Hit Me With Your Best Shots!
June 29, 2012 12:47 PM   Subscribe

How do I decide how best to have my dogs vaccinated? And what vaccinations are really necessary? And possibly going against my vet’s wishes. Detailed snowflake inside.

So here is the deal MeFites, my dogs Watson and Agatha are both coming up on the time for their annual vaccinations. For other reasons, which have since been remedied, both dogs have been to the vet within the past few months and been both physically examined and had blood work done (all healthy results). So this whole quest began with me looking for more cost effective vaccinations, instead of taking them to the vet and paying double plus the examination fee(s) that they don’t require at this time. I noticed that some places offered a 7-in-1 shot, and others a 5-in-1, and some prepackaged with the bordatella vaccination, and others not. So I began researching what was best for my dogs. This has led me epic quest for truth, and I need your help to finish it!

I found that what I had always heard from my vets differs from that which is recommended by both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association. According to the vaccination guidelines for both Associations, for a healthy adult dog, these are the recommendations: For the core vaccinations (DHPP: distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvo) every 3 years, for the non-core vaccinations (lyme, bordatella, corona, lepto) only recommended for dogs at high risk for those diseases, and only then annually. Our dogs are both healthy adults at very low risk for all of these things (they aren’t kenneled or show dogs, or otherwise frequently around lots of other dogs, lyme disease is extremely rare in our region, they aren’t hunting dogs etc) So I presented my concerns to the vet, expressing that I did not want to over-vaccinate my dogs, but I also do not want to leave them at a risk unnecessarily. I want to do what it right for them, but I am also not going to blindly follow along with everything I am told. Needless to say, my vets office pretty much dismissed my worries, and reinforced that all vaccinations should be yearly.

I am left feeling very frustrated. I cannot get a straight answer from a vet that I doesn’t feel muddled by alternative motives (i.e. getting me in and racking up a bill). I am not usually a very “alternative” person with my dog’s health care or mine, but the more research I have done, the more I realize that the dangers of over vaccinating and potential adverse reactions are very real, and I do not want to put my dogs at risk. I have almost definitely decided against any of the non-core vaccinations because of their lack of effectiveness combined with the risks, but I really want to honestly know if I am being a neglectful by choosing to only vaccinate every 3 years instead of annually. I don’t want my vet or other dog owners to think that I am choosing this route because of monetary reasons instead of health reasons.

So the question is: has anyone else had this dilemma? What did you decide on in the end? Have you had any complications? If you vaccinate triennially have you had any issues with your vet or other animal specialists giving grieve? What about animal rescues, we are thinking of getting a third soon, will they see us as unfit because of this? Horror stories of either method are welcome. Just overall advice on how to make a decision about something this important to my pets health, and choosing to go against the advice of the “professional” in this case.

(Note: I did not mention the rabies vaccination because it is required annually in my state so is therefore not a part of said dilemma)

(Other note: My issues regarding “what people will think” may stem from the fact that I recently had a friend, who used to be a vet tech, lecture me about my potential choosing to use a low cost vaccination clinic as opposed to visiting the vet, in a rather demeaning fashion I might add)
posted by Quincy to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Our vet has a "shot clinic" where you bring your animal in and they get their innoculations. You'll see mobile shot clinics, or clinics sponsored by pet stores and the like.

For example, where I live in Atlanta, I take my kitties to Wellpet Humane. They happen to be right around the corner from me, but they're darn near non-profit. The clinic is walk in, and I just put the kitties in their carriers and off we go.

We get 3 injections and I can pick up flea stuff and it's very reasonable. There's one my vet said we can skip because we have indoor cats who don't mingle with outdoor cats.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:01 PM on June 29, 2012

Is it possible that your vet is using a different formulation? We have 3 year shots for rabies and DHPP, and we update the bordetella annually because we do occasionally board him.

Some vets will not vaccinate without giving an exam first, so you might want to check that before trying a new place.
posted by ambrosia at 1:05 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm currently having this dilemma re: cats. Both of my cats were adopted from shelters and they came vaccinated. We got one in April 2008 and the other in August 2011. We're rescuing a kitten this weekend and I'm having to decide if I should vaccinate everyone, or just the oldest cat, or just the kitten or nobody or what. They're all indoor cats and the kitten tested negative for FeLV and FIV and it seems...unnecessary.

Additional data point: My mom's lab mix hasn't had vaccinations in at least 5 years. She mostly lives outdoors. She's 11. And she's fine.

So if they had all their puppy vaccines then maybe just skip the boosters, get the rabies shot, and call it a day.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:40 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Briefly I'll offer my opinion as someone whose family has managed a pack of casual sporting dogs for 2.5 generations with no major disease issues, in a semblance of decreasing order of importance:

Do not skip the ones you mentioned as core!!! Those diseases are serious and the pack immunity is of prime importance in maintaining the safety factors we enjoy today as dog owners. Parvo is nothing to mess around with.

Do not let your friend/vet/vet tech or anyone else make you feel guilty for making use of a low cost vaccination clinic if you can't afford a full blown vet visit. I have. Donate the requested amount if applicable and if you can and have no guilty feelings about your choice.

Do not let the vet pressure you into the other optional-for-a-reason vaccines if you can't afford it and you don't feel your dog meets the risk criteria. My personal belief is that an indoor dog or one who isn't in the woods all day may not be a prime candidate for a Lyme's vaccine. Bordetella (kennel cough) isn't a big deal unless you're exposing your dogs to others who may pick it up from yours or vice versa. Kenneling your dog if you go out of town may, however, be justifiably impacted from your dog's lack of these optional vaccines. Keep that in mind.

I'm sorry you're feeling pressured from your friend and, possibly even, from your vet to give your dog unnecessary medications and incur unnecessary expenses. I've felt the same way before when we refused tests for our healthy dogs during their annual checkup. The tests for diseases that our animal was showing no symptoms for and had no reason to suspect it being infected with. I understand that vet procedures are different for animals than for humans because animals can't speak but when the vet assumes we want them because "everyone gets this test" or "Everyone takes this vaccine" I don't exactly shy away from telling them, firmly but politely, that we're perhaps a bit more knowledgeable than the average owner and know the risks/requirements/warning signs associated with certain things.

We've never had a problem, not in our dogs we've had in our sporting pack (which admittedly we managed a bit differently due to their constant exposure to other people's dogs), nor in our housepets. Our dogs live well into or beyond the expected lifespan for the breed in question. That said, we have 2 pit bulls now. One was a stray and one was a rescue from the local shelter and we had no problem adopting the latter. It sounds like someone as vested in your pet's well-being should have no problem finding a dog to adopt as your own should you decide to get a third.

Honestly, if you find a rescue organization giving you an extremely hard time about adopting another one despite your best efforts to prove yourself as a willing, competent, and caring owner... I'd view that as a major red flag/crappy move on their part and move on to another organization, but that's another discussion I suppose.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:59 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

We are always up to date on bordatella, because our dog's daycare (she goes occasionally and boards when we go out of town) requires it. What do you do when you go out of town? If you board your dogs, it seems worthwhile to remain up to date on that - even if you don't have upcoming travel plans, because sometimes travel plans come up at the last minute, and the last thing you probably want to do is make an emergency vet visit for a vaccination.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:18 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, this is very helpful. I will say that I definitely am not going to skimp on the core vaccinations. My real issue is that those vet organizations recommend them only every 3 years rather than annually, so that is my real question I guess. Going 3 years as opposed to annually. I've read that the coverage for those vaccinations has been shown to be effective up to 5 years, so that is why the AAHA and the AVMA changed their guidelines.

Regarding insectosaurus' question: when we go out of town we have friends that dog sit so we never board them (one of ours can be a ball of nerves especially when she can hear other dogs but not see them so a boarding situation would be way to stressful for her). They don't go to doggie daycare as of now, and if I decided to ever enroll them, I would definitely make sure to have them vaccinated prior.

I also wanted to say that my indecision here isn't regarding money, I think I worded a couple of parts wrong. I will pay whatever is needed (the reason I was looking for low cost was just because, well... why not if I know my pets are healthy otherwise save some money), but its mostly regarding the actual frequency and vaccinations that are best and healthiest in the long run for the dogs.
posted by Quincy at 2:26 PM on June 29, 2012

I just wanted to chime in on the "don't skip the Bordatella" shot. Most boarding places not only require it, but have a waiting period after the shot. If you needed to board your pup in an emergency, you might not have time to get it done.
posted by HuronBob at 2:31 PM on June 29, 2012

What about animal rescues, we are thinking of getting a third soon, will they see us as unfit because of this?

I cannot speak for all animal rescues, but the rescue that I volunteer for does not survey prospective adopters about their vaccination practices.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:33 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is not dog-specific, but my experience with human-medical stuff is that national organizations spend a fair amount of time and resources studying and testing the guidelines that they put out to their members, while individual practitioners may be more or less likely to keep up-to-date with what the latest science recommends. This is particularly true when the switch is from doing something more-often to doing something less-often. (For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently started discouraging annual Pap smears and instead recommended a once-every-three-years schedule, but for various reason I expect I am going to get a postcard from my doc reminding me to schedule my yearly exam. That doesn't mean she's not a great doctor, it can just take a while for things to filter down to the individual practitioner level, ESPECIALLY when it's something counterintuitive that doesn't "feel right" compared to how they've always done it.)

All of which is to say: I think that if you are worried about being a bad dog-parent by doing core vaccinations every 3 years, you shouldn't feel bad. I think there's about a zero percent chance that a big, respected national vet organization didn't put a whole lot of time and money into studying the question before releasing the 3-year guideline. Your vet, on the other hand, doesn't sound like s/he can give you good reasons to not follow the guidelines other than "that's not the way we've always done it."

If I were you, when the vet starts to pressure you I'd say, "I've looked up the AVMA guidelines and they call for those vaccinations every three years, so I think I'm going to stick with that." Pushiness past that can usually be derailed by putting on a slightly quizzical expression and saying slowly, "I don't understand. Are you using different vaccinations than the ones that the AVMA recommends? Do you think the AVMA is wrong?" and repeating it until you get a satisfying answer or they are forced to admit that they don't have a good reason.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:17 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

For some of these (maybe all of these) you can get a blood titer test to check for antibody load. If the dog's antibody load is good, you can hold off on revaccinating for a bit.

My previous dog had glaucoma and an inflammatory disorder, so we kept her on steroids a good bit of the time. Because of how dodgy her system was, both parts of the vaccine (the antigen and the adjuvant) could have caused problems. We did scheduled blood titers for all her shots, and we only revaccinated when her antibody load dipped below threshold. Her boarding place and daycare were happy to take the titer results in place of a vaccination record.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:40 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I adopted a dog, I did a fair bit of research on overvaccination in pets and its link to disease and increased mortality and decided to be very conservative. I have a vet who will discuss actual risk and epidemiology with me and based on my pet's habits and possible exposures, and we design a plan. I also get titers to see what's still active in my dog's system. Many vaccines are effective for a number of years and don't require yearly revaccination.

Be aware that administration of vaccines is a major profit center vets. You are right to be weary of a vet who discounts your concerns and steers you toward yearly full-panel vaccinations.
posted by quince at 4:43 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I will say what I do with my own dogs:

I do puppy shots at 9, 13 and 17 weeks (distemper/parvo), booster these at the one year anniversary of the last one, and then titer thereafter (my 9 year old dog has not had a distemper/parvo shot since his one year booster). If titers are too expensive, then you can go to every 2, then 3, then 5 years, depending on the dog's age (less frequently as they age). If your vet is not discussing this with you, s/he is not keeping up with the latest AVMA recommendations. Generally speaking, if a dog is vaccinated properly against distemper/parvo as a puppy (which means they must have had one shot after 16 weeks of age) and gets the one year booster, it's thought that they are very likely to have lifelong immunity, even with a low titer, but since we don't fully understand what titers mean yet, they do recommend boostering if the titers are low.

I do rabies as late as possible (after 16 weeks, ideally 20 weeks, but legalities vary), booster at the one year anniversary, then booster every 3 years. Rabies is mandated by law and is now a 3 year shot in most places.

I also vaccinate annually against leptospirosis, since we have lepto where I live and it is a BAD disease, debilitating, often fatal, and expensive to treat (and the newer vaccines are much safer and more effective than the old ones were). This is very much a regional thing and you should do your own research.

The ONLY combo shot I give is distemper/parvo (no 5-way and certainly no 7-way, that's some old-school overvaccination right there), and I never do lepto or rabies within 3-4 weeks of any other vaccine, or each other.

That said, if you feel your vet is upselling you, find another vet, but as someone who works for a vet, I will say that we recommend what we feel is in the best interests of your pet. We do a minimal vaccination schedule where I work, but we still recommend twice-yearly physical exams (your dog seeing the vet once a year is like you seeing your doctor every 7 years or so). The exam is far more important than the shots, (other than rabies), if your dogs were properly vaccinated as puppies.
posted by biscotti at 5:53 PM on June 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: And we make very little money off vaccines. Many vets mandate annual shots because that's the only way they get to see the pet regularly, which is actually in the pet's best interests. Many people will not bring their pets to the vet unless it needs a shot, which is why we see pets all the time with major illnesses which would have been minor if they'd been diagnosed early enough with routine exams and screening diagnostics, but the pet only sees the vet when the county says it needs a rabies jab.
posted by biscotti at 5:56 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I follow a modified version of the Jean Dodds protocol.
posted by biscotti at 6:00 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Much of the horse world is coming around to the idea we over-worm and over-vaccinate--I'm not surprised the AVMA and AAHA have changed the guidelines. As up above, titers are the way to check if your animals need re-vaccinating. I've gone to using fecal analysis for worming--and have cut my worming down over half as much, and my vaccinations are biannually on two horses, and I'm not doing the old boys (per vets recommend.) Same with the dog and cats.

IMHO, we have gone overboard on what our critters actually need to maintain health for normal, mostly stay-at-home animals. For show animals, animals under stress, and immune-compromised animals, there are different protocols. If your dog goes to the dog park, or you board frequently in a possibly iffy situation, maybe you'd need to be very current on your titers/vaccines.

My critters that live in a rural environment, are mostly in a fenced yard, and seldom encounter unknown dogs are on a minimized schedule. As usual, we all do what we think is best for our pets and what we're comfortable with.

Don't let your vet pressure you into vaccinating when you've done due diligence.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:49 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Biscotti gives you excellent advice (as always!)

I'm a vet, but not your vet so this isn't medical advice.

It looks like there is some significant lepto in memphis, so please consider that one. The rest you can do titers as needed if you and your vet determine that a vaccine is needed. You can certainly do titers for the non-rabies core stuff.

As for low cost clinics, these really do fill a need in the community. What I would be looking for is to make sure that the vet actually looks at the animal before vaccinating. The vet will take the animal's temperature, listen to heart & lungs and do a general physical exam. Giving a sick animal a vaccine is a waste of money and can be dangerous for your pet. You might be surprised how many animals I've seen come in for a routine rabies shot but were in acute distress.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 7:55 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

FWIW, the rescue I got my doggie from is vehemently -- almost pathologically -- against over vaccination (note: not against vaccination, just against getting yearly updates to shots that are manufacture-guaranteed to be effective for a minimum of 3 years). So depending on the rescue, your views on vaccination might actually work in your favour.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:11 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you guys so much. I cannot tell you how much I have been stressing about this. This all helps so much
posted by Quincy at 11:11 PM on June 29, 2012

I'm a little late to this discussion, but I wanted to emphasize what Biscotti and Nickel Pickle said.

Many practices stagger boosters so that their patients will come in to them at least once per year. It is standard practice to give each patient a brief examination prior to vaccination. If you visit your vet every 3 years for vaccines while assuming that your dog is fine and totally healthy, it is very possible that you might a potential medical condition.

Will a veterinarian examine your pet at a low-cost vaccination clinic? What if your pet has an allergic reaction to a vaccine received at a low-cost vaccination clinic? Who will you call for medical advice?

Another thing to consider is that if your animal has an acute emergency, your vet might be more willing to work within your financial constraints if you are a regular patient. More importantly, the vet will have a medical history to consider when treating your pet. For some conditions, this can be invaluable.

Be aware that administration of vaccines is a major profit center vets.

This is not at all true.
posted by Seppaku at 6:31 AM on June 30, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, I would always take mine in to the vet for a routine exam at least once a year, if we didn't have a reason for a visit throughout the year. This past year we have had a lot little incidences which turned out nothing, and some follow ups for which my dogs were both fully examined (both have had heartworm treatment follow ups within the past several months --- one came to us from the shelter with heartworms, and the other tested positive six months after we adopted him even though he had been on preventative since). But anyway, they would both at least be examined annually.
posted by Quincy at 9:49 AM on July 2, 2012

My vet told me that I could just set up an appointment for the shots only (because we had a lump checked out a couple months before his vaccinations were due) and then I wouldn't be charged for the exam/office visit, so that might also be an option in your case.
posted by katers890 at 4:08 PM on July 2, 2012

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