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.
More Pet Health Posts
- The Best CBD for Dogs
- Homemade Dog Food: Real Food for Pets
- Natural Cat Care & Holistic Alternatives
- Natural Flea Remedies for Pets
- Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?
- Benefits of Coconut Oil for Pets
- 278: Dr. Rob Franklin on Natural Remedies for Pet Health
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?
Discussion (7 Comments)
The expert saying to just get your pets’ titers tested is not giving the whole truth on the matter. I work in the vet world. Even in the most recent studies, titers are known to not be very accurate. When you send the animal’s blood sample to the lab it will give you the results as the best estimation of the titer. Then immediately after this number you will get a disclaimer saying that these numbers are not considered accurate to how protected the animal is against “fill in the blank” (ie parvo, distemper, lepto) due to the fact that there is not enough research on the subject and you should only use these numbers as a guideline. Then to consult your vet.
This to me shows how little we actually know about titers and how “effective” they are at letting us know the pet is protected against common diseases.
Example: a dog owner requested we send her two dogs blood samples in for titer tests on distemper. She felt her 9yr old dog no longer needed vaccinations at his age and that he should have high titers considering he’s been getting vaccines most of his life. Her younger dog was 3 yrs old and had only had two vaccines so she wanted to get him tested as well.
The results were that the young dog actually had pretty high titers and the old dogs barely registered. Why? Even the lab experts could not say: there is not enough research to support this practice.
This is the point of the disclaimer.
More research needs to be done in order for us to use this as a way of vaccinating or not vaccinating our pets.
You also have to factor in so many additional things such as breed, genetics, overbreeding or inbreeding…..diet, exercise, home environment, do you travel, do they get boarded or groomed, etc…. There are so many factors that need to be considered.
Sometimes vaccinating is the safest route. When you consider the alternatives: very expensive hospital treatments with low odds of survival or the fact that most of these diseases/viruses can be easily vaccinated against. Vaccination IS the right answer.
Finally an article that sheds some light on the subject of vaccinations for pets. Vaccination is NOT always the right answer. A rabies vaccination almost killed my 8 lb dog and created lifelong health issues for her. It is the only pet vaccination that does not go according to a dogs weight, so my 8lb dog received the same amount as a 150 lb Mastiff would have. Vaccines that are administered between 8-12 weeks do not trigger the production of antibodies because the immune system is too immature and can destroy the maternal antibodies (protection), thus leaving your dog less protected. The efficacy from revaccination is lacking. Established immunity from the early vaccinations will actually prevent the later vaccine from stimulating the adult’s immune system. Dogs do not need “booster” shots. The reason there is not enough research on titer tests or any alternative homeopathy treatments is because there is no money in it. You can’t patent nature. Vets would lose up to half their income. Feed your dog a raw food diet (the pet food industry is unregulated and self-governing), research vaccines, include a holistic vet along with your conventional vet, and consider chiropractic and acupuncture when needed for your dog as well. In the end, you will have less vet bills and a healthier, happier dog. Mine are 16 and going strong!
I’m not sure if the comment about vets just wanting to make money off you holds as much weight when the “alternative” is to spend a lot of money on “holistic” and “natural” products that haven’t been proven effective or safe but just anecdotally effective.
The good vets don’t want to “make money” off of their clients., not do they do unnecessary treatments or vaccines. We just want pets to be healthy and safe. It’s actually the majority of vets that work this way.
Unfortunately, that was a very negative blanket statement that doesn’t have much basis in reality.
You mentioned the need for a species specific diet, but didn’t elaborate. Our cats and dogs are obligate carnivores, which simply means they need or are obligated to eat meat, and specifically raw meat. To avoid the very unhealthy junk food sold, I make my own pet food, basically using organic primal grass-fed beef and organic high omega-3 chicken, a bit of spinach and carrot, a little shredded coconut, and powdered gelatin. Animals fed a healthy raw food diet have close to double the life expectancy of pets eating other food, and rarely get cancer.
One big thing to also consider, if your pet is not up on distemper vaccine and they bite someone, you can get sued because it is a law.
The other vaccines that are not legally required, you can get them tested to see if they have the protection needed. A simple blood test will tell.
My 14 year old dog got one vaccine before we got him. He is getting old, but unlike all the dogs around us he hasn’t got cancer or tumors or diabetes. His breed lives for about 8-11 years on average. He is still healthy and we just treated a bladder infection naturally which is the first time he’s ever even been sick in his life.
I think not having the toxins in his body has been a really good thing.