Vaccines are often used as a crutch to prevent disease, creating a very narrow perspective on the formation and prevention of disease in your pet, which ignores the fact that your pet has an immune system strong enough to handle most diseases when properly supported. This has created the paradigm that giving your pet as many vaccinations as possible is the best thing for its health.
The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. Over-vaccinating can lead to the formation of chronic disease conditions such as skin inflammation, intestinal disease, auto-immune disease, behavioral changes, seizures, and cancer.
The Theory behind Vaccinations
Vaccinations are designed to stimulate your pet’s immune system to provide protection against specific diseases. Manufacturers use killed, modified live or specific components of the bacteria or viruses that we are looking for protection against. The theory is that by exposing your pet to a non-infectious form of the organism, that the immune system will create antibodies that will then protect your pet against a real infection. This may sound like a great idea, but there are problems with this theory….
How the Immune System works
With normal exposure to a pathogen (bacteria/virus/fungus, etc.…), there is a communication pathway that stimulates the immune system to respond. Depending on the site of exposure, such as the nasal cavity or intestinal tract, a very specific sequence of events results in the production of the cells and antibodies that will eliminate the pathogen.
This system is complete with checks and balances to keep it from over, or under-reacting. The symptoms we associate with being sick are actually the immune system working to get you well again. The approach to much of health management today is to suppress symptoms, well, guess what? By suppressing uncomfortable symptoms, we are actually suppressing the body’s own ability to fight disease. By not allowing the immune system to take its normal course of action, it gets weaker and less able to fight future disease. Furthermore, by suppressing the immune system, the original agent causing disease is never completely eliminated, and continues to cause disease in the body. Over time, chronic inflammation, demonstrated by skin or intestinal disease, autoimmune disease, or even cancer can develop.
What does all this have to do with vaccinations? Vaccinations are injected underneath the skin. It is uncommon to have environmental pathogens introduced to the body in this fashion (tetanus is one that is introduced via puncture wound, but it is rare in dogs and cats). Some organisms are transmitted directly through a bite wound from another animal such as rabies and feline leukemia. Most, however, are going to enter through a mucous membrane such as the nose (kennel cough, distemper) or intestinal tract (parvo, parasites).
Vaccines are intended to stimulate the immune response without actually causing the disease. This is, however, a tricky balance, as many vaccines cause chronic symptoms similar to the disease we are trying to protect against. These symptoms are often dismissed as ‘idiopathic’, or with no known cause, and the link to vaccinations is overlooked. This way of thinking adds to the paradigm that vaccines are a benign intervention that can only offer protection, and no adverse side effects.
When a pathogen is introduced through an abnormal route of exposure, such as injecting the parvo vaccination under the skin, the normal sequence of events that the immune system would take to eliminate the virus is bypassed. The natural route for parvovirus exposure is fecal-oral (ie, dog eats the poop of an infected dog) This triggers an immune response starting in the digestive tracts. Yes, antibodies are produced from the vaccination, but the normal sequence of events that the immune system would use to fight the virus is disrupted. When vaccines are repeated in young puppies with a developing immune system, or annually in adult pets, the immune system will suffer repeated and often permanent damage.
The Rabies vaccine presents a bit of a conundrum. The vaccination is injected under the skin, and this is similar to the natural route of exposure as it is typically spread through a bite wound in the saliva of the infected animal. Rabies is a very serious and in most cases, fatal, so we definitely want our pets to be protected. Rabies is also the only vaccine that is required by law in most areas; this is because Rabies can also be transmitted to people. Most of the side effects that we see after vaccination are symptoms that would occur if the disease were actually contracted. These include behavioral changes such as aggression and phobias, seizures, and paralysis. In addition, there are symptoms of immune system disruption such as chronic inflammation, auto-immune disease, and cancer. Vaccines also often contain preservatives and toxic heavy metals that can be detrimental to your pet’s health.
So what is the best course of action to keep your pet from getting sick without unwanted side-effects of the vaccines? Vaccinations can be a valid way to protect your pet, but it is unnecessary to continue to give vaccinations once adequate immunity is achieved. In the case of Rabies, we recommend following the ordinances of your county and state. For all others, it is very important to stop vaccinating once a protective antibody level is reached. Antibody levels for many diseases can be measured with a simple blood test called a titer. Keeping your pet on an appropriate diet, and using supportive supplements as needed can help minimize the side effects of vaccinations.
The most important thing is to be educated about the risks of both exposures to disease, and vaccinations. Rather than focusing on vaccines as a sole means of preventing disease, it is important to support your pet’s immune system to ultimately keep it able to prevent the disease from taking hold in the body. It is the potentially fatal diseases that are most important to protect your pet against. Also, you must consider your pet’s actual risk of getting a certain disease; is it exposed to the environment where the disease is likely to be present? For example, a strictly indoor cat is not going to be exposed to the stray cat population and getting in catfights. This practically eliminates the chances of such a cat getting a disease such as Feline leukemia. This is an important consideration if you move or travel with your pet, you must check on the disease prevalence in the areas your pet will be visiting.
So how do we approach vaccinating your pet?
I understand that you want the best for your pet, and I do too! I have developed vaccination protocols that are as safe as possible while still keeping your pet protected. My protocols will likely differ from what you have experienced in the past.
- We will review your pet’s vaccination history and determine its current level of immunity by doing a titer test. A titer test will determine the current level of antibodies against many common diseases.
- Then, we consider your pet’s risk of exposure to disease based on your lifestyle.
- We then consider the overall health of your pet. Only completely healthy pets should receive vaccinations. In Colorado, a Rabies exemption is an option for pets demonstrating any current disease process.
- Pets should never receive vaccines within 14 days of any anesthetic procedure.
- We also consider legal requirements from your county and state, plus requirements from facilities such as daycare, grooming, and boarding. It will be your responsibility to check on the ordinances where you live and the policies of any other facilities where you take your pet. We can assist with educating facilities about options such as titers rather than vaccinating. Although we can run a Rabies titer, it is not a legal substitution for the vaccine.
This is our procedure for administering vaccines:
- Vaccinate with only one component at a time (monovalent vaccines)
- Avoid giving more than one vaccine at the same time
- Use titers to determine if your pet has responded to the vaccine and to monitor lasting immunity.
- Use Rabies exemptions for sick pets
- Understand the rules and regulations in your area regarding Rabies.
- Use supportive supplements when indicated to minimize vaccine side effects
Assure that your pet is on an appropriate diet and lifestyle to mount an appropriate immune response.