Do we over-vaccinate our dogs?

Your veterinary team at Newnham Court regularly reviews standards of care. Over the past few years, the need for annual re-vaccination has been questioned in both veterinary and lay press. A vaccination policy review this year led us to change the way we vaccinate dogs.

Why vaccinate?

Distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis are viral diseases which kill many dogs throughout the world. Vaccination against these diseases saves many dogs from suffering and death. Other diseases (e.g. Rabies and Leptospirosis) can be transmitted from dogs to humans; vaccinating dogs reduces human disease as well.

Why should we consider reducing vaccination?

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), an international group which reviews dog and cat vaccine guidelines regularly, reports that side effects are thankfully very uncommon.   Unfortunately, potentially fatal reactions can occur.  A patient exposed to many vaccines is more likely to suffer side effects, so reducing exposure to vaccines makes sense.

How can we provide protection and lower the risk of reaction?

The WSAVA recognises certain vaccines as essential (or “core”), advising that all dogs are vaccinated against distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis. Other vaccines (“non-core”) include those against Rabies, Leptospirosis, kennel cough, and Leishmaniosis.  Non-core vaccines are given based on local area risk assessment.

WSAVA guidelines

“We should aim to vaccinate every animal with core vaccines.

Non-core vaccines should be given no more frequently than is deemed necessary”.

Full WSAVA guidelines are available here: http://tinyurl.com/wsavavax

 

We can comply with WSAVA guidelines in two ways:

  1. Blood testing for antibodies to determine the dog’s immunity.
  2. Implementing a more flexible vaccination

 

Blood testing

Antibody levels (“serological testing”) can be used to check a dog’s immunity to viral or bacterial disease.  Protective antibody levels are known. If levels are higher than protective levels, the dog is immune to the disease, and vaccinating isn’t needed. Each animal reacts differently to vaccination. Some develop very high antibody levels, giving very long protection; others develop a much weaker response, and need more frequent vaccination.  In an ideal world, the decision to vaccinate each individual would be based on serological testing.  Such tests are available, and have even been developed for testing “in- practice”. The main downside to testing is considerable additional expense, related to the costs of collecting/analysing the blood and interpreting the results. In addition, we don’t know how often to test – if a dog has high levels today, will levels be high in two, three or six months’ time?

Serological tests themselves have limitations, including false-negative and false-positive results. More importantly, there is no reliable serological test for diseases like Leptospirosis, which is a very important disease in the local Maidstone/Medway area.

Flexible vaccination

Perhaps more practically, we can use a vaccine more easily tailored to individual circumstances. Instead of assuming that all dogs need to be boosted against everything every year, such vaccines have longer proven protection level for the “core” components.  Additionally, as we should only vaccinate against diseases that we know occur locally, the vaccine would enable us to “mix and match” components.

As a practice, we have decided to adopt the more flexible vaccine approach. From the beginning of April 2017, dogs will be given a new-generation vaccine, giving three years protection against the “core” components – distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus – and one-year duration of immunity against the locally important “non-core” diseases (Leptospirosis and parainfluenza virus).  The new vaccine also protects against newer strains of Leptospira bacteria which have recently appeared in the UK.

How often will vaccination be needed?

An annual physical examination and vaccination is still needed, but the vaccine given will vary from year to year. Because the Leptospira component is new, all dogs will need a second injection 3-4 weeks after the first time this is given. After the initial course, only one vaccine will be needed per year.  Even though the newer vaccine costs more, there will be no increase in price.