There aren’t many topics that are more polarizing than vaccines for your dog.
It’s important to understand the difference between so-called “Core” and “Non-Core” vaccines for your dog, and what those terms mean.
Do you sometimes wonder, “How often do I need to vaccinate my dog?” Or which dog vaccines are necessary and which are not? And what’s required by law?
It can get confusing. And a lot of veterinarians give misleading information to get you to keep vaccinating your dog regularly.
So we want to fill in the blanks and give you the information you need to make the best decision for your dog.
Then, when you get that card in the mail from your vet reminding you that your dog’s due for his annual physical exam and vaccinations, you’ll be prepared, knowing what your dog does and doesn’t need to remain protected from disease – and stay out of trouble with the law!
Core vs Non-Core Vaccines
All of the vaccines given to dogs fit into 2 categories: core and non-core vaccines.
Core vaccines are the ones most vets recommend your dog should have as a puppy. These vaccines all protect against dangerous viral diseases. They are:
- Adenovirus (Canine Hepatitis)
The Non-Core vaccines include:
- Lyme Disease
- Leptospirosis 4-way (this is sometimes included in combination vaccines with core vaccines, but it is a non-core vaccine and should be considered separately)
- Canine Influenza
- Adenovirus Intranasal
Several of the non-core vaccines (Bordetella, Lyme and Leptospirosis) are bacterial vaccines. Bacterial vaccines have low efficacy rates coupled with high incidence of adverse reactions. This means they should rarely be used, and then, only after careful consideration of all the risks of vaccinating vs not vaccinating against these diseases.
But if you do plan to give your dog any of these vaccines (or you already have), you’ll need to know how long they last and how to protect him after. But that still doesn’t answer the question of which ones your dog needs. We’ll get to that shortly.
How Long Do Vaccines Last
We’ve created a downloadable chart that you can print off and take with you (or look at before you make an appointment). In it, you’ll see two parts, one for Core and one for Non-Core vaccines.
First … you’ll see the Minimum Duration of Immunity of the Core Vaccines. Protection against disease from these vaccines has been proven by clinical studies to last from 7 to 15 years (depending on the vaccine). The core vaccine information in the chart is based on clinical studies by Ronald D Schultz PhD and you can read more about his work in this article.
If your dog has had any of the core vaccines at 16 weeks of age or older, he’s most likely protected for life and doesn’t need to be vaccinated again.
Your veterinarian may not agree with this. Unless your veterinarian is truly holistic, she will probably at least follow the AAHA guidelines.
Some veterinarians may imply that the core vaccines are required by law. But, except for rabies, they’re not.
Next, for non-core vaccines, you’ll see we’ve focused on the three main non-core vaccines that your vet’s likely to recommend: Bordetella (kennel cough), Lyme Disease and Leptospirosis. Since we don’t advocate any of these vaccines, the chart lists some issues with these vaccines that you should consider before vaccinating your dog.
Why You Shouldn’t Over-Vaccinate Your Dog
Vaccinating your dog more often than necessary can be very dangerous for him. All vaccines have potential adverse reactions. These can range from fairly mild reactions like lethargy or soreness, to really severe ones like anaphylactic shock, autoimmune diseases and even death. The vaccine can also cause the disease it’s intended to prevent!
When your dog is protected by the vaccines he’s already had, vaccinating him again does not make him “more immune.” Vaccines also contain other ingredients that are potentially harmful for your dog.
Ingredients in Vaccines
Most vaccines include toxic ingredients that add to the risks of vaccinating your dog.
Two of these are:
This is a mercury based additive used as a preservative. Mercury toxicity is well known and repeatedly proven in studies. Yet it’s still contained in most veterinary vaccines today. Even some vaccines that claim to be thimerosal-free may still contain small amounts of thimerosal. That’s because it can be used in processing but not added as an ingredient, so the manufacturers don’t have to disclose it.
This is an antibiotic. According to the FDA, antibiotics are in vaccines to prevent bacterial infection during manufacturing, So when your dog gets a vaccine, he’s getting antibiotics whether you like it or not.
So it’s always a good idea to give your dog probiotics (soil based probiotics or S. boulardii are best) to help reduce gut damage caused by antibiotics and other drugs.
What To Do At The Vet’s Office
Do your homework and read our chart before you go.
For Core Vaccines
If your veterinarian presses you to over-vaccinate your dog with core vaccines, you can draw her attention to Dr Schultz’s research. Dr Schultz’s studies show the minimum duration of immunity that likely protects your dog for life once he’s had his core vaccines as a puppy or adult.
If your vet needs more convincing, you can ask for titers to confirm your dog’s protected. Some vets charge an exorbitant amount for titers (perhaps because they really don’t want to do them) and some may even refuse.
If that’s the case, you can ask your vet to draw the blood for you (usually about a $20 charge) and then send it yourself to Hemopet for testing. You can submit your titer request on Hemopet’s website. A distemper and parvo titer costs a little over $50 and you can ship the vial of blood cheaply via a US Postal Service Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box.
For Non-Core Vaccines
Your vet is likely to recommend Bordetella and Leptospirosis vaccines, as well as Lyme if you live in a high tick area. All of these vaccines carry a high risk for your dog and don’t work very well. Check the vaccine issues listed on the chart, and also consider these points before vaccinating your dog.
- Bordetella: If you board your dog, try to find a kennel that doesn’t require Bordetella. If your kennel does, ask to sign a waiver accepting the risk of your dog getting kennel cough on their premises … that’s what they’re afraid of. Or better yet, have a pet-sitter come to your home and then you don’t need to worry about vaccination requirements.
- Leptospirosis: If you think your dog is at risk for lepto, make sure you find out from your local health authority what strains of lepto are in your area. The vaccine covers the L. canicola, L. icterohaemorrhagiae, L. grippotyphosa and L. pomona serovars. If these strains aren’t prevalent where you live, there is no point in taking the risk of vaccinating your dog.
Also note that some vets give the Leptospirosis vaccine in conjunction with core vaccines. You may see a vaccine called something like DHLPP. That “L” is leptospirosis … make sure you know what vaccines your vet is using. Your dog could still get the lepto shot.
- Lyme: if your dog’s not out in the woods picking up ticks, he’s probably not at risk for Lyme disease. If you do take your dog into tick-infested areas, use natural protection methods to keep the ticks away. Check him thoroughly for ticks when you get home. Removing the ticks promptly will help prevent the tick from infecting him.
So which dog vaccines are absolutely necessary? That’s a question only you can answer! But now you have the information you need to decide for your individual dog.