There are also shots for kennel cough (caused by Bordetella bacteria), coronavirus (if there's a local outbreak) and rabies, if you are travelling. In the US, vets now also vaccinate against Lyme disease.
If your dog lives to the age of 10, under the current vaccination schedule, which recommends boosters of five live vaccines every year, he will have received at least 60 live vaccine viruses in his system-not including any others for boarding or travelling. Indeed, many vets will not take an animal on their books that isn't going to be vaccinated. As with human babies, the date of the first vaccination is getting progressively earlier, with many vets now recommending six weeks or even less, even though the puppy is barely weaned.
In the States, some of the newest types of vaccines are being introduced as early as five or six weeks of age. Many breeders are told to jab a puppy with these shots every two to three weeks from the age of five weeks up to 12-14 or even 22 weeks, according to standard veterinary practice, with an additional parvovirus shot at 16-18 weeks.
Despite this zealous schedule, this is mounting evidence that dog vaccines do more harm than good. As with humans, canine vaccines have a spotty record of effectiveness. Research shows a high degree of vaccine failure; in many instances, dogs go on to develop the very illnesses the vaccines were meant to prevent.
As befitting a nation of pet lovers, the UK operates what is considered one of the best reporting schemes for suspected side-effects of medical drugs given to animals in the world. Called the Suspected Adverse Reactions Surveillance Scheme (SARSS), vets, pet owners and farmers may make use of it to report any adverse reactions to
veterinarian medicine of every variety.
Prompted by the concerns of pet owners and veterinarians, the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)asked the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) Working Group on Feline and Canine Vaccination to study the safety and efficacy of feline and canine vaccines by collating all suspected adverse reactions (SARs), and incorporating these data with all relevant studies in the medical literature.
In the VPC's final report, a large percentage of so-called SARs concerned dogs who'd gone on to develop one of the diseases they'd been vaccinated against. Their 'side-effect' was, in truth, a failure of the vaccine to protect them. Of all SARs reported between 1995 and 1998, nearly 7 per cent concerned a suspected lack of vaccine effectiveness (Vet Rec, 2002;150: 126-34).
Poor batting average
The medical literature also highlights a number of canine vaccines with dubious success rates. One such vaccine is the leptospirosis jab. In one study, 24 beagles were given one of three kinds of combination products containing the leptospirosis vaccine-Vanguard 7, Dohyvac 7L or Nobivac DHPPi + Lepto-or a control.
Seven weeks after the vaccination, when all the dogs in the study were exposed to the leptospirosis virus, three of the 16 dogs, or one in five, that had been vaccinated shed leptospirosis in their urine, indicating the presence of the virus. Furthermore, of the vaccine recipients, many developed symptoms of disease, although they were milder than those of the unvaccinated dogs (Vet Rec, 2003; 153: 165-9).
Not all brands are created equal, either. One study tested six commercial combination products on puppies aged six to seven weeks old. The animals were given two doses of the vaccines, then 'challenged' with a mix of two varieties of the coronavirus placed up their noses.
Of the six vaccines, half did not protect the puppies. In fact, six of the eight puppies given Rh^one M'erieux's RM(R) Canine 6, and five of the eight puppies vaccinated
with Galaxy 6MHP-L by Solvay, became ill and died after challenge. Furthermore, none of the puppies showed the presence of any antibodies to the Rh^one M'erieux product (Schultz RD. 'Emerging issues:Vaccination strategies for canine viral enteritis', in Proceedings of the Infectious Gastroenteritis Symposium. Lawrenceville, NJ: Veterinary Learning Systems, 1995;19-24).
The rabies vaccine also has a chequered success rate. In the US, where rabies still occurs, of 629 reported cases of rabies in dogs, concentrated in an area of the
southern US, 60 of the dogs (nearly 10 per cent) had been vaccinated with one of virtually every type of rabies vaccine on the American market. In total, there were 21
clear cases of vaccine failure-or more than 3 per cent (Am J Epidemiol, 1976;103: 242-9). If this wereto be extrapolated against the entire canine population, for every 100 dogs vaccinated against rabies, at least three will not be protected.
According to US veterinary immunology expert Ronald D. Schultz, only two varieties of parvovirus vaccine were found to provide high protection; one offered only partial protection and three didn't protect at all.
In Nigeria, 14 cases of rabies (mostly the furious type) in vaccinated dogs were reported in various parts of the country during 1970-1980. Of these cases, 10 were due to an apparent failure of a live vaccine. In four of these cases, the study concluded, the infection may have been caused by the vaccine (Int J Zoonoses, 1982; 9: 118-25).
More than a decade ago, the VPC, which licenses vaccines in the UK, issued a Note for Guidance on the Duration of Protection achieved by veterinary vaccines. This note
recommends (it doesn't mandate) that vaccines be studied to demonstrate the actual duration of protection provided, and that products of long duration be developed.
The VPC also recommended that, rather than adhering to a one-size-fits-all schedule of annual boosters, decisions about repeat vaccinations should made on an individual basis, using a risk-benefit assessment of each animal by the vet in consultation with the owner. The report specified that "the duration of protection should
be justified in relation to the length of time for which an animal is likely to be at risk".
Furthermore, manufacturers were asked to make it clear that the currently recommended timescale for booster vaccinations is based on the very earliest time that one of the vaccines in a combination product will wear off. Nevertheless, the point is that vaccination is the bread and butter of the typical vet's business, and any 'research' concerning safety or effectiveness is usually provided by the vaccine makers themselves. Small wonder that worried owners are still urged to have annual
boosters-just in case.
As with human vaccines, it is prudent to ask three basic questions about each and every vaccine before mindlessly jabbing your dog with combined or individual shots: How necessary is the vaccine? How effective is it (does it work)? And how safe? The answer to the second question, in truth, appears to be: not a lot.
Next month: "More Shots in the Dark"
But are they necessary?
At the moment, no official body in the UK is obliged to carry out surveillance on the incidence of diseases in dogs and cats, according to a spokesperson for the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH).The only surveillance being done on the incidence of canine or feline disease concerns exotic diseases imported from other countries.
In 2003, DEFRA launched DACTARI (Dog and Cat Travel and Risk Information). The purpose of this nationwide voluntary reporting scheme was to find out more about the
occurrence of exotic diseases in dogs and cats in Great Britain. In its first six months, the scheme reported just 13 cases of exotic disease-leishmaniasis,babesiosis and ehrlichiosis- in dogs in England and Wales, with no cases in cats. All involved dogs that had travelled extensively with their owners or had lived abroad. Of the three diseases, only leishmaniasis is a disease that can also affect people and is difficult to treat.
Alison Glennon, the press spokesperson for NOAH, says that the general impression among the authorities is that the incidence of the diseases we routinely vaccinate against is low and there are only limited outbreaks in specific areas.So,it's possible that you could be subjecting your dog to the repeated risks of a vaccine meant to protect against diseases he has virtually no chance of contracting.
Another point to bear in mind is that all illnesses are not created equal. Some canine diseases, such as distemper, rabies and leptospirosis, are undoubtedly killers. However, parainfluenza, coronavirus, parvovirus and kennel cough are all far milder illnesses in older dogs.In one study in which vaccinated and unvaccinated dogs were exposed to parainfluenza, of the three-fifths of control dogs not given the vaccine who developed the disease, all recovered (Am J Vet Res,1976;37:1323-7).
If the disease isn't that risky, the many possible side-effects of each individual vaccine should be weighed against the negligible benefit.