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Vaccination questions sought by readers

I receive questions regarding my vaccination practices for my pets fairly often. Vaccinations are a topic that can produce a great deal of passionate debate within the human or animal community. All of my pets are vaccinated as required by law and as needed, but they are titer tested first to confirm whether or not they actually need booster vaccines. If you research this issue, you may discover that our pets are submitted to too many vaccines and they may be causing more harm than the intended protection they provide.

Research doctors like Edward Jenner who discovered the smallpox vaccine and Jonas Salk who is responsible for the polio vaccine made incredible contributions to mankind by developing vaccines to prevent terrible and life threatening diseases. Why is it that humans will receive a vaccine for a disease and be protected for life, but our pets, which are also mammals, having similar organ systems, are often subjected to yearly vaccines?

While vaccinations are important tools in building immunity, adverse and serious side effects have been associated with them. That is why one should consider having their pets titer tested, instead of arbitrarily re-vaccinating in some situations. And, titer testing should be considered especially in elderly, immune-compromised, seizure animals or animals previously having serious side effects following vaccinations.

The term titer refers to the strength or concentration of a substance in a solution. When testing vaccine titers in dogs or cats, a veterinarian draws blood from the animal and has it tested for the presence and strength of the animal’s immunological response to the disease. If the blood contains satisfactory levels of vaccine titers, the animal is considered sufficiently immune to the disease, or possessing good “immunological memory,” and not in need of further vaccination against the disease at that time.

Gus, my 12-year-old coonhound, has repeatedly received Parvo and Distemper titer test results that are “at or greater than the acceptable protective levels.” This data indicates that Gus is still protected and does not need to be re-vaccinated for Parvo or Distemper at this time. Worth noting is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accepts and requires Hepatitis B titers for all “health care workers who have blood or patient contact” instead of continual Hepatitis B booster vaccinations. And, some countries use titers to qualify animals for reduced periods of quarantine. A compelling question I would ask is this…would you want your child vaccinated every year if a titer test showed acceptable immunity?

The issue of over vaccination in the pet world has garnered lots of attention over the past 15 years. Thankfully, Dr. Ronald Schultz, professor and chair of pathobiological sciences at University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator for the Rabies Challenge Study, has been researching this issue for over 30 years. Schultz who is a strong proponent of titer testing and has real empirical data to support his position, has stated, “vaccines have many exceptional benefits, but, like any drug, they also have the potential to cause significant harm. Giving a vaccine that’s not needed, creates an unnecessary risk to the animal.”

Do your own research, talk to knowledgeable and credible people and make your own decisions on elective vaccinations and titer testing. You must consider what, if any, real risks are present for specific diseases like where you live, what types of activities your pets partake in, and whether or not your pet lives indoors and/or outdoors. The age of your pet and existing medical conditions should also be considered, before proceeding with elective vaccines like Leptospirosis, Lyme Disease or Bordetella. In New York State, the rabies vaccine is the only legally required vaccine for dogs and cats every three years (after initial vaccine at four months and booster one year later).

Make sure to involve your veterinarian in your pet’s vaccination protocols and educate yourself on the risks and the option of titer testing. Although titer testing is a bit more expensive than vaccinating, in the long run your pets may be healthier. It is much safer to draw blood, then it is to vaccinate unnecessarily.

Schultz, a world renowned vaccine expert, will be speaking on the topic of pet vaccinations on April 20 in Cheetowaga. For more information about this event go to:


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