Vaccines are a hot debate and elicit fear and anger from both sides. But pet vaccines are just as crucial for pet owners to think about as heartworm tests. No one wants their beloved pet to get a life-changing or deadly disease, so it’s important to understand what your options are to protect your pet.
The Problem With Pet Vaccines
The problems with pet vaccines are similar to the issues with human vaccines, including ingredients, adverse effects, and over-vaccination.
Pet vaccines contain dangerous ingredients, including:
- Thimerosal – A mercury-containing preservative. Mercury is a heavy metal and known neurotoxin. A recent study found that thimerosal may also be an immunotoxin.
- Aluminum – Another heavy metal used as an adjuvant (an ingredient used to improve the vaccine’s efficacy. A 2008 study linked aluminum to brain degeneration, even in dogs.
- Formaldehyde – Another ingredient that is a known toxin. The National Institute of Health listed formaldehyde as a probable carcinogen.
Additionally, contaminants in vaccines are a problem. This means anything that isn’t supposed to be there. One study published in the Journal of Virology found there was feline retrovirus DNA in vaccines intended for both cats and dogs. The obvious problem is that we don’t want viruses injected into our healthy animals, but another is that they may be xenotropic, according to one 2010 study. That means that the diseased DNA may not cause disease in the animal it was derived from (in this case, cats) but can be harmful and even cause tumors in other species.
Another issue with pet vaccines is the adverse effects pet owners reported in this article written for the Canadian Veterinary Journal. These effects include:
- allergic conditions, including anaphylaxis and circulatory shock
- vomiting and diarrhea
- loss of consciousness, collapse
- vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)
- cough and other upper respiratory tract disorders
- injection site reaction, including sarcoma
- neurological disorders
- autoimmune disorders
Another effect that the study mentions is the suspected lack of efficacy. If the vaccines aren’t helping reduce diseases, then the risks are very clearly too high.
Additionally, Dr. Patricia Jordan, author of the book Vaccinosis: Hidden in Plain Sight, has an interesting theory that vaccines actually change genetics, so not only the animal may have adverse effects, but so could their offspring.
Many animals are getting vaccines when they are already immune to the disease. For example, some already have antibodies from their mother or exposure to other dogs. A single vaccine is enough to protect for many years in some instances. Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom on vaccines for pets is to give a booster shot every year (a combination shot).
Ronald Schultz, professor and founding chair in the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) believes that vets are giving too many vaccines in an effort to increase office visits. He also says that too many vaccines can have a serious effect on pets’ immune system.
Better Pet Vaccine Schedule
If you’re not sure going vaccine-free is the best choice but want to reduce the number of vaccines you give your pet, consider sticking with the core vaccines, space them out, and give your pet a chance to detox between puppy vaccinations.
Core vaccines are vaccines that the World Small Animal Veterinary Association recommend every dog or cat should get. In contrast, non-core vaccines (like bordetella, Lyme disease, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, and other causes of kennel cough) may be helpful for certain animals in specific risk categories (there are also not recommended vaccines but we aren’t going to discuss those here). Experts base core vaccines on the risk of exposure, the severity of disease, or transmissibility to humans.
Dr. Schultz is a key author of the canine and feline vaccination guidelines recommended by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.
Core vaccines for dogs:
- Canine Parvovirus (also abbreviated as Parvo)
- Canine Distemper Virus
- Canine Adenovirus (also called Canine Hepatitis)
Experts don’t recommend rabies as a core vaccine, but many local laws require it.
Core vaccines for cats:
- Feline Parvovirus (FPV)
- Feline Herpesvirus
- Feline Calicivirus (hepatitis)
- Feline Panleukopenia
Reducing Negative Effects of Vaccines
Dr. Schultz recommends getting titer tests (a test that checks for antibodies to certain diseases) to help avoid excess vaccines. This is especially helpful for adult dogs. Other pet care strategies holistic vets recommend for reducing the negative effects of vaccines include:
- getting single vaccines instead of combos
- avoid boosters (do titer tests to see if they are needed)
- not vaccinating before 12-16 weeks of age (early vaccination destroys the natural antibodies received from mom)
- following a reduced vaccine schedule
- only using inactive vaccines
- choosing the 3-year rabies vaccine over the 1-year vaccinations (and give it 4 weeks from other vaccines, preferably at 4-6 months of age)
Also, always ask your vet about the risks and benefits of any vaccine (and the risk of the disease) before agreeing to it.
Pet Vaccine Detox
You can reduce the damage vaccines cause to your pet by giving them a homeopathic detox. A holistic vet should provide Thuja to you to neutralize most vaccination side effects. If you can’t find a holistic vet, you can buy the homeopathic Thuja remedy online here. To detox the rabies vaccine, ask for Lyssin (or get it here yourself.)
Also, remember to avoid boosters by getting titer tests regularly.
Pet Vaccine Alternatives
If vaccines are something you’d rather avoid altogether, there are some natural pet care solutions.
- Focus on wellness – Dogs and cats aren’t much different from humans in that we all function much better when we’re eating a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle. Make sure your pets have healthy, species-specific food, clean water, and plenty of exercise and socialization every day to build a robust immune system.
- Homeopathic nosodes for dogs and cats – Nosodes are natural remedies prepared by taking diseased tissue from an animal and subjecting it to potentization which inactivates the disease and creates a bioenergetic remedy that interacts with the body’s energy. Nosodes can be used to both prevent and treat an illness. However, they have not been scientifically proven to work, though plenty of anecdotal evidence supports their use.
- Socialize dogs moderately – Socializing your dogs moderately can help them build natural immunity to diseases carried by other dogs. Avoid other animals’ feces to prevent transmission. Use a pet sitter or dog walker instead of a kennel or doggy daycare to avoid kennel cough and other diseases.
Additionally, consider your specific pet’s risk. If you have an indoor pet, chances are they won’t come in contact with many diseases, so skipping vaccines would be low risk. If you have an indoor cat, you don’t plan on letting him outside, but being extra careful not to let him slip out can mean you can avoid vaccines without much risk.
Pet Vaccines: Bottom Line
Vaccines continue to be a topic of contention for many, even regarding pets’ health. The best way to decide what’s best for your pets is to find a holistic vet to whom you can express your concerns. Additionally, consider the risk vs. reward of each vaccine, and do your best to reduce side effects by following some of the guidelines above.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Amanda Bradbery, Ph.D. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your pet’s veterinarian.
What do you do for pet vaccines?
- Dórea J. G. (2019). Multiple low-level exposures: Hg interactions with co-occurring neurotoxic substances in early life. Biochimica et biophysica acta. General subjects, 1863(12), 129243.
- Segev, G., Bandt, C., Francey, T., & Cowgill, L. (2008, October 08). Aluminum Toxicity Following Administration of Aluminum?Based Phosphate Binders in 2 Dogs with Renal Failure.
- Victoria, J. G., Wang, C., Jones, M. S., Jaing, C., McLoughlin, K., Gardner, S., & Delwart, E. L. (2010, June). Viral Nucleic Acids in Live-Attenuated Vaccines: Detection of Minority Variants and an Adventitious Virus.
- Miyazawa, T. (2010, May). Endogenous retroviruses as potential hazards for vaccines.
- Valli, J. L. (2015, October). Suspected adverse reactions to vaccination in Canadian dogs and cats.
- Hendrick, B. (n.d.). Pet Vaccinations: Understanding Vaccinations for Your Cat or Dog.
- GUIDELINES FOR THE VACCINATION OF DOGS AND CATS. (n.d.).