anyways we don't bother with those as well.

    ~Love, the SugarHighK9s

  4. I probably err on the side of over-vaccinating my crew. They get 3-year DHPP and rabies strictly on schedule; I vaccinated them for lepto this year because we're doing a lot more off-leash hiking in areas that have muddy creeks and puddles, and I can't keep them from drinking the gross dirty puddle water, so I made the decision to go ahead and gamble on a lepto vaccine. I don't know whether I'll renew it, but neither of my guys had a bad reaction, so I might. I give heartworm meds and Frontline all year round.

    Most of my foster dogs come from the rural South, where shelters do not have money to give them any treatment or even diagnostic care, so as a rule they don't have any prior vaccinations and they ALWAYS arrive with some kind of parasite or illness. Parvo, heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm, sarcoptic mange, kennel cough... it's all come through my place at one time or another. On top of that, the shelters I pull from have had major distemper and parvo outbreaks within the past 12 months, so even if my fosters don't have those diseases, they've been exposed to the pathogens and could be potential carriers.

    Also, because we live in the city, my dogs get most of their off-leash exercise at a local dog park. That dog park is heavily used. The local dog population is generally very well cared for, but there are always exceptions.

    Finally, I compete in dog sports. Again, that's a population that is generally very well cared for, but competition dogs travel widely and spend time in enclosed spaces with lots and lots of other dogs, and many other competitors are active in rescue and/or have breeding kennels, so... I count that as a very minor risk, but it's still a factor I take into account.

    Since this is my situation, my guys are at fairly high risk for exposure and I'm aggressive with their vaccinations. It helps that Dog Mob has never shown any bad reaction to a vaccine (except bordatella, so I don't do that one anymore -- they're young and very healthy dogs, so they don't need it anyway).

    1. We're in the same situation as you, I think. Heavily used city dog park, fosters pulled from less than stellar conditions, etc.

      I think that if we weren't fostering we likely wouldn't bother with bordetella, but since so many of the dogs we pull come w/kennel cough it makes me feel better. We had a hairy situation with kennel cough when we first began fostering and I don't ever want to go through that again.

      I forgot to mention, we also do lepto because Halladay is like a furry little hoover and will eat or drink anything off the ground.

      We're likely going to stop with the Revolution next year, though. Wookie is having some reactions to it, so we're going to try an oral alternative.

  5. I am just thinking about Max and why he had such an issue after his arrival in Canada. I thought it was the stress of travel. Perhaps it was the vaccinations he had that set him off for months into not being able to keep any food in his system and he had no energy. A little googling (which I know is less than stellar for information but some of it rings true because my vet couldn't help me and didn't want to listen to me).

    There I found gastro-intestinal problems as being a side effect. Just a thought because no vet could tell me what the problem was except a blood test which didn't quite diagnose it but it was a guess that it must be EPI, and then treat him for what they thought he had. Through my research, it was not EPI.

    He got better with much time. His stools were never great with the enzymes. I soon took him off those because they weren't really working. Slowly his stool firmed up, and he gained weight again.

    Vaccinations for thought. Max won't be getting vaccinations just in case that is what is was. He was a walking skeleton and it took ages for him to have energy and put weight back on.

    1. I remember that -- talk about frustrating. Is he still eating raw?

  6. Parker has had reactions from the rabies shot. So my vet & I decided it would be best to check his titers before subjecting him to another rabies vaccination. I can't remember the EXACT numbers right this second (they're saved on my home computer) but it was something like 4.87 and the acceptable level I believe is around .50....So his levels were way above what he needed. Can you imagine what they would have been had we gave him another 3yr vaccination at that point! He is 12 pounds and had originally had his 1yr puppy shot followed by the 3year vaccine the year that much was still in his system when he was due. I'm glad I spent the money for the titer is pricey though...over $300. But with Darla, we stick to the 3year rabies, as she doesn't have any reaction. BTW We also go to CP Vet Hosp....Ann is fantastic :)

    1. Yikes! That's a little scary, but a prime example of why titers are so great. Unfortunately the price tag for titers is almost as scary, especially if the levels come back low and the dog requires vaccines anyway.

      I have heard awesome things about Ann, and if I'm ever in the market for a new vet, I'll be heading to CP!

  7. Our vet doesn't give all the shots every year. There are some he doesn't give unless you really need (like so you can board the dog). It is a debate I have about myself (which shots, how often) and I hope the vet community does more research into this. Our first dog trainer always did the titer test. It is a tough call. I am sure you will make the right decision for you and Halladay!


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