Is it worth a shot?

The topic of vaccinations has been stirring up some controversy here lately. I’m not talking about vaccinations in children, which is a subject that has prompted many a parent on Facebook to spew vitriol from both ends of the spectrum. I’m talking, of course, about vaccinations in our beloved companion animals.

Do what you want with your kids. I don’t have a dog in that fight.

Once upon a time, I was hyper-aware of when annual vaccinations were due for my dogs. I had it on my calendar. I got multiple postcard reminders in the mail from my vet. I would receive an almost panicked email notification from my dog daycare place with a big red warning banner weeks before the expiration. I feared that my dogs would become immediately at risk for infectious disease if I did not race to the vet before the deadline.

It gave me anxiety.

I don’t remember having such concerns about our pets when I was growing up.

I had to plan for the expense, and it was always costly, particularly as I have always had more than one dog. Also, it was rare that vaccines were the only things we got whenever I darkened the door of the vet’s office.

(Cue ‘The Apprentice’ theme song here… 

…and visions of Donald Trump’s hair blowing in the wind…)

Last summer, after my conversion to alternative approaches to canine health, I began to notice articles in magazines such as this one in Dogs Naturally Magazine and on blogs discussing the necessity of annual vaccines, and it caused me to pause and ponder the question.

Is it worth the shot?

After the initial inoculations during puppyhood for canine hepatitis, parvo, and distemper, which are undoubtedly effective against the diseases, are “booster” shots–on an annual basis–necessary to maintain the desired immunity levels? And if not, are they harmful?

Veterinarian researchers raised those questions some 30 years ago. After the initial study and multiple repeat studies, they came to the conclusion that the minimum duration of immunity for canine vaccines for distemper, parvo, and canine hepatitis (adenovirus) is 7 years.

7 years.

Not one.


In a medical journal article published in 1995, Dr. Ronald Schultz, a veterinary immunologist and (at that time was) chair of the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Pathobiological Sciences, concluded that:

“Vaccines for diseases like distemper and canine parvovirus, once administered to adult animals, provide lifetime immunity.”

Dude, he said lifetime.

If the antibody levels in the blood are strong, and giving a booster will not increase the antibody levels, but could put the animal at undue risk, why give it?

Vets continue to press all of us into having our dogs and cats vaccinated each year.

But why? If the studies show one thing and vets insist on doing the opposite, what could possibly be driving it?


It’s certainly a guaranteed income stream. In fact, on average yearly vaccinations account for about 14% of annual revenue for veterinarians nationwide.

The practice of annual revaccination did not even begin until the late 1970’s — which may explain why it was not so much a concern at the Smith house when I was growing up.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Vaccines against these canine diseases are very important. The question I raise is with respect to how often they must be given.

So, how do you know whether your dog is protected against the diseases?

Go get you a Titer test!

What’s a Titer? (pronounced Ty-ter).

A Titer is a blood test to determine the levels of antibody for each of the standard vaccines in the bloodstream.

Your vet will do it.

Last week, we went to Well Being Medicine for Animals (like them on Facebook). Dr. Natalie drew a blood sample from each Pug, and was able to run the test for the standard set (Hepatitis, Parvo & Distemper) there in her office. The Rabies Titer for each required a larger blood sample and had to be sent to an outside lab, so we don’t have those results back yet. And really, the results are immaterial because both dogs are due for a 3-year shot under Alabama law anyway. But I wanted to know, so I had the test done.

But the results we do have are extremely strong. And they are good for three more years.

What about doggie daycare? Why are their knickers in a twist about shots?

My guess is, at least in this part of the country, it’s largely due to ignorance of the science.

But, you can educate them! They’ve made you sign a waiver promising to not sue them for anything that happens to your dog while in their care anyway. What difference does it make to them?

(Side note: kudos to my good friends at Just Happy Hounds-Midtown for being a leader on this. They do accept Titer results. Thanks guys! Y’all are awesome!)

So, dig around in the dirt a bit and get informed. Then get out there and advocate for your fur baby!

pugs & kisses,