By Robert J. Weiner VMD, ABVP
Vaccination is a pillar of disease prevention for humans as well as dogs and cats. Very few contemporary dog owners or veterinarians in our part of the world have seen canine distemper, a very common and usually fatal disease of dogs as recently as the 1960’s. Racoons continue to be a reservoir for this virus. Vaccination stands between this devastating illness and your dog. The parvo virus epidemic of the early 1980’s killed countless dogs before an effective vaccine was developed. A canine influenza epidemic in the mid 2000’s resulted in the depopulation of humane shelters across the country and a new influenza strain that smoldered in the middle west for the past 3 years has been reported in New York State recently. Just a few years ago we had a kitten infected with rabies virus in our very own office in New City that was found a few blocks away. Nevertheless, there is vaccination anxiety among pet owners who worry that too many vaccines are given and that vaccinations are dangerous.
Vaccinations are a medical procedure and must be done thoughtfully. There are core vaccinations that all dogs and cats need and others that can should be considered and given depending on the circumstances. Dogs who go to doggie day care, the dog park or hunt in the woods might be vaccinated differently from a dog who never leaves an apartment. A Toy Poodle gets the same “dose” of vaccine as a Great Dane. Another way to think about this is that it does not require any more vaccine to vaccinate a large dog as it does to vaccinate a small one. Vaccines are not a drug that needs to achieve a certain blood concentration in order to work. Size has nothing to do with it.
Vaccine reactions are uncommon but do occur. The most common reactions are allergic type events that are seen within an hour of the vaccination. Signs include vomiting, facial swelling, hives (best seen on short coated dogs where the fur stands up in patches) and rarely more dramatic shock like reactions occur. These respond well to antihistamines and sometimes IV fluids. We note these and do not repeat them when they occur. We occasionally pre-treat pets with antihistamines to prevent such things. Some pets will be sore or lethargic for a day or so after vaccination especially if several were given at the same time. I prefer not to give multiple vaccines to toy breeds on the same day but that may be more personal prejudice than science. Vaccinations are blamed for lots of maladies including auto immune diseases and cancer. We have no science that links vaccines to these things in dogs but it is impossible to prove that vaccines are not contributing factors. We do know for certain that many pets would suffer and die from infectious disease if vaccinations were not available.