You take your perfectly healthy dog to the vet for “her shots.” Early the next
morning, she has a seizure — her first seizure ever. You rush your dog back to
the vet or an emergency clinic and ask if the seizure had something to do with
the shot. Odds are, the vet will tell you, No, it’s not the shot! She might a
genetic disorder or possibly even a brain tumor. The timing is just a
Or … your dog is suddenly having trouble walking after rabies vaccination. Or
he suddenly becomes aggressive. You ask your vet if the condition could be tied
to the rabies shot. No, it’s not possible, the vet says. He says has never heard
of such a thing. But something tells you the condition and vaccine are related.
Of course, not all veterinarians are reluctant or unable to recognize and
deal with vaccine reactions. In fact, the practices of vets trained in
homeopathy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, etc. often revolve around treating
reactions caused by vaccination. And, happily, many conventional vets are
becoming increasingly worried about over-vaccination and vaccine reactions. But
these vets are not the norm.
Many people have written me that they have had to fight with their vet to
even get a vaccine reaction considered and noted in their dog’s or cat’s file.
The vet doesn’t even want to call the vaccine maker to report or inquire about
the reaction. After you do extensive Internet research, your suspicions grow.
You see another vet, or maybe post on this blog looking for answers or you
e-mail me. You wonder: why are vets so reluctant to admit that a vaccine (or
vaccine combo) caused a reaction? Here are some potential reasons why.
Primary vets don’t see every vaccine reactions because pets are often treated
at emergency clinics or by specialists and not reported back.
clinic vet told me about a Basset Hound she had diagnosed with immune-mediated
thrombocytopenia. She asked the client if the dog had been recently vaccinated.
Finding that he had, she called the Basset’s primary vet to inquire about the
vaccine. The primary vet, surprised by the call, asked, “Do you see a lot of
immune-mediated disease after vaccination?” She told him she did, usually about
3-4 weeks later. Astounded by the news, he admitted he was glad he hadn’t
vaccinated his own dogs in 8 years. He continues to vaccinate clients’ dogs
Vets lack sufficient education.
Dr. Ronald Schultz, a member of the AAHA
Canine Vaccination Task Force (in 2003, 2006 and 2011) and the WSAVA Vaccination
Guidelines Group, has said: “Our new [vet school] grads don’t know a heck of a
lot more about vaccines than our older grads. And I’ve figured out why this is.
They know a lot more about basic immunology, but they don’t know about
vaccinology and the two are not the same.… So we haven’t gone very far from
where we were ten years ago or twenty years ago with regard to training
veterinarians about vaccines.” (Hear Dr. Schultz talking about this in our Safer
Pet Vaccination Benefit Seminar DVD. )
Most continuing education is done by drug company representatives calling on
veterinary practices — to sell vaccines. Their message is that vaccines are safe
and reactions are extremely rare. Vets buy the products and the message. Despite
studies showing that each additional vaccine given during one visit dramatically
increases the chance of an adverse reaction, reps peddle products with as many
as 7 vaccines to be given at once — with no warnings. Hear safety claims enough
and the claims become the truth, whether they are true or not.
Vets don’t want the blame for harming your pet.
No veterinarian wants to harm
an animal. It’s more comfortable to blame the problem on coincidence, genetic
defects, other medications, etc.
Vets don’t tie the reaction to the vaccine unless it happens almost
Here is what the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
tells dog or cat owners to watch for after vaccination. Note that most reactions
listed are only those happening almost immediately:
Discomfort and swelling at the vaccination site
Decreased appetite and activity
Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
Swelling of the muzzle. face, neck or eyes
Severe coughing or difficulty breathing
Respiratory distress occurring 2-5 days after your pet receives an intranasal Bordetella [kennel cough vaccine]
This list fails to include reactions like shock and death – 8.3% and 5.5%
respectively of reactions reported to the USDA. It also doesn’t include vaccine
reactions happening within three or more days after vaccination – despite a
major study published in the AVMA’s own Journal in 2005. And what about
reactions occurring weeks, months and even years after vaccination?
Here is the list first handed out in 2007 by Dr. Ron Schultz regarding
adverse events known to be induced via vaccines http://www.dogs4dogs.com/cv:
Vaccine manufacturers generally test vaccines for reactions for only one
year, with the exception of the 3-year rabies vaccine. Testing is expensive so
they do only what is required to get approval. After approval, vets seldom
report reactions and the USDA rarely takes action unless an inordinate of
animals become seriously ill or die. Even then, vaccines are rarely pulled off
the market unless they affect human health. Thus, vaccines are considered safe
and reactions don’t really happen!!!
Vets may worry that they did something wrong.
Did your vet fail to tell you
about possible reactions? Did he/she vaccinate an unhealthy dog against vaccine
label warnings? Was the vaccine given less than two weeks after another vaccine,
increasing the likelihood of a reaction? Or given with multiple other vaccines
or medications? Or given without examining the dog or cat first? Or was the
wrong vaccine used? Or had the vaccine been improperly refrigerated?
Vets aren’t taught how to treat many of the reactions.
generally treat vaccine reactions with corticosteroids, antibiotics (just in
case they’re needed) and/or Benadryl no matter what the reaction is. Conversely,
holistic vets treat reactions with diet, supplements, acupuncture, herbs,
homeopathy and a whole bag of tricks. You have to “believe” in reactions to want
to learn how to treat them.
Vets worry they failed to get your “informed consent” before vaccination.
Informed consent means that the vet should have told you about possible
reactions and also explained why the shot was necessary before vaccinating.
Unfortunately, the great majority of revaccination of adult dogs is unnecessary
and never explained. (See Vaccinating Dogs: 10 Steps to Eliminating Unnecessary
Shots.) If your dog had a vaccine that wasn’t needed and then suffered a
reaction, your vet might worry about a lawsuit or reprimand from state
authorities — or unwanted attention from the media.
Vets don’t want to lose your business.
Vets don’t want to bother reporting the reaction to the vaccine maker.
Despite repeated requests by veterinary organizations to report all suspected
reactions, it is suspected that only 1% are reported. Reporting is time
Vets are told by superiors not to admit responsibility.
This can be a
particular problem for junior members of a practice operating under the rules of
the senior partners or practice owner.
Vets have to believe vaccines are safe.
Vaccines are a big part of veterinary business, both for the direct income
derived from vaccines and the office visit, but also for income from medications
and other sales and services stemming from the visit — and also for income
derived from treating reactions. If they see reaction after reaction,
particularly from unnecessary vaccination, they may feel the need to change
their policies or change jobs. Please read Lifelong Immunity – Why Vets Are
Pushing Back for more details on why veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate -
No matter why your vet isn’t at least considering a vaccine reaction, when
something adverse happens after vaccination, it is important to educate
yourself. Allow only those vaccines required given your dog’s age, locale and
lifestyle. Ask to read the package insert to learn about what reactions are
possible. (Don’t presume the vet has read it.) Learn to recognize a vaccine
reaction when you see one and push your vet to consider a reaction if you
suspect one. And read What to Do When Your Dog Has a Vaccine Reaction for help
in treating your dog, reporting the problem and contacting the manufacturer to
try to recover your expenses -
There’s an old medical adage: when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not
zebras. That is, when something bad happens to your dog after vaccination, think
vaccine reaction, not brain tumor! Trust your instincts!
Titer Test: Don’t Vaccinate Your Dog Unnecessarily
By Jan Rasmusen
Titer Testing: a Simple Blood Test
Enlightened veterinarians and pet parents have become increasingly wary of
the health risks, and lack of benefits, associated with repeatedly vaccinating
dogs after their initial “puppy shots.” Is titer testing the solution to the
over-vaccination problem? Here’s a crash course to help you muddle through the
mire of misinformation surrounding this simple blood test, and to help you
decide whether or not to test your dog’s antibody titers.
What is titer testing?
A titer test (pronounced TIGHT er) is a laboratory
test measuring the existence and level of antibodies to disease in blood.
Antibodies are produced when an antigen (like a virus or bacteria) provokes a
response from the immune system. This response can come from natural exposure or
from vaccination. (Note: titering is also called serum vaccine antibody titering
and serologic vaccine titering.)
How is the test performed?
Your test result will have an explanation of what
your pet’s test result means. But if you want to know more, here’s the test in a
nutshell: First, one mL of blood is drawn. The sample is then diluted. Titer
levels, expressed as ratios, indicate how many times blood can be diluted before
no antibodies are detected. If blood can be diluted a 1000 times and still show
antibodies, the ratio would be 1:1000. This is a “strong” titer. A titer of 1:2
would be weak.
Should I test for all diseases?
The most recommended test examines antibodies
for both parvovirus and distemper, the two most important viruses. Rabies titers
are also often tested. Usually, for most dogs, tests for other diseases are
generally not considered useful or necessary.
The parvovirus/distemper test can help you or others (vets,
groomers, kennel owners, etc.) determine if your dog requires additional
vaccination, and may save your dog unnecessary shots. It is especially useful
when making a decision about vaccinating an animal with unknown vaccination
history, or for determining if puppies have received immunity from vaccination
Most experts believe strong titers are a more reliable indication of immunity
than vaccination: tests show the actual immune response, not just the attempt to
cause an immune response by vaccination. Do not expect, however, that everyone
will accept test results in place of proof of vaccination.The subject of
immunity is complicated, and we are programmed to think of vaccination as “the
gold standard” — the more, the better. Experts who challenge the status quo are
often maligned. Humans don’t like change.
How often should I test titers for parvo and distemper?
You’re going to have
to decide for yourself. Some vets recommend testing yearly, but this can be
expensive. Others test every three years. Still others test five to seven years
after vaccination. Why? Challenge tests show that successful vaccination against
parvovirus gives most animals at least seven years of immunity. Distemper
provides immunity for at least five to seven years.*
Dr. Ron Schultz, one of the most renowned pet vaccination experts in the
country, believes that once a test yields strong titers, you need not test
again. In Dr. Jean Dodd’s article on vaccine reactions, she quotes Dr. Schultz
on the value of testing titers: “an animal with a positive test has sterilizing
immunity and should be protected from infection. If that animal were vaccinated
it would not respond with a significant increase in antibody titer, but may
develop a hypersensitivity to vaccine components (e.g. fetal bovine serum).”
Does a weak titer mean that the dog needs a “booster” shot?
Maybe not for
dogs that have previously shown strong titers. Many experts, including Dr.
Schultz, say the dog’s immune system will have produced “memory cells” that will
produce antibodies when they’re needed. Think of memory cells as reserve forces.
When known foreigners invade, they remember how to attack them. Dr. Shultz has
said, “show that an animal with a positive test has sterilizing immunity and
should be protected from infection. If that animal were vaccinated it would not
respond with a significant increase in antibody titer, but may develop a
hypersensitivity to vaccine components (e.g. fetal bovine serum).Read more about
memory cells here. Read pages 5-6 of Antibody Titers vs Annual Vaccination by
Richard Ford, DVM for more information.
Should I test my puppy?
Yes! If so, when? Ideally, puppies should have had
their last vaccination after 16 weeks of age then should be tested to see if
further vaccination is necessary. There’s an excellent discussion about testing
puppies in the 2006 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine
Task Force Report (page 13) entitled What Are The Possible Applications of
Serologic Testing? It reads, “Such titer testing is the only way to ensure that
a puppy has developed an immune response after vaccinating.”
What do titer tests cost?
Testing costs vary widely from practice to
practice, so shop around. Some vets do in-house testing. Others use outside
labs. Some mark up tests and services a little; others, a lot. You should be
able to have parvo/distemper tests done most places for less than $100. Rabies
tests, on the other hand, can cost considerably more, in large part because they
are sent overnight to a lab. (Ask your vet to have a Titer Testing Day so that
they can send multiple tests in one package and save considerably on shipping
costs.) Consider contacting Hemopet, Dr. Jean Dodd’s nonprofit organization, for
their pricing and her excellent reading of results. When comparative shopping,
make sure pricing includes blood draw and shipping.
Wait! Before jumping to the conclusion that vaccinating is much cheaper than
testing, remember that testing can be a one-time (or at least rare) expense and
is no riskier than any simple blood draw. Vaccinating, on the other hand, can
potentially cause a lifetime of illness.
Should I test for rabies antibodies?
The rabies titer test will give you an
indication of your dog’s immunity if he or she is at particular risk for
contracting rabies. It may also be required prior to international travel. Test
results will NOT be accepted by Animal Control and most others as a substitute
for vaccination of healthy dogs as required by law.
If your dog has documented health problems or documented adverse reactions to
shots, your vet may be able to get your dog an exemption to rabies vaccination.
(Learn more at www.Truth4Dogs.org.) A rabies titer test is not usually necessary
when requesting an exemption but may be useful when re-applying for a denied
exemption. It may also give you and others piece of mind if you’re contemplating
(Note: a French challenge study has shown rabies vaccination gives immunity
for at least five years. In the U.S, the Rabies Challenge Fund is doing
concurrent tests for five years and seven years to extend the period between
shots. This important nonprofit study is funded solely by donations from dog
lovers like you.)
Can I test titers immediately after vaccinating? To get an accurate test, you
must wait at least 14 days after vaccination before testing.
What if your vet, groomer, spouse, best friend, kennel owner or day care
proprietor says titer testing is “voodoo science,” that your dog needs continued
vaccination even if testing indicates otherwise?
Know that vets out of school
longer than 10 years received little or no immunology or vaccinology training in
school; they shouldn’t be considered experts unless they’ve devoted hundreds of
hours to research and training. Others who want to influence you may have no
training at all and may be acting out of fear. Do your own research and advocate
for your dog.
I hope I’ve given you enough information to make reasoned decisions. The
subject is hardly black and white; it is riddled with shades of gray. I’d like
to thank veterinary crusaders against over-vaccination Drs. Margo Roman and
Tamara Hebbler for their help with this article, and Drs. Jean Dodds and
Patricia Jordan for answering my many questions about vaccination over the
Where can you learn more?
Visit my web page Vaccinating Dogs http://www.dogs4dogs.com/, and also the
articles and videos archived on this blog by clicking the “Vaccination” link.
For in depth information in an easy to read format, see my “Rethinking
Vaccination” chapter in my award-winning book, Scared Poopless: The Straight
Scoop on Dog Care
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