Monday, September 14, 2009

Over-vaccination is Bad Medicine

A version of this is in the current edition of Dogs Today.

Nothing has done more for dogs than the rise of vaccination.

It's hard for folks today to understand how devastating distemper was just 60 years ago when going to a dog show was often the precursor to losing entire kennels, with one sick animal serving as a disease vector to hundreds of other fine animals.

Thanks to Britain's fox hunters (who helped fund the initial research), the world now has a good distemper vaccine.

Which is not to say that everything is fine.

You see, too many veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate. And the cost is not just billions of pounds down the rat hole of waste -- it's also a significant number of dogs that end up sick and dying due to vaccination-triggered auto-immune disorders.

What I am saying here is not new; it is OLD.

In fact more than 30 years ago, Ronald D. Schultz, chairman of the University of Wisconsin's Department of Pathobiological Sciences, and one of the foremost experts on dog and cat vaccines in the world, noted that immunity in adult dogs and cats lasted many years, and that there was no rhyme or reason to annual vaccination protocols.

Small Animal Practice (Current Veterinary Therapy, XI) published in 1992, notes that:

Annual vaccination is a practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification. Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual re-vaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal."

In the March 1998 issue of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Schultz noted that:

"My own pets are vaccinated once or twice as pups and kittens, then never again except for rabies."

More recently, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) published Canine Vaccine Guidelines, Recommendations, and Supporting Literature. This 2003 report notes:

"We now know that booster injections are of no value in dogs already immune, and immunity from distemper and vaccinations last for a minimum of 7 years based on challenge studies, and up to 15 years (a lifetime) based on antibody titer."

So what about all those annual Parvo, Distemper, Parainfluenza, Hepatitis and Corona virus booster shots that your veterinarian has been giving your adult dog every year?

Not needed. You are being ripped off. There is no other way to say it.

For decades now, veterinarians have known that cats and dogs inoculated with modified live virus vaccines create "memory T-cells" that contain the code to fight off disease.

If a vaccinated body is ever challenged again by that same type of infection, those memory T-cells swing into action and, using the old code, generate a vast reservoir of new antibodies to fight the infection and return the animal back to health.

Not only are annual booster shots in adult dogs never needed, but over-vaccination is actually dangerous.

And your vet knows this.

Think about it.

Vets love their children, but they have not been vaccinating their kids for measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox and polio every year, have they?


And why not?

Simple: because they know that over-stimulating the immune system of any animal can trigger auto-immune disorders and increase (however slightly) the chance of a cancer occurring at the point of injection.

And so vets do not over-vaccinate their own children and neither do any other doctors.

But many veterinarians over-vaccinate dogs and cats brought into their practice.


The short answer is money.

Let's do the math.

A veterinarian will typically charge £35.00 to £50.00
for an annual "booster" shot.

If the veterinarian does 2,000 booster shots a year (just 8 shot a day) those shots will generate £70,000 to £100,000, for which the vet will only pay about $2,000 for the vaccine.

A nice business!

Of course, the annual booster shot may only be part of the cost to a customer. After all, once someone brings their pet into a veterinary practice, there are so many other things that can be billed for: teeth cleaning, special dog foods, blood tests, stool tests, worming, and flea treatments, for a start.

Less this last point sound overly paranoid or suspicious, it's worth taking time to read through the articles to be found in the journal of Veterinary Economics magazine, which regularly advises American and Canadian veterinarians on how they can replace lost vaccine income by doing a little creative bill padding. How about annual teeth cleaning? The article is entitled "Pearly White Profits." How about performing more thyroid level checks, and doing more de-worming? How about checking the titer levels on old vaccines -- and never mind that low titers are not an indication of lack of immunity?

In short, the business of veterinary care is business. No surprise there.

What is a surprise, for many, is how mercenary veterinary billing has become. One of the sages at Veterinary Economics advises that "Practices that charge more will make more money and work less hours."

The same advisor tells vets across the country to never fee guilty about ripping off the rubes, no matter how poor they are. After all,

"The less money a family makes, the more TV channels they have."

Of course, it is easy to paint with a broad brush. It is important to remember that almost all dog owners will eventually need a veterinarian to solve a canine health problem, and that some of the very best people in the world are veterinarians.

That said, it's also important to remember that, as a group, veterinarians are not more honest -- or less honest -- than anyone else in this world.

As in all things, caveat emptor.

A lot of money can be saved by doing a little research, asking a few questions, expressing a healthy skepticism, and (sometimes) simply saying NO.

Finally, if you have a good vet who is not jabbing your dog with unnecessary vaccines at every turn, do not be shy about recommending him or her to your family and friends. Let them know why you are staying with their practice. Bill padding, after all, creates its own cash incentives. Only by speaking up, and voting with our feet and wallets, can we incentivize integrity.



Viatecio said...

I've been aware of that yearly vaccinations are overkill for a while, but what about if I go to places that require updated vaccines? Kennels are the big thing that come to mind (not sure about trials) that like to see recent updates. How do you bypass that when the last 'update' was the final round of puppy shots and then the rabies? Usually the dog goes everywhere we go, but we do kennel her maybe 2-3 times a year (and she gets yearly boosters too, so all this questioning is for when I get my own dog!)

What's funny is that I'm going to be working for the veterinary field in a few years...hopefully I'll find a good one that isn't all about the money. It's sad that patient-based medicine has been passé for so long.

PBurns said...

People can require anything, and the question is whether you agree to it. The requirement as you have outlined it, is illogical. Afterall, if all the other dogs are vaccinated, what are they worried about? Not your dog!

Kennel cough is the only vaccine anyone cares about (it does not last as long as parvo, distemper, etc.), and mostly this is a scam too, as it takes 2 to 3 days days before immunity actually kicks in. Giving a kennel vough vaccine the day you kennel the dog for two or three days does nothing to improve health -- it's just a common way to create sales for kennel cough vaccine.


Miki said...

I've been going to the same vet clinic for almost 30 years and have had to, um "nudge" the owner and the vet I see into the modern world - for the sake of my dogs but also in recognition of their need to support their practice (and pay for at least one very expensive divorce). Shortly after the new AAHA protocol came out I brought some copies in for my vet - and all objections they had to me wanting to cut back (and stop in one case) annual vaccinations went away. When my income and expenses became enemies a couple of years ago I needed to reduce what I could, so I looked at ordering DOCP (for Addisons) on line and learning to give the shot myself. Once again I armed myself with copies of information and made them an offer they couldn't refuse - I would continue to buy the DOCP/syringes/needles from them at the average online markup price, but I would give the shots myself at home. They still get my business and a small profit. I get a price I (and my std poodle) can live with. More importantly everyone keeps a relationship that really is good, and has gotten better over the years.

Gina Spadafori said...

The last time I boarded a dog -- 2002 -- the kennel owner insisted on "up to date" annual vax. I printed out the UC Davis vaccine protocols (three-year rec for core vax, no rec for others at all) and handed them to her. That was that.

Seven years later, a kennel that doesn't know that annual vax are no longer recommended is one I'd probably avoid.

Fortunately, I have a great pet-sitter. :)

Unknown said...

I lost my dear eight year old Maltese x Silky, Sasha, last September 2008 after her last unnecessary annual revaccination / booster.

If you want to read what I have discovered since Sasha's death about the scandal of over-vaccination of pets, here's a link to my fully-referenced paper "Over-vaccination of pets - an unethical practice":

The Australian Veterinary Association has now changed its vaccination policy to "triennial" revaccination. What took them so long? And where is the proof that even "triennial" revaccination with modified live virus (MLV) core vaccines for parvovirus, distemper virus and adenovirus is necessary?

Why aren't pet owners being told the whole story about vaccination?

It's about time the "self-regulated" veterinary profession was brought to account, and made to adopt the ethical concept of obtaining "informed consent" from their clients before performing any interventions.

PBurns said...

You DO NOT have to get your dog revaccinated for Parvo or Distemper -- that too is a scam perpetuated by the veterinary profession. T-Cell immunity is good for the life of the dog. Read the links, above, on this.


Viatecio said...

Elizabeth - GREAT article, with a wonderful list of references. I appreciate the time you took to write it and look up all these things. Haven't fully read through it yet, but I'm quite content with what I've read already.

The veterinary profession is taking advantage of overprotective, worrywart, "helicopter" pet owners who only have the best intentions in mind...and we all know, that famous path is paved with things like that! This is an era where people can't take anything at face value anymore, but no one wants to put in effort to look up anything from many reputable sources. They have only themselves to blame when something goes wrong.

Sara said...

For those who are wondering about boarding, I have been successful getting some kennels to accept blood titer tests in leu of vaccinations. My pets are vaccinated every 3 years for rabies as required by state law. I titer for distemper and parvo only if required to get into a kennel, or every 3 years in the case of one dog who I regularly take to trials (just so that I have records on hand should I be asked).

The county I live in requires rabies every 2 years, which is a shame as local vets will only give out certificates for 2 years, even though the shots are "approved" for 3 years. Luckily the city will accept 3-year rabies certificates for licenses just because the person giving out the licenses doesn't know the regulations that well. I drive to another county for rabies vaccinations when my pets are due after three years.

For those who are interested in seeing the laws for rabies re-vaccination changed, please support the ongoing grassroots efforts of Dr. Jean Dodds and Dr. Ronald Schultz (mentioned in the blog post). Check out the Rabies Challenge Fund online at

Unknown said...

What type of vaccine protocol do you recommend for the average dog. I live in northern Virginia and my dogs spend a lot of time out doors, but live in the house.

PBurns said...

I live in Arlington, my dogs are in forest and field 18 hours a day (my back yard is forested and my dogs are hunting most weekends) and after the first year round of vaccines, I do nothing but the required every-three-year rabies vaccines which can be gotten from Arlington pound for $10 when needed. See >>


Unknown said...

Hi - I posted some earlier comments.

We're still working on trying to draw attention to the problem of over-vaccination of pets.

For information, please see my latest open letter on this subject, available via this link:

While this letter is addressed to the Australian 'authorities' it is also relevant in an international context.

TeamDog said...

Great article! I wish we could just go back to the "good ol' days when there were no such things as purebreds, dogs lived to see their 20th birthday, & vets were not motivated by money to push & push & push unnecessary (& often DANGEROUS) tests, vaccines, etc. Any one with me?

Columbo1 said...

So, let me get this right. Murphy our Golden Ret. is due for a Parvo at 16 months. After that no vaccines are needed except for Rabies every 3 years? I read your article about Heartworm and I'm very intrigued. I get that living in Southern California, I should start in June and end in December. I am currently using Revolution for Heartworm and Fleas, but have seen nothing about that on for recommendations.

PBurns said...


Kim said...


I have been following your advice for vaccines for several years. My question has to do with the Titers testing. Do you recommend getting the dog tested if they had all their shots as a puppy? I've checked around and it is quite costly. That being said, I only want what is best for my dog and I will do what is necessary. Thank you for all you do.

PBurns said...

Titers are a waste of money. They tell you nothing and (as you note) are expensive. If your dog had the full run of shots in the first year it's good for life except for rabies. Rabies vaccines have been challenge-tested for more than 7 years, but the law requires a booster every three years. Go to the local shelter or vaccine clinic for that -- about $10.

Kim said...

Thanks so much!

LRM said...


Does this still apply if the vaccine is not live? Also, what about lepto? Harry is due for both that and DHPP now (just turned 2), and I was going to take him in this weekend.

Thank you.


LRM said...
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