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There is a lot of discussions nowadays about the controversy of vaccinations (aka “shots”) for pets.  At my dog’s most recent wellness exam, I asked my veterinarian what their thoughts were on the topic of shots for pets and whether they are “safe”. My veterinarian was very informative regarding the subject and frankly stated that (aside from the rabies vaccination), it was really my choice if I would like to vaccinate my dog or not. I was given a few brochures on the subject and decide to do a little more research myself on the matter of vaccinating pets in general.  Ultimately, the final parting words from the veterinarian were the old proverb “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  My veterinarian was nice enough to tell me that in their opinion, not vaccinating a pet is not worth the money, time, effort, and stress caused in fighting these common viruses/diseases that we vaccinate for in our dogs. We will talk about this a little more in detail.

I understand that vaccines can be a very controversial subject for many pet owners. Every person has a right to make their own decisions regarding their pets. I really wanted to do the research myself and share my information I found with you, my fellow pet lover so that maybe you then can make an informed decision the next time you go to the vet with your baby.  Sources of where I found the information on the diseases can be found at the end of this post.  Remember, I am just a loving pet parent like the rest of you, I am not a medical professional and therefore this is always a great subject to talk to your Veterinarian about!

The vaccines I primarily focused on were:

Canine “distemper-parvo,” also known as a “canine 5-way vaccine”

Puppies are especially at risk for catching distemper-parvo if they are not properly vaccinated.

According to VeterinaryPartner.com, Canine Distemper is a disease which enters the body and attacks the immune system, causing gooey eye and nasal discharge, fever, coughing and development of pneumonia, callusing of the skin, and sometimes even seizure activity.  This virus is closely related to the human measles virus.  This infection is spread to other dogs by them meeting the sick dog that is coughing, sneezing or exposure to the sick dog’s bodily secretions. Unfortunately, once a dog is diagnosed with distemper, without aggressive supportive veterinary care the dog is likely to pass away.

Canine ParvoVirus is most commonly found in young puppies, however, any unvaccinated dog can pick up this virus. This virus attacks the body’s white blood cells, lessening the ability of the immune system to fight the disease without medical intervention. The disease also attacks the puppy’s intestinal barrier which will allow more bacteria to enter the body and blood cells. Puppies left untreated will end up passing away from vomiting and diarrhea, leading to extreme fluid loss and dehydration. This virus is highly contagious because it takes 3-7 days before the infected puppy shows signs of being ill, and during that time the puppy is shedding the virus in its stool. Many folks state that this virus can survive in the environment for up to 7 years.

Aside from considering your pup’s discomfort if they were to get sick, let’s look at vaccinating for these diseases from a cost perspective. In the case with either Canine Distemper or Canine Parvovirus, we have a choice in whether we spend anywhere from $60-$100 on vaccinations for these diseases (during the “puppy boosters,” and even less when the puppy reaches adulthood) or elect not to vaccinate and spend anywhere from $1000-$5000.00 to have our pet hospitalized and treated for these diseases, with no guarantee that they will survive.  Knowing the severity of the diseases, and learning the information given to me by several veterinarians over my course of pet ownership, I would rather take the risk of a (very rare but possible) temporary, uncomfortable vaccine reaction than potentially expose my pet to a life-threatening disease.  We’ll talk more about vaccine reactions later.

Canine Bordetella

The Bordetella vaccine is usually required in all boarding kennels since the pups will be in such close living quarters.

Bordetella is commonly called “kennel cough”. The dog has a harsh, hacking cough that can be described as it sounds like something is stuck in the dog’s throat.  This cough can last 1-2 weeks and in younger dogs can lead to pneumonia. The infection is spread from dogs meeting coughing dogs, which spreads the secretions into the environment. Doing the research on this vaccine, it appears most boarding kennels, groomers, and dog training facilities require this vaccine to be given to your pet. From what I have been told by veterinarians in the past, there can be many “strains” of Bordetella and the vaccine is not 100% effective.  We as pet owners must decide if we want to risk our pups hacking for a week or two, needing medications to help with the symptoms, and keeping us up at night, or potentially spending a few dollars to get the vaccine.

Rabies Virus: deadly to dogs, cats, and humans!

Raccoons have been known to get rabies too!

Rabies can arguably be the most well known and well-feared infection in animals, and it can be transmittable to humans.  Infection of this disease is from direct contact with mucous membranes of the infected animal. Usually, this means a bite from an infected animal. If an animal (or human) is infected with the rabies virus, they will not survive.  Because Rabies Virus can be a public health issue, in all states dogs and cats are legally required to have a rabies vaccination on a regular basis (every 1-3 years).  Wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats can have this virus and transmit it to people or our beloved pets by a simple bite.  The rabies virus can take 3-8 weeks after contact with an infected animal to show any signs or symptoms. If an animal is infected with rabies and starts to show symptoms, within 3-5 days there will be a change in behavior from “normal” for that animal to timid, shy, and then aggressive as they start to experience fear and hallucinations. This is the point where most of the transmission occurs as the animal becomes very fearful and exhibits changes in behavior, and they may start biting during this stage.

“Regional” Canine Diseases/Viruses

The following is a list of diseases that are not prevalent in ALL areas of the United States, therefore your pup might not need to be routinely vaccinated against them unless you are traveling to an area that might have this disease.  Be aware that if you are boarding your pup at a boarding kennel or doggy daycare, the facility may require some of the vaccines discussed below.

Canine Influenza

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory infection causing coughing, fevers, listlessness, sneezing and runny noses, and sometimes can lead to pneumonia.  The spread of this infection is another dog coming into direct contact with the infected dog’s fresh saliva or nasal secretions. This infection spreads quickly because an infected dog is usually contagious to others before showing any symptoms. Canine Influenza cannot be spread to humans, and humans cannot pass Influenza on to their dogs.

Canine Lyme Disease

Deer ticks spread Lyme Disease.

Lyme disease is caused by infection from a certain species of tick biting a dog. This tick is found in the northeastern part of the United States and is called the Deer Tick.  The dog usually does not show any symptoms of being sick, sometimes a fever, but the infection can cause long term kidney damage.  This vaccine is recommended for puppies or adult dogs traveling to areas that the Deer tick may be found.

Canine Snakebite Vaccine

Snakebites from venomous snakes can be deadly, and from what I have read there is not enough research to prove that even dogs vaccinated will be “immune” to poisonous snakes, however, folks claim that dogs vaccinated for snakebite may show less severe symptoms and may buy you some time to get your dog to the vet before they symptoms become very severe. 

Canine Leptospirosis

Dogs can get Leptospirosis from simply drinking out of an infected water puddle.

Dogs (and humans!) can be infected by Leptospirosis when they have wounds on their skin which are contaminated with infected urine (or water contaminated with infected urine).  Bite wounds from an infected animal, exposure to reproductive secretions, and consumption of infective tissues can transmit the infection.  The infection spreads through the bloodstream and causes fever and joint pain. The infection will settle in the kidneys and begin to reproduce, causing kidney failure.

Other Vaccinations

I have only discussed some of the more “commonly heard of” vaccines, however, there are others out there and it really depends on the advice of your veterinarian as to if your dog might need any additional vaccinations. 

Vaccine Reactions in Dogs

My veterinarian informed me that “vaccine reactions” are rare, but can always be a possibility with any pet, just like in humans.  Signs to watch out for in a vaccine reaction would be vomiting, diarrhea, or swelling at the vaccine site.  I’m told that It’s important to let your veterinarian know if your dog experiences any of these signs as there can be ways to help lessen or even prevent the vaccine reaction from happening in the future.

Do your research

All this information was not meant to scare anyone! At the very least, I hope you found this information helpful and informative for you to make an educated decision on giving your pet vaccinations. I understand and respect that everyone has their own opinions on vaccinations, and I appreciate hearing all points of view on the subject.  My article or my strong opinions stated are strictly my opinions only and are not meant to replace the advice of your Veterinarian, who is a professional. I am NOT a Veterinarian, and I highly respect their opinions!  If you have concerns regarding vaccinations for your dog, always talk with your veterinarian.

All of the information I found regarding these diseases was found on Veterinarypartner.com, which was a great resource and really helped me understand each disease!  This website is a great resource for anything related to illnesses in pets, I recommend you check it out yourself for more information on what I wrote about!   The specific articles I summarized my information from were:

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