Why do we need so many shots to immunize our puppies and are they even effective?
-Excerpts from “Puppy Vaccines”, an article in The Whole Dog Journal, October 2016-
Veterinarians usually recommend that puppies are vaccinated for several different viruses in a number of rounds, beginning when the puppy is 4-6 weeks old and ending at around 16 to 20 weeks old. But why is that? It is not because it takes so many vaccinations before full immunity is reached and it isn’t because each successive shot “boosts” the immunity from the previous shots; both things that are a commonly held belief. The truth is, such repetitive vaccination is used to help the dog’s immune system begin to learn the types of threats that it will have to deal with in the future and develop defenses, or antibodies, to fight them on its own. The repetition is also necessary to combat external forces that may inhibit the dog’s immune system from maturing properly.
Most people understand that babies of any species, including canines, receive health benefits from drinking their mother’s colostrum, the yellowish fluid produced before the mother can fully deliver milk, and the milk itself. This includes protection from virulent diseases. However, the antibodies given by the mother fade over time due to the immature puppy’s immune system not being able to generate antibodies of its own. This means that when a puppy in such a transitional state gets a vaccine from a vet, there is a chance that the weakened virus will be attacked by the mother’s antibodies; denying the puppy’s immune system to respond with its own defenses. Eventually the mother’s antibodies will fade away, and the puppy is left as vulnerable to disease as it was before getting vaccinated. This is called “maternal interference” and it is one of the strongest reasons for giving puppies such a repetitive series of vaccinations.
If you are unsure as to whether your dog is fully immunized against the “core” viruses after its last vaccine shot, there is now a way to tell. It is important know if your dog has become fully immunized because that will allow it to lead a fuller, more social life, and some dogs don’t actually develop an immune system capable of protecting them in the outside world. These dogs are called “non-responders” and require careful handling and environmental control to avoid succumbing to disease. Veterinarians can now use a technique called the Titer Test to analyze your dog’s blood and understand whether they need another round of vaccinations or will be bound to a life of anxiety and extreme measures to stave off illness.
Some important notes about the test:
1. The Titer Test should be able to be performed by most vets, though some are unfamiliar with it and/or are skeptical of its usefulness.
2. The test should not be that expensive; some vets charge $200 for the results, but all it takes is a simple blood draw and a $25 lab testing fee.
3. You can get the results yourself by having your vet draw the blood, send the blood to the Dr. Ronald D. Schulz Laboratory, and pay the $25 lab fee plus shipping. (See vetmd.wisc.edu/lab/Schultz/ for instructions.)
Well that’s it for puppy vaccinations. Hope you learned as much as we did about something everyone with a new puppy struggles with. For more information on the subject of dog vaccines and canine health, visit http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/