Distemper Vaccine: How Vets Get It Wrong

Distemper Vaccine

The one thing you want to do for your dog is to protect him from harm at all times.

But when it comes to vaccines … they can protect OR harm him. So it’s vital to only give vaccinations that will truly protect him.

Your vet should agree that you want to avoid any unnecessary vaccines. Yet this almost never happens. There are many reasons vets over-vaccinate

  • Some vets just don’t know they’re vaccinating too often.
  • Others don’t believe that vaccines can harm your dog.
  • Some stick to outdated schedules out of comfort or habit.
  • And others think it’s a good way to get your dog into their office once a year.

But whatever the reason … what really matters is that over-vaccinating needs to stop.

In this post I want to focus on the distemper vaccine. You may find out your dog is getting it too often.

How Well Does The Distemper Vaccine Work?

The distemper vaccine works very, very well.

Veterinary immunology expert Ronald Schultz PhD proved it. He vaccinated 12-week old puppies with a single dose of distemper vaccine … just 4 hours before putting the puppies in a room with distemper-infected dogs.

100% of the puppies were protected against distemper in this challenge study. (Challenge means immunity is proven by exposure to the disease.)

Not only that … but the distemper vaccine even works after exposure to distemper. It can be given up to 3 days later and still offer protection to healthy puppies.

Does your vet know this?

What About Distemper Boosters?

Many pet owners (and a lot of vets) believe that it takes more than one vaccine to protect a puppy. This isn’t true in most cases.

In fact, just one vaccine, at the right time, can create immunity in your dog.

Official Guidelines For Distemper Vaccine Are Confusing

But it’s no wonder vets and dog owners are confused. Because the AAHA 2017 Canine Vaccine Guideline still proposes a series of Canine Distemper vaccines (CDV).

Even the most recent 2017 AAHA Guideline recommends …

  • Puppies under 16 weeks get at least two CDV shots
  • For puppies or adults over 16 weeks they recommend 1-2 doses as well
  • And then for all dogs, they recommend a booster one year later
  • And boosters at intervals of 3 years “or longer”

But they also say (bold added for emphasis) …

“Dogs residing in a HIGH RISK environment and over 20 wk (5 mo) of age when presented for initial vaccination are expected to derive protective immunity from a single dose of a combination vaccine.”

(High Risk environment means “locations in which the incidence of CDV is considered to be high; it may also include puppies known to have significant exposure to other dogs or contaminated environments.”)

Did you notice? They slipped in a little snippet to let you know that one vaccine is enough, at the right age. But, are vets paying attention to that little snippet?  Probably not, based on how often most vets vaccinate!

Then, in the Remarks there’s another giveaway:

“Following completion of the Initial Vaccination series and the initial booster dose, MLV* and Recombinant** Core vaccines will provide a sustained protective response lasting beyond 3 years.”

“The rCDV and MLV-CDV vaccines perform similarly with regard to onset of immunity following vaccination (in the absence of MDA***) and duration of immunity.”

In other words, you don’t need to give distemper vaccines every 3 years! Talk about mixed messages!

Vaccine Vocabulary

*MLV = Modified Live Virus. Stimulates cell-mediated immunity better than killed viruses.

**Recombinant = genetically modified vaccine with two viruses spliced together

***MDA = maternally derived antibodies

Dr Schultz’s Research

Dr Schultz’s research shows that the recommended series of vaccinations is unnecessary. He even said so in an article published by the University of Wisconsin Madison … where Schultz did his research.

In explaining that annual vaccines aren’t necessary, Dr Schultz said …

“ … the vaccines for CDV, CPV-2 and CAV trigger an immunological memory of at least seven years” 

CDV is Canine Distemper Virus. So again, why are vets vaccinating annually or even every 3 years?

Puppies vaccinated for distemper once at 12 to 16 weeks of age have a virtually 100% chance of being protected. And that protection is most likely for life.

This information has been available to vets for nearly two decades!

2003 Advice To Veterinarians

In Volume 39, March/April 2003 Journal of the AAHA, the AAHA Canine Vaccine Taskforce warned vets that …

“Misunderstanding, misinformation and the conservative nature of our profession have largely slowed adoption of protocols advocating decreased frequency of vaccination …”

“Immunological memory provides durations of immunity for core infectious diseases that far exceed the traditional recommendations for annual vaccination.”

“This is supported by a growing body of veterinary information and well-developed epidemiological vigilance in human medicine that indicates immunity induced by vaccination is extremely long lasting and, in most cases, lifelong.”

“The recommendation for annual re-vaccination is a practice that was officially started in 1978.”  says Dr. Schultz.  “This recommendation was made without any scientific validation of the need to booster immunity so frequently.”

“In fact the presence of good humoral antibody levels blocks the anamnestic response to vaccine boosters just as maternal antibody blocks the response in some young animals.”

In other words … if your dog’s already protected by prior vaccines, a booster won’t be effective anyway.

And distemper vaccines last a really long time, without any boosters.

Minimum Duration Of Immunity For Distemper Vaccines

Let me emphasize … I’m talking about minimum duration of immunity.

And the ceilings reflect not the true duration of immunity … but the duration of the studies.

Dr Schultz explains “It is important to understand that these are minimum DOIs and longer studies have not been done with certain of the above products. It is possible that some or all of these products will provide lifelong immunity.”

In 2010, Dr Schultz he published updated DOI information with newer generation, recombinant vaccines.

The study looked at titers for dogs with 4.5 to 5.9 years since their last distemper (and parvovirus) vaccines. 100% of the dogs had positive titers showing they were still protected.

Here’s a real-life illustration of the long-term protection from distemper vaccines.

Jack’s Racoon Wrestling Adventure

One sunny morning, Jack, one of JK’s dogs, was itching to get outside. It didn’t take long to see why. There was a raccoon in the yard.

Jack and the raccoon wrestled. Jack came back indoors with a scratch on his nose. JK quickly looked up distemper symptoms. This raccoon had them all. Glassy eyes, nasal discharge, confused, unstable footing. He stumbled drunkenly right up to the patio doors, oblivious to 3 barking dogs.

Distemper is spread through direct contact as well as airborne exposure. Later JK saw diarrhea on the driveway. She had no doubt the raccoon had distemper. And it had almost certainly exchanged fluids with Jack in their scuffle.

Her 2 dogs had been vaccinated long ago … but had no shots in the 6 years she’d had them. The other dog was a two-year-old who’d had puppy vaccines. She didn’t report the incident for fear she’d be forced to vaccinate the dogs.

And this incident shows they were protected by those long-ago vaccines, especially Jack. Nobody got sick, and 4 years later, all 3 dogs are alive and well.

So Why Are Dogs Re-Vaccinated?

That’s a good question and here’s one answer … again from Dr Schultz.

“Profits are what vaccine critics believe is at the root of the profession’s resistance to update its protocols. Without the lure of vaccines, clients might be less inclined to make yearly veterinary visits.“

Vaccines add up to 15% of the average practice’s income, AAHA reports, and veterinarians stand to lose big.

“I suspect some are ignoring my work,” says Schultz. “Tying vaccinations into the annual visit became prominent in the 1980s and a way of practicing in the 1990s. Now veterinarians don’t want to give it up.”

The Dangers Of Over-Vaccination

It’s important to only vaccinate your dog when necessary. Every vaccine has the potential to kill the patient or create debilitating chronic disease … including cancer and allergies. Below is a list of potential adverse vaccine reactions:

Common Reactions

  • Lethargy
  • Hair loss, color change at injection site
  • Fever
  • Soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Refusal to eat
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Sneezing
  • Oral ulcers

Moderate Reactions

  • Immunosupression
  • Behavioral changes
  • Vitiligo (patchy loss of skin pigmentation)
  • Weight loss (cachexia)
  • Reduced milk production
  • Lameness
  • Granulomas or abscesses
  • Hives
  • Facial edema
  • Atopy
  • Respiratory disease
  • Allergic uveitis (Blue Eye)

Severe Reactions

  • Vaccine injection site sarcomas
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Arthritis, polyarthritis
  • HOD (Hypertrophy Osteodystrophy)
  • Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
  • Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia (IMTP)
  • Hemolytic disease of the newborn (Neonatal Isoerythrolysis)
  • Thyroiditis
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Disease or enhanced disease which the vaccine was designed to prevent
  • Myocarditis
  • Post vaccinal Encephalitis or polyneuritis
  • Seizures
  • Abortion, congenital anomalies, embryonic/fetal death, failure to conceive

How Much Is Too Much?

It’s well established that vaccines can be harmful. So they should therefore be limited to the minimum needed to protect your dog.

“The patient receives no benefit and may be placed at serious risk when an unnecessary vaccine is given” says Dr Schultz. He adds, “Few or no scientific studies have demonstrated a need for cats or dogs to be revaccinated.”

So if the goal of vaccination is to protect animals from harm, how do some vets’ vaccine schedules for distemper make sense when only one is needed to protect a puppy, most likely for life?

Regular Re-Vaccination

Let’s add it up.

Annual Distemper Vaccines

If your dog is vaccinated 3 times as a puppy and again at a year, then annually, he’ll get 15 distemper vaccines by the time he’s 12.

Yet most puppies are protected for distemper within hours of vaccination and most dogs, once successfully vaccinated, are protected for life.

Annual distemper shots mean he’ll receive 14 unnecessary vaccinations in his life … if he’s lucky enough to survive all those unnecessary vaccinations.

Triennial Vaccination

Many vets pride themselves on not vaccinating annually.

But triennial vaccination is just as flawed in its logic as annual vaccination.

Dogs who are vaccinated triennially will have had 7 distemper shots by age 12. That’s still 6 too many!

All of these extra shots expose your dog to vaccine risks without any proven benefit. 

How Many Distemper Vaccines Should Your Dog Have?

One vaccine. That’s it. For life.

If your puppy’s very young when he’s first vaccinated, maternal antibodies could block the vaccine. So some pups may need a second distemper vaccine.

But you vaccinate your puppy at 12 to 16 weeks, he will most likely be protected, for life, with just one distemper vaccine.

What About The Other Vaccines?

I’ve just focused on distemper here. But most dogs get combination vaccines. So they also get parvovirus, coronavirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza, Lyme disease, leptospirosis, Bordetella, rabies, canine influenza and more.

They get far too many of these vaccines too! Not to mention the extra risk of giving combination shots all at once. Your dog’s immune system is built to handle one virus at a time … not the 5, 7 or more that many vets give.

Clearly, the number of unnecessary vaccines our dogs get is out of control. And so is the potential for damage.

So what can you do?

RELATED: Which vaccines does your dog need?

Take Back Control

If you believe your dog should get fewer vaccines … then make that decision and tell your vet. Don’t expect your vet to do it for you. 

And don’t go to groomers, training facilities or boarding kennels that require too many vaccines.

There are enlightened vets and businesses out there who don’t have these rules. Your dollars are much better spent supporting these fine people. Don’t encourage the businesses who are asking you to subject your dog to an unnecessary and dangerous vaccination protocol.

Dr. Schultz summarizes his 40 years of research with the following:

“Only one dose of the modified-live canine ‘core’ vaccine (against CDV, CAV-2 and CPV-2) or modified-live feline ‘core’ vaccine (against FPV, FCV and FHV), when administered at 16 weeks or older, will provide long lasting (many years to a lifetime) immunity in a very high percentage of animals.”

Like anybody who is exposed to too many drugs, the first step is to admit you have a problem.

The second step is to stop the vaccine addiction immediately.

That may mean saying no to your vet. Or even better, find a vet who understands the damage vaccines can cause.

Use vaccines to do what they were designed to do … protect your dog!

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