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Pet Vaccinations

Pet vaccineEver since vaccinations were introduced 200 years ago, they have become a very controversial topic, with arguments both for and against them.

On one hand, vaccinations are an important part of our pet's health and protect them from dangerous diseases such as rabies.  On the other hand, there is definitive proof that vaccinations and the over-vaccination of pets poses a serious threat to their health.  Similar to children, giving vaccinations to puppies and kittens at an age when their immune systems are not fully developed can trigger chronic long-term health problems.

What exactly is a vaccination? 

When your pet receives a vaccination against a disease, a tiny amount of the disease (called an antigen) is injected into their body.  It is so tiny that it does not make them sick, but it does stimulate the body to produce "antibodies" that will protect them from any future attack by the same germ.

Current Dog Vaccination Schedule

The current vaccination schedule is the one recommended by many vets, however the need for the "combo vaccine" every 3 years is considered over-vaccination by many vets.  Titer testing has revealed that dogs maintain sufficient antibodies from their original vaccine to last them much longer.  See "titer testing" below to learn how you can prevent over-vaccination in your dog or cat.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has grouped vaccines for dogs into three general categories:

  1. Core (all dogs should receive the vaccine).
  2. Non-core (recommendation is based on risk for exposure to the disease).
  3. Not recommended.
Age   Vaccination

6, 8, & 14 weeks, OR
8, 12, & 16 weeks
Combo vaccine* (given a total of 3 times, every 4 weeks prior to 4 months of age)

12 Weeks   Rabies vaccine

(1 yr., then every 3 yrs.)
  Combo vaccine*
Rabies vaccine

Non-Core Vaccines
(given to pets in high-risk areas)
  Leptospirosis (annually)
Lyme Disease (annually)
Bordetella (annually)
Canine Influenza (annually)

Vaccination Age

Some vets feel that vaccinating puppies at such a young age compromises their health and wipes out maternal antibodies critical for the development of a healthy immune system.   Vaccines can contain serious carcinogens such as formaldehyde, mercury, and other chemicals the immune system is not fully equipped to handle so soon after birth.  The natural immunity gained from drinking their mother's milk protects puppies until 12-16 weeks of age.  We agree with many Naturopathic veterinarians not to administer any vaccine until your pet is at least 12 weeks of age.

Some veterinarians, including Dr. Mercola, do not administer the rabies vaccination until a puppy has reached 6 months of age and their immune system is more fully developed, and we second this recommendation.

Core Vaccines

There are three core vaccinations, one of which is a combo of several difference vaccines):

Non-Core Vaccines

"Kennel cough is not a vaccine-preventable disease, & the vaccine should only be used to help manage the disease."

Small World Animal Vet
Assoc. Vaccine Guideline

When many traditional vets administer a combo vaccine, the injection may include non-core vaccines that are completely unnecessary but that are part of the combo.  

When you need to schedule a vaccination, check with your vet to ensure none of the following non-core vaccines are being piggy-backed onto the core vaccines your pet receives unless there is an infestation or health concern in your area:

Heartworm Prevention

Depending on the region you live in, your dog may require a monthly heartworm pill during the summer months, or as a year round preventative.  Before the medication is prescribed, a simple heartworm test is administered to make sure your pet does not already have heartworm.  Giving heartworm medication to a pet that already has heartworm can be fatal, so this test is very important.


Over-vaccination is a serious issue when it comes to pet (and human) vaccinations.  Many vaccines given to pets are completely unnecessary on the schedule recommended.  Veterinarians are encouraged to give these injections too often either because they are misinformed, or to increase profit.

When your dog or cat is given a vaccine, it produces antibodies that prevent your pet from contracting the disease they are being vaccinated for.  We are often told that our pets need yearly shots, or shots every 3 years, to protect them against core diseases such as distemper, parvo, and hepatitis because the antibodies from the vaccine only last a short time.  Many pet owners dutifully return to their vet every 1 or 3 years for a booster shot, when clinical studies show that these vaccines last 5-7 years or longer.

Vaccines Last 5-7 years

The AAHA Vaccination Task Force updated their vaccination guidelines for 2011 to state that the core vaccines are only necessary every 3 years, not every year as previously recommended.

But the task force also acknowledged that, in the case of the non-rabies core vaccines, immunity lasts at least 5 years for distemper and parvo, and at least 7 years for adenovirus.

Titer Tests

"You should avoid vaccinating animals that are already protected, and titer testing can determine if adequate, effective immunity is still present."

Dr. Ronald Schultz, DMV
University of Wisconsin

A titer test is a simple and accurate blood test that can be done at your vet's office to measure how many antibodies are still present in your dog or cat from the previous vaccine they received.  Depending on the antibodies present, your vet can then determine if a booster is necessary.  If the titer test shows that your pet has sufficient antibodies from a prior vaccine, no booster should be given.

How Accurate Is Titer Testing?

Very accurate.  Research has shown that once an animal’s titer levels stabilize, it is likely to
remain constant for many years.  Over the past 10 years, published studies in peer journals show that 92–98% of dogs and cats that have been properly vaccinated develop good measurable antibody titers to the "core" diseases for at least 7–9 years, and likely for life.

This means that in most cases, giving
booster shots every 3 years is unnecessary

The only reason antibody levels are likely to suddenly fall is if an animal develops a severe medical condition or has significant immune dysfunction.

A Positive Titer Result (high antibody level)
A positive titer result means that there is a sufficiently high level of antibodies present.  A vaccine booster is unnecessary.

A Negative Titer Result (low antibody level)
A negative titer result means that the level of antibodies is considered too low to protect against the disease.  A vaccine booster is necessary.

Many vets, especially traditional vets who integrate natural healthcare methods at their practice, offer titer shots.  Titer shot recommendations are also standard procedure for Naturopathic vets.  The only reason a vet would be biased against titering is:

  1. Some vets are misinformed on the subject of titers, and incorrectly believe that measuring an animal’s serum antibody titers is not a valid method of determining immunity to diseases.  It is.

  2. Some vets feel the testing is too costly (it is more expensive than booster shots, roughly ranging from $50-$100).  It may be more expensive, but the cost is offset by the reduced need to re-vaccinate your pet, and titers are done every 2-3 years.  The benefit of preventing over-vaccination to your pet is, however, immeasurable.

  3. Profit.

All animals can have serum antibody titers measured instead of having to receive vaccine boosters.  The only exception is for the rabies booster, as no state accepts a titer in place of the rabies vaccine.  Luckily, this shot is only required every 3 years.



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