Although some forms of joint disease, such as hip dysplasia, caused by a malformed ball-and-socket joint, are the likely result of overbreeding, increasing evidence shows that certain vaccines are
a common cause of polyarthropathy, or arthritic problems of all varieties.
Some form of arthritis is one of the most common side-effects of vaccination, accounting for 5 per cent of all reactions, and reported to arise in a minimum of six out of every 100,000 doses given. Of those affected, 9 per cent of dogs will end up permanently lame. Although this incidence is worrying enough, this side-effect is even more pronounced in cats, accounting for 44 cases of polyarthritis for every 10,000 doses administered.
According to the UK's Veterinary Products Committee Working Group on Feline and Canine Vaccination (VPC), set up to monitor drug reactions in pets, nearly one-third of all reactions to drugs among dogs and cats involves vaccination (Vet Rec, 1998, 143: 455) and, in Sweden, that figure is closer to 50 per cent. Akitas, in particular, are especially prone to arthritis from jabs, although Yorkshire Terriers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are especially susceptible to all side-effects.
Nevertheless, the VPC group as well as those in other countries admit to gross underreporting of vaccine side-effects, as such reporting is voluntary.
A truer figure may derive from a unique survey conducted by the Canine Health Concern (CHC), run by Catherine O'Driscoll, which analyzed the case histories of more than 3800 dogs after vaccination, a larger sampling than in most pharmaceutical studies. According to O'Driscoll's survey, vaccines caused illness of some variety in one in 100 dogs.
Her survey also showed that some 55.8 per cent of dogs with autoimmune disease developed their illnesses within three months of being vaccinated. Arthritis, in particular, occurred in clusters some nine months after vaccination.
The CHC study was bolstered by research from Purdue University showing that dogs that are routinely vaccinated develop autoantibodies to a range of biochemicals in the canine body.
Although all vaccines are capable of causing side-effects, the greatest suspect is the five-in-one combination vaccine for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza and parvovirus (DHLPPi). All five antigens are modified live viruses, which are attenuated (weakened) versions of live pathogens.
In one study, polyarthritis was linked to the DHLPPi (Am Coll Vet Intern Med, 2000, 14: 381). An earlier study also found that dogs developed immune-mediated polyarthritis and other diseases such as amyloidosis, where fibrillar proteins accumulate in organs and tissues of the body, causing dysfunction, after vaccination with the five-in-one (Adv Vet Med, 1999; 41: 715-32).
Other reported joint problems include hypertrophic osteodystrophy, a condition that may be due to an underlying bacterial or viral bone infection, causing severe lameness and extreme pain in dogs that are young and still growing, and particularly in the larger breeds, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, Dobermans, Retrievers and Weimaraners.
Increasingly, it has been acknowledged that animal vaccines can damage the immune system, paving the way for autoimmune disease, in which the animal's immune system begins attacking itself-as in rheumatoid arthritis.
A Japanese report showed that autoimmune illness accounts for 1.6 per cent of all reports of vaccine side-effects (Comp Immunol Microbiol Infect Dis, 1992; 15: 79-87). The report also found a relationship between vaccination and immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia (IMHA; abnormally low red-blood-cell counts) and thrombocytopenia (IMTP; reduction in blood platelets).
The five-in-one vaccine also appears to be responsible for some cases of the canine version of rheumatoid-like arthritis (Br J Rheumatol, 1994; 33: 27-31).
The human measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) jab, which can cause IMTP in humans, is molecularly so similar to the canine distemper jab that the measles live-virus vaccine is often used in puppies older than five weeks if they are at risk from the distemper virus. Some vets vaccinate dogs with the measles vaccine as a means of providing cross-protection.
Too much of a good thing
The main issue appears to centre around immunological overkill-the sheer number of vaccines given to dogs and cats. In many veterinary surgeries in the UK, puppies are given the first five-in-one at 8-10 weeks, and then a five-in-one booster every year thereafter. In the US, many breeders advise new owners to get the five-in-one at five or six weeks and, thereafter, every two to three weeks until 14 or even 22 weeks, with one more parvovirus shot at 16-18 weeks.
Vets themselves are having second thoughts about the number of jabs being given. In 2002, during a roundtable discussion on canine vaccinations, Richard Ford, emeritus professor of medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, and a member of the Canine Vaccine Task Force of the American Animal Hospital Association, firmly put the blame for vaccine damage on the sheer quantity of vaccines given to dogs.
"I believe that repeated injections of inmmunogenic proteins can potentially be harmful," he said. ". . . My colleagues and I are all concerned about the inordinate number of cases we see of autoimmune disease like immunemediated hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia, and polyarthritis-more than ever before" (Titer Testing and Vaccination: A New Look at Traditional Practices. Lenexa, KS: Veterinary Healthcare Communications, 2002).
In 2010, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association changed its guidelines, advising vets to limit boosters of core vaccines to every three years after the 12-month booster following the initial puppy jabs because, it noted, the "duration of immunity (DOI) is many years and may be up to the lifetime of the pet". Nevertheless, manufacturer labelling continues to encourage vets
to offer annual boosters. And many vets, worried about potential lawsuits, continue to advise annual boosters.
The other issue, of course, is economics. As one Australian vet-industry survey found, 89 per cent of vets polled said that vaccines were the mainstay of their practice (Choice: The People's Watchdog, 17 August 2010; www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/ backyard/pets/pet-vaccination.aspx).
As all the evidence suggests, arthritis in dogs may be largely a man-made illness, another instance of misplaced good intentions.
Factfile: What to do instead
Vaccine-damage appears to be dose- and frequency-related, so here's what you can do to avoid these problems.
- Don't have your pet vaccinated so often. Adopt the new standards and only get repeat vaccines for the 'core' illnesses-parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis.
- Consider each vaccine carefully for its safety and effectiveness. Concentrate on the most serious diseases and forego the others.
- Insist on having a titre test like Biogal's VacciCheck before subjecting your pet to a booster. These relatively inexpensive tests will verify whether your dog still has protective immunity.
- Consider homeopathic nosodes as an alternative to vaccination. Homeopathic pharmacies make combinations of the following remedies in tablet form: Hard pad and distemper 30C; Parvovirus 30C; Leptospirosis 30C; Hepatitis 30C; and Kennel Cough 30C. Suggested dosage is one tablet twice daily for the first three days, one tablet once a week for six weeks, then one tablet once a fortnight continuously.
WDDTY 22 no 7, October 2011