Your dog's immunity can be achieved without excessive vaccinations
Once in a while, my cup of patience overflows and I feel compelled to candidly disclose what is going on within the veterinary industry. Today, I want to write about vaccines but before I start, I want to emphasize that this article is not directed at my colleagues but is a result of clear disconnect between the science of immunology, veterinary education and vaccination guidelines. For years, I have seen vaccination recommendations that do not follow basic principles of immunology. This disconnect leads me back to digging deep into natural immunity and exploring how animals build antibodies in their natural environment, a form of “natural vaccination”.
Natural immunity in a nutshell
Immunity in nature is a result of a process that starts even before birth. If the pregnant mother has been in contact with a virus, let’s say canine distemper or parvovirus, she passes on the ready-to-act antibodies in the uterus and in colostrum and milk postpartum. This generates an ingenious state of maternal immunity where puppies are protected until their own immune system is capable of producing antibodies at around 12 - 18 weeks of age.
What happens when a puppy is vaccinated depends upon when it is done:
Vaccines at 6 - 8 weeks
Many vaccine protocols still recommend early vaccination at 6 - 8 weeks, when a puppy’s immune system is too young to produce an antibody response. What happens instead is that the vaccine antigen (a modified or dead virus from the vaccine) binds to and “uses up” the maternal antibodies which leaves some puppies with no protection. How do I know that? I have seen this many times in puppies that came to my practice after early vaccination. When I took their titer tests, they had zero antibodies against distemper and parvovirus.
Vaccines at 12 weeks
There is a much better chance of seeing a good immune response when the first vaccines are given at 12 weeks. However, this may or may not be necessary. The approach that makes the most sense is to measure the level of antibodies in your puppy by performing a simple blood test that any veterinary clinic can offer, it's called a parvovirus and distemper titer. You can also add other titers such as leptospirosis if it is prevalent in your region.
If your dog’s titer test comes back positive, meaning antibodies are detected, any positive titer is, in my opinion, good. The reality is that no vaccine or titer test results will give you a 100% guarantee of protection, but I have never seen a dog with a positive titer become ill in my thirty years of practice.
How to reduce the need for future boosters
Generally, I recommend repeating the titer test at five months and then again at one and two years of age. After two years, it is very unlikely your dog will get parvovirus or distemper because the natural immunity usually persists for a lifetime. You can always repeat your dog's test for extra reassurance. I generally do not do so because of the very low risk of infection in adult dogs.
If your dog’s titer test comes back negative, meaning there are no antibodies against distemper and parvovirus, one vaccine at twelve weeks is enough. You can take an antibody titer a month later to confirm a proper immune response.
How do I know all this?
I am a naturally curious person and when something does not make sense, I do my best to find out why. Thanks to thirty years of veterinary practice, I have had the chance to see that puppies vaccinated early often have zero protection and that dogs maintain good antibody levels for a lifetime, sometimes even without a single distemper or parvovirus vaccine!
I am not suggesting that you should not give a vaccine when antibodies are absent at 12 weeks, the vulnerable time. What I am saying is that vaccines are not necessary for dogs that have antibodies.
How have I approached immunity in my own dogs?
Skai’s immunity history
Skai was never vaccinated against distemper or parvovirus in his lifetime and the only vaccine he received was rabies in order to travel internationally. His first titer test was taken at twelve weeks and his parvovirus titer was positive, however, he was negative for distemper.
Based on my experience with distemper, it was very rare in our region and I decided to wait for a few more weeks to repeat his titer test. To my surprise, both of his titers against parvovirus and distemper were positive despite getting no vaccines! It appeared that he mounted a good immune response when he apparently came in contact with the virus. From that test on, he continued to have positive antibodies until the time I stopped testing when he was around five years of age.
Note: If your dog’s titer is negative, generally, I do recommend giving one vaccine and checking titers one month later. If Skai’s titer had been negative the second time around, I would have done the same.
Before we adopted Pax, our second dog, I convinced the owner of his mother not to vaccinate him (the other siblings were vaccinated at six weeks). I did his titer test at twelve weeks of age and as you can see from the results below, both his distemper and parvovirus titers were positive - showing good antibody response!
The next step was to check his antibody levels two months later.
Like Skai, the only vaccine that Pax needs is rabies for international travel.
Why do most veterinarians suggest boosters?
There are many examples in human history and medicine where what was done then makes no sense today: The flat Earth paradigm, blood-letting , mercury purging, the use of arsenic in medicine or DDT use as an insecticide.
This idea of boosters is much more common in veterinary medicine and one can only suspect it has a lot to do with ignoring the basics of immunology for the sake of “increasing vaccine sales and profits”. As a young vet, I was taught that annual boosters are “a good way” to ensure that clients come back with their dogs for an annual examination, which to me is a flawed argument.
Currently, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) issued a statement that it no longer supports annual boosters and suggested boosters every three years. However, based on the fact that most dogs maintain antibodies against the most common diseases for a lifetime, boosters every three years do not seem to be necessary either.
Why am I in favour of reducing the number of vaccines in dogs?
The answer is very simple. Whenever I can reduce the number of foreign substances entering the body, I take that route because vaccines are not completely harmless. They contain mercury compounds and formaldehyde which are toxic cancer-causing substances. Also, most vaccines include combinations of pathogens which the immune system rarely needs to deal with in natural circumstances. There is also the risk of acute allergic reactions to vaccines and increased incidence of allergies and autoimmune disease. In short, it is better to minimize vaccines whenever possible.
Fear plays a big factor!
It is not easy for me to write this article because the idea of reducing the frequency of vaccination is usually met with huge resistance from a large majority of my peers. The purpose of this article is not to go against my colleagues but to focus on what should always be our priority: the health and well-being of our patients, your beloved pets.
I still see many people deciding to subject their dogs to excessive vaccination protocols out of fear that their dog could get sick and die. My hope is that after reading this article, you will feel empowered and strong enough to say no to unnecessary vaccines and help to create a much-needed paradigm shift. I also trust you know that I would never risk the life and wellbeing of Skai and Pax. I just did what made sense based on the sound principles of immunology.