My Dog: To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

Nowhere for dog owners, arguably, is there more conflicting information than on vaccinations—what they’re for, how often you should give them and what the risks are if you avoid them. Add to that the fact that there are core and non-core vaccinations. What should you do?

First, let’s discuss the major viruses/diseases that pose a risk to your dog.

Parvovirus or Parvoviral Enteritis. Parvo is a highly contagious, viral form of gastroenteritis and symptoms develop within five to seven days after exposure. In Australia, this is quite widespread and fatalities in young and elderly dogs are common. Puppies younger than six months are the most susceptible. Symptoms include decreased or lost appetite, severe diarrhea and vomiting, and listlessness. Feces are often pale or yellow-grey and sometimes streaked with blood. Death follows quickly. Medication only prevents secondary infections; it does not cure the virus.

Adenovirus/Infectious Hepatitis. This is a particularly dangerous infection in puppies, which fall victim more frequently than older dogs. It can cause death in as little as two hours after the first symptoms manifest, appearing as if the dog has been poisoned. The virus is either ingested or inhaled, and causes damage to the liver and other organs. Initial symptoms include sore throat, coughing and sometimes pneumonia. As it advances, it affects the liver, kidney and eyes, causing increased thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures. The cornea of the eye often becomes cloudy or slightly blue. Fever and reddened mouth are also indicators. However, because it can advance so quickly, a dog may die before you notice any symptoms. Medication does not cure it; only supportive treatment is available.

Distemper. A disease that proves fatal in 80% of puppies and more than 50% of older dogs who contract distemper, this is one of the most serious and highly infectious diseases that your dog faces, throughout the world. Symptoms include weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, nasal discharge, lung congestion and eye problems. As it progresses, it attacks the central nervous system, damaging the spinal cord and causing partial or total paralysis and/or seizures. It’s so contagious that dogs can catch it through the air. It cannot be cured with medication.

Even veterinarians who counsel against over-vaccinating your dog agree that these core vaccines are essential to protect your dog and should be administered to every puppy according to veterinary protocol. These core vaccines are given several times, based upon the age of the puppy, and are usually bundled into one dose per visit.

Often, these initial vaccines are sufficient to protect your dog for most, if not all, its lifetime. If you are unsure whether or not your dog needs a booster, instead of vaccinating, request your veterinarian perform a blood titre, a test to determine the presence of sufficient serum antibodies against parvo and distemper as well as others. Many dogs are shown to have sufficient antibodies for years after being vaccinated. It is also helpful to know that certain viruses, such as parvovirus and hepatitis, are rarely fatal in adult dogs unless they’re elderly or immune-compromised.

Additional vaccines, called non-core, may be recommended if the level of risk in your particular environment is high. For example, bordatella (kennel cough) is often required if you board your dog frequently. Leptospirosis is a virus carried by rats so, if you live near a body of water, an aviary, or other environment frequented by rodents, you may decide to vaccinate your dog as a precaution. These vaccines are elective; they are not mandatory.

Essentially, you, the pet owner, are the one who makes the final decision based on the information at hand. Don’t hesitate to question your vet closely if what you are advised is an arbitrary annual vaccine recommendation. The same if you’re told your dog should be vaccinated for everything under the sun, including influenza, with no real argument to substantiate it. Many countries have begun changing their annual protocol to a three-year program, including Australia. Source not only established agencies but also reputable alternative medicine practitioners to determine the right course of vaccination for your beloved pet. Your dog will thank you for it with many years of good health and companionship!


I'm a professional dog trainer who is sharing my journey as I transition to positive reinforcement based dog training methods.

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