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Pet Vaccinations

Article by: Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, NMD

When you first become a pet owner, the adoption agency, the breeder or the retail store where you made your selection will usually give you a vaccination schedule; you naturally assume that this is what you need to do to keep your pet safe and healthy. But is it?

Some of the common vaccinations can actually be doing your pet more harm than good. In the wide world of vaccinations, in general, we over vaccinate; our children, our pets and ourselves. In kids, we eventually stop vaccinations after puberty; in adults, vaccinations are usually given in a series. But with our pets, we continue booster shots until they are well into their senior years. In the human race, there typically aren’t annual shots that are required; and there’s no way we would afflict our elderly family members with an array of yearly boosters. So have you ever wondered why we put our pets through this? Another thought to ponder; have you ever wondered why your Chihuahua gets the same size vaccine as your Great Dane? And at the same frequency? Believe it or not, following the recommended vaccination schedule is overwhelming your pet’s immune system; and just like in humans, your four-legged friend can have reactions to the vaccines they are given, without you realizing it.

A study of more than 2,000 cats and dogs in the United Kingdom by Canine Health Concern showed a 1 in 10 risk of adverse reactions from vaccines. This contradicts what the vaccine manufacturers report for rates of adverse reactions, which is “less than 15 adverse reactions in 100,000 animals vaccinated” (0.015 percent). It should be no surprise that adverse reactions of small breeds are 10 times higher than large breeds, suggesting standard vaccine doses are too high for smaller animals. Finally, a handful of bold veterinarians, who have seen the worst-case scenarios of over-vaccination, have paved the way for ending over-vaccination. Unfortunately, the research is sparse and the opposition is great. Pet vaccinations are a high dollar industry, so of course they are necessary!

Current Vaccine Schedules

As most of you know, many veterinarians recommend that on an annual basis dogs are to receive rabies, parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, coronavirus, hepatitis, lyme (borelia); semi-annually, bordetella (kennel cough) is sometimes recommended every 6 months. Our feline friends are scheduled to have annual rabies, feline leukemia (FeLV), distemper (panluekopenia), rhinotracheitis, and calcivirus; and depending on risk, chlamydia, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and ringworm can be added. Many vets advise both puppies and kittens get their “core vaccines” at ages 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks, 14 weeks, and 16 weeks. Then, they get boosters at one year, and annually thereafter. Doesn’t this sound extreme for an animal that averages from 10, 25 to 50 pounds?

How Was This Schedule Decided Upon? One of the veterinary pioneers, Dr. W. Jean Dodds, president of the nonprofit animal version of the Red Cross called Hemopet, reported that the recommendations for annual vaccines were just that—recommendations. They were not based on any scientific evidence. The United States Department of Agriculture and the drug companies, together, put the recommendations for annual vaccination into action more than twenty years ago. And being creatures of habit, we have continued to do it this way because, well, that’s the way it’s always been done. Not to mention that it’s a financially sound arrangement with residual income for both the veterinary and drug industry. And over the past few years, protests to annual vaccines have been mild.

To make matters worse, the USDA puts the annual vaccination recommendation right on the product label, enforcing this 20-year-old belief that your pets need to be vaccinated every year. Annual Vaccines are Big Money for Many Vets… Even Bigger Money for Big Pharma Without compelling evidence that they actually cause animals more harm that good, there is no motivation for this industry to change the highest earning element of its practice. Many vets cling to annual vaccine schedules because of economic dependence more than maintaining a “cautious” standard of care. This is particularly true for the typical small vet practice (1-3 people, non-specialty, non-emergency practices). Just take a look at the profit margin: A single rabies vaccine costs the vet about 61 cents per unit. The client (pet owner) is typically charged between $15 and $38, plus a standard $35 office visit. The markup on the vaccine alone is 2,400 percent to 6,200 percent—a markup equivalent to charging $217 for a loaf of bread. According to one estimate, eliminating the one-year rabies vaccination and the accompanying office visit for dogs alone would decrease the average small vet’s income from $87,000 to $25,000—and this doesn’t include cats or other vaccinations.

According to James Schwartz, author of Trust Me, I’m Not a Veterinarian, 63 percent of canine and 70 percent of feline vet office visits are just for vaccinations. No question why there’s heavy opposition to eliminating the yearly vaccine schedule. Clearly, this would result in a huge economic loss for any veterinary practice that is built around boosters. Here’s something else to wrap your head around; the vaccines you are paying so much for? They are providing even more income for vets, simply because the adverse reactions and other medical issues caused by the vaccines keep Fido coming back more often than you would like to take him! Vets aren’t the only ones cashing in on this outdated practice. Veterinary vaccine sales amounted to more than $3.2 million in 2004 and have risen 7 percent per year since 2000. This figure is projected to exceed $4 billion in 2009. Six companies account for more than 70 percent of world veterinary vaccine sales. The market leader is Intervet, with sales of almost $600 million in 2004. That’s a whole lot of 61-cent vaccines. The United States has by far the largest share of the world market with revenues of $935 million, and Japan comes in second with $236 million.

Risks Far Outweigh Benefits

In 1991, a lab at the University of Pennsylvania documented a connection between an alarming increase in sarcomas (a type of cancerous tumor) and vaccinations in cats. As it turns out, the mandatory annual rabies vaccinations led to an inflammatory reaction under the skin, which later turned malignant. It isn’t difficult to imagine what happens next to the felines. That same year, researchers at University of California at Davis confirmed that feline leukemia vaccines were also leading to sarcomas, even more so than the rabies vaccine. This led to even further investigations where these grim statistics were noted: cats that were diagnosed with vaccine-induced sarcomas were estimated to be 1/1,000, or up to 22,000 new cases of sarcoma per year.

It didn’t take many more findings like that before veterinary professionals began to consider vaccination as a risk factor in other serious autoimmune diseases. Vaccines were causing animals’ immune systems to turn against their own tissues, resulting in potentially fatal diseases such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs (AIHA). Additional studies showed that delayed vaccine reactions were the cause of thyroid disease, allergies, arthritis, tumors and seizures in both cats and dogs. These findings led to a 1995 article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that concluded: “There is little scientific documentation that backs up label claims for annual administration of most vaccines.” And then there’s the issue of adjuvants. Thimerosal, mercury, and aluminum-based adjuvants are still being allowed in veterinary vaccines. So, your pet is being exposed to potential antigens that could abnormally stimulate his immune system, but last a lifetime and cause chronic disease. Its not hard to figure out that the less of this, the better. This cannot be said enough, giving your pet a vaccine when your pet is already immune won’t increase its immunity. It does, however, increase unnecessary risk to your animal.

Evidence suggests that, like humans, dogs and cats could be vaccinated with certain vaccines early in life and be protected for a lifetime. With the exception of rabies, the core vaccines probably last at least seven years and should not be given more often than every three years. In one study, the antibody levels of more than 1,400 healthy dogs of all ages were measured for parvo and distemper. Nearly all the dogs were immune (95-98 percent), suggesting that annual revaccination may not be necessary. Many of the non-core vaccines are bactrins, vaccines created to treat non-viral infections (Lyme disease and Chlamydia, for example) and may have a shorter duration; about one year. But not all animals are at risk of exposure, and the vaccines have proven to be significantly more reactive to the immune system. So assessing risk versus benefit is very important before considering these very reactive vaccines. Researchers say there has been no increase in disease rates among dogs that have gone to vaccines every three years. There certainly is ample evidence that the dangers of repeated vaccinations are real. A study published by Purdue in 2005 found correlations between vaccine reactions in dogs and variables such as age, size, and number of vaccines given.

The study found:

* Smaller dogs are more prone to vaccine reactions than larger dogs

* Risk of reactions increased by 27 percent for each additional vaccine given per office visit in dogs under 22 pounds, and by 12 percent in dogs over 22 pounds

* Risk increased for dogs up to 2 years old, then declined with age

* Risk increased for pregnant dogs and dogs in heat

* More reactions were found in small dogs given Leptospirosis vaccine In humans, if we do not have a healthy diet, and natural supplements, we are more prone to ailments and diseases, hence the need for vaccinations and boosters. The same goes for animals. Dogs and cats need vaccine protection if they aren’t eating an ideal diet. The better your pet’s nutrition is, the healthier his immune system will be, and better able to fend off pathogen attacks.

My Vaccine Recommendations:

* Wellness visits are important for other reasons besides vaccines. It is important to check for heartworm and tumors, and assess your pet’s general overall health. I do recommend checkups every six months, although I do not recommend annual vaccines.

* Rabies vaccines are required by law. There are 1-year and 3-year rabies vaccines available, and they are the same product. If you opt to vaccinate your pet against rabies, please ask for the 3-year vaccine. Consider finding a holistic vet that provides homeopathic rabies vaccine detox, called Lyssin.

* Request a Vaccine Titer Test: this will help you determine if your pet has adequate immunological protection from previous vaccines (puppy or kitten shots). Antibody levels can be measured from a blood draw, in place of revaccination. IFA is the best titer test that assesses immune system’s response.

* Please discuss with your vet the risks versus benefits of the diseases you are considering vaccinating for, before you automatically assume additional vaccines are necessary.
Indoor housecats should not be vaccinated annually, especially if they never go outside or have access to other cats (potentially exposing them to infectious disease). Over-vaccination is one of the main reasons the general health of our feline patients is deteriorating.

* Do not vaccinate your dog or cat if it has had a serious life-threatening vaccine reaction.

* Do not patronize any boarding facility, groomer, training facility or veterinarian that requires you to vaccinate your pet more than necessary.The decision by some vets to come forward with the truth about pet vaccines is a positive step toward changing our animal health care system. Veterinary vaccines are one more unfortunate example of the corporate greed that permeates the pharmaceutical industry.


Below is a great video of the battle over vaccinations.