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This post was originally published in 2012. It was updated with new information and republished in 2019.

Are Annual Vaccinations Necessary for Our Dogs?
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In November, 2018, I attended the Raw and Natural Dog Summit hosted by Dogs Naturally Magazine. In a conversation with Julie Anne Lee of Adored Beast Apothecary, I was given a new way to think about how we raise our dogs. Julie Anne told me about the wolves in Yellowstone Park.

There was a time when Yellowstone Park was filled with wolves and they were doing a good job as a natural predator to the elk and other animals in the park, so someone decided to rid the park of wolves. Without a natural predator, the elk population blossomed. Yayyyy!!!! But this growing population of elk was chowing down on the aspen trees, which, among other things, serve as habitats to a lot of wildlife in the park. Oops. So now wolves have been reintroduced to the park in an effort to correct the ecosystem, but the question is – why remove them in the first place?

Julie Anne told me this story to share an example of how humans make choices for animals without thinking of the long-term impact of those choices. Here are a few examples of choices humans have made that haven't worked out so well for our pets:

  • Building a profitable industry on the back of highly processed foods, using inferior ingredients, and spreading the myth that we shouldn't feed our dogs fresh food aka table scraps.
  • Subjecting our pets to chemical products and medications when there are many natural options that are just as effective.
  • Telling pet parents that annual vaccinations are necessary; not only annual vaccinations but vaccinations against illness and disease that aren't a risk factor for some of our dogs.

“It is safe to say that if your veterinarian is recommending every vaccine every year, your dog is being over vaccinated. I recommend a consultation with your veterinarian regarding your dog's individual needs, its lifestyle, overall health, and vaccine history. Vaccine protocols should be based on that information.”

Dr. Trusheim of Seattle, Washington

Let's Talk About Vaccinations

When we brought Rodrigo and Sydney home, their first veterinarian was pretty insistent about the annual vaccinations. Shortly after bringing my puppies home, I began blogging on Facebook about the experience and that was when I began learning about alternative ideas about health, diet, and training and the more I learned, the less comfortable I was with this veterinarian's hardcore stance on pet care.

Are Annual Vaccinations Necessary?

  • We don’t continue to vaccinate humans into adulthood; does it make sense to subject our pets to annual shots?
  • If there is a 1-year rabies vaccination and a 3-year rabies vaccination, then why are we vaccinating annually?
  • Why isn’t a titer test (a test to see how many antibodies our pets have left after the last round of vaccinations) required before vaccinations?
  • Does the dosage vary depending on the age and size of our pets?  Is your Chihuahua receiving the same dosage as my friend's Great Dane?
  • Why should my indoor only cat receive annual vaccinations when he never comes into contact with other cats?

With all the questions that I had, I started doing my homework and found that I wasn't the only person who was questioning the vaccination protocol that many traditional veterinarians were following. Back in 2012, when I started digging deeper into my dogs' health and diet, I came across a ton of articles by Dr. Karen Becker who helped me feel better about questioning my veterinarian. My veterinarian didn't share my sentiment and we eventually parted ways.

In my research, I came across two terms that made me see that it's important that I question the vaccinations the veterinarian was pushing on my dogs:

  • Over Vaccination
  • Vaccinosis – an adverse reaction to a vaccine

Over Vaccination

I’ve learned that the current vaccination schedule of boosters through 20 weeks and then annually through a dog’s life could lead to over vaccination.  This excessive vaccinating can lead to a compromised immune system and some believe that it is the cause of the rise in cancer in our dogs.

Vaccinosis

Vaccinosis is an adverse reaction to a vaccine.  We were warned that our dogs may feel a little punky after a round of vaccinations and that they’ll sleep it off and be fine the next day.  But is this really okay or are they having an adverse reaction?  When should we be concerned? I believe that any reaction should be cause for alarm and a call to the veterinarian.

Symptoms of Vaccinosis in Dogs

  • fever
  • listlessness
  • lack of an appetite
  • rash/hives/sensitivity at the injection site
  • swelling at the injection site
  • facial swelling
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • pain at the injection site
  • seizures
  • difficulty breathing
  • collapse
  • lump or tumor at the injection site (this is scary)

How Often I Vaccinate My Dogs

I no longer vaccinate my dogs or my cat. Rodrigo and Sydney will be 9 years old, Scout and Zoey are 5 years old, and Cosmo is 12 years old. My pets don't go to daycare, kennels, or the dog park. We're blessed to live on 5 acres and rarely venture off of our property with the dogs other than bi-annual wellness appointments and a visit to a local SniffSpot.

Rodrigo and Sydney received their puppy vaccinations and then were vaccinated annually until their third birthday. Scout and Zoey received their initial puppy vaccinations, their one-year booster, and they haven't received a vaccination since. I had an easier time advocating for not giving Cosmo vaccinations because he's an indoor cat. Today, I have a veterinarian who understands and respects my choice, which I know isn't something shared by others.

What About Titer Testing?

I do plan to order titers for each of my dogs to confirm that they still have viable antibodies in their system. I've been hesitant until now because the cost is prohibitive. Dr. John Robb and Dr. Jean Dodds now offer affordable titer testing; you just need to have the blood drawn by your veterinarian and arrange for it to be shipped to their clinic. You can print out the forms here:

Vaccinate or Don't Vaccinate?

Choosing to no longer vaccinate my pets is a decision I made after a lot of research and speaking with several veterinarians and I'm comfortable with this choice. If you are struggling with questions, I encourage you to have a frank conversation with your veterinarian. If your veterinarian isn't open to this topic, then find one who is – I have spoken to vets in other states to get answers to my questions.

Dr. Laurie Coger, a veterinarian in New York, offers consultations. She is a holistic veterinarian and natural rearing breeder of Australian Shepherds. I often call her with questions and she's proven to be a wealth of information and experience. She also publishes an annual vaccination protocol on her website.

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