When you get a puppy, one of the first things you must do is head to the vet. If you got your puppy from a reputable breeder or a shelter, it is likely their first set of shots (see graphic below) have already been accounted for. You are meant to go back to get your puppy shots every 4 weeks until they go through 3 rounds of vaccinations. But what about after their puppy shots? Are the yearly booster shots really necessary? The vaccination sessions for puppies are very controversial as you will talk to some people who think you only need to give the puppy a 5 way shot, DHPP, compared to a 9, or 10 way shot. The DHPP shot covers distemper, hepatitis, kennel cough, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. The reality is, the 10 way shot is overkill, it basically just covers the rare strains of those viruses that are in the 5 way shot. It is also required by law to have your dog vaccinated for rabies. Most pet owners do this shot for the first time between 4 and 6 months. The graphics below will show you the differences in the shots, as well as a puppy schedule for vaccinations.
When puppies are growing it is important to take into account their immune system, the more vaccinations you pump into them at once, the harder it is on the puppy’s body. Some homeopaths believe that no vaccinations should be given. Instead they turn to nosodes. These are medicines, made from natural products of diseases that can build up immunity. It should also be noted that every vaccination is the same volume for every dog, every age, every size. This means that a 6 pound chihuahua adult will receive the same amount of vaccinations that a 120 pound great dane would. Additionally, the same amount of rabies vaccine is not only used on all size dogs, but also for different time periods. For example, you can get a 1 year, 3 year, or sometimes even a 5 year rabies vaccine. The only difference is the certificate that they print out for your state, or county. In spite of that, a developing puppy is quite fragile, so splitting up the vaccinations, while more expensive, would be best. This would mean getting each individual vaccine by itself, a parvovirus (a disease of the stomach and small intestine) vaccine separate from the distemper (a disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems) vaccine. It is possible to only give your dog one vaccine at a time, you do not have to do a 5 way, or 9 way vaccination.
Yearly vet check ups are a necessary expense to owning a dog. You may not think anything is wrong with your dog, but routine blood panels and a good physical examination are truly the only way to tell. While you're there, your vet may recommend vaccinations. 10 years ago, they may have recommended DHPP and rabies vaccines. They may even throw in the kennel cough vaccination if you mention you go to dog parks, or board your dog. Now, you won’t be able to leave without being offered canine influenza, coronavirus, leptospirosis, bordetella, and lyme disease. Starting with influenza, it is extremely rare and the vast majority of dogs won’t be exposed to it in their lifetime. Canine influenza is exactly what it sounds like, common symptoms include cough, sneeze, runny nose, and lack of appetite. The same goes for coronavirus, and this vaccine is only recommended for a small amount of dogs. While COVID-19 has been a major issue of late, the coronavirus vaccine does not protect your pup from the novel COVID-19, but rather the canine coronavirus (CCoV). CCoV is a highly contagious intestinal disease. Lyme disease (a disease that affects the kidneys, nervous system and heart) is becoming more prevalent in the United States and it is important to make sure your pup has the antibodies to combat it, however, titer testing is available. Titer testing is a blood test where the vet will conduct an antibody test for these viruses in your dog’s blood. Lyme disease vaccines have a lower efficacy, shorter duration of immunity, and cause more post vaccinal adverse events than other vaccines veterinarians use. Leptospirosis is found more commonly in rural areas. It is a disease in which your pup will get from their mucous membranes (cut or scrape) coming into contact with an affected animal’s urine. This can be from food, water, bedding, or just running around in the soil. This disease will concentrate on the liver and kidneys, and can be fatal. However, leptospirosis is quite rare in the United States, in some places less than 1% of dogs are at risk. Bordetella is the vaccination for kennel cough, which many facilities and dog parks will require in order to allow your dog to stay with them. It is worth noting that not all boarding facilities will accept titer tests, so check with your facility before taking that route. Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection in dogs. While kennel cough is fairly common, you can get titer testing done to confirm that your dog still has the antibodies for those viruses. In some parts of the country, they are beginning to offer clinics where you can get titer testing done. Specifically for rabies as it is the most expensive titer, ranging from $120-300. Distemper and parvovirus will run you anywhere between $40-60.
In a 2011 study, it was proven that upwards of 86% of dogs retain their antibodies for these vaccinations for well over a year. Additionally in a 2007 study, it was found that almost 25% of healthy dogs have the antibodies for leptospirosis prior to being vaccinated. Some of these vaccines (rabies and distemper for example) have been associated with seizures, brain aneurysms, and even death. Titer testing, while expensive, has the possibility of giving your dogs years of their life back, that vaccinations otherwise would have taken away. In 1998, Dr. R.D. Schultz conducted a study regarding canine and feline vaccinations. He goes into detail about the length of immunity for certain viruses, most of which are upwards of 7 years. He also explains all of the nasty side effects your dog (or cat) could face due to over-vaccination. These include allergies and cancer, which are two of the most common issues a dog can develop. It is also not uncommon for a dog to develop injection site sarcoma later in life, due to vaccinations. He also concluded that there is no reason to vaccinate a dog over 16 weeks old without doing a titer test first. This is because all of the vaccines he challenged showed resistance for a minimum of 3 years, and a maximum of 15. Keep in mind that titer testing is available for anywhere between $45 and $80 (this amount does not include the cost of the vet visit). If you don’t take your dog to many places, most of the vaccinations may be unnecessary, and the only one required by law is rabies. Most states will exempt you from the vaccination if you have a positive titer, but you can check your state laws here. Usually a titer test will exempt you for a year, but again, I urge you to check your state laws. You may also receive an exemption certificate if your pup has a compromised immune system, as vaccines tax the immune system quite a bit.
Ultimately, every dog is different, and talking to your vet and doing you due diligence by researching these potential issues prior to your vet visit would be beneficial. I suggest you come up with a list of questions to ask your vet in order to find out what is best for your dog. Some good questions you may want to start with would be:
1. How common is (insert disease) in our area?
2. How many dogs have you treated with this disease, if any?
3. Is this vaccine required?
4. What are potential side effects of this vaccine? Long term effects?
5. What should I do if my dog has a poor reaction to the vaccine?
6. Do you offer titer tests for this vaccine? If not, where might I find one?
7. Should I consider my dog’s age for this vaccine?
8. If my dog is immunocompromised, is this the best choice?
After asking your veterinarian these questions, you should be able to determine whether vaccines are essential or expendable.