Recommended Vaccination Protocol For Puppies and Dogs

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Vaccinations are a hot topic for humans and pets. This short article is not to debate the topic. This is simply to provide some very informative links from the experts in immunology and those influencing the vaccination protocols and the science and studies behind it.

For many years living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, veterinarians there couldn’t figure out how we were not plagued with Parvovirus, which was rampant there and had wiped-out many breeders. It is said the UP has such a high rate of Parvovirus because of wolves and coyotes spreading it. We had healthy dogs, we fed the best possible foods, we supported excellent immune-systems in our dogs in every way possible, we practiced bio-security to the nth degree and I am a cleaning fanatic. Then, as you probably know, we obtained an older and fully “vaccinated” pup from another kennel and he became sick with Parvovirus within weeks. While his sister, from the same litter with the same vaccinations at the same time never contracted it, despite being with him all the time, crating with him, sleeping with him, etc. And no matter what we did to stave it off, we had several litters that contracted it.

What I came to know about vaccinations following the horrible experience that pretty much destroyed my life (I am still paying the debt of the losses and will be for many years to come) was an earth-quaking eye opener. I spoke with every “specialist” and immunolist from just about every Veterinary Hospital in the country. What I came to learn about immunity and vaccinations changed everything. Just because that amazing, beautiful, very healthy older pup had 3 puppy vaccinations from the vet did not mean he was “immunized.” And we were likely over-vaccinating, or at the least, vaccinating too early with too many “combo” vaccines. The litters that got Parvo would start showing symptoms within days of receiving their first vaccines. What I did not understand then was that these vaccines were too early (for our litters). They were essentially wiping out the maternal protection still carried from the bitch at 6 weeks leaving them completely unprotected. And no one was telling me this. In fact, I was being told, by very well-meaning, but mis-informed (just as I was) to give the vaccine earlier!

We were actually damaging our dog’s immune systems. Like most everyone else, we were vaccinating our adult dogs annually. And we were starting 4-way combo puppy vaccines at 6 weeks of age. That makes me bawl just to type the words, now. The problem with that is that our mommas carried high immunity antibodies, which they passed on to the pups, which is great, except by vaccinating them at 6-weeks when the maternal antibodies were still very high, it wiped out all immunity leaving them completely unprotected and wide-open for disease. Maternal antibodies likely don’t begin to wane until around 8 weeks of age. Sometimes much older. As you’ll see, there are now excellent tests (via simple bloodwork) to predict with very good preciseness, when the maternal antibodies are most likely to wear off in the puppies so the first puppy vaccine can be better timed to actually have a chance of causing an immune response and protect them. And it will be different with every litter.

I consulted with the best immunologists in the country and the recommended vaccination protocols were adopted immediately. And instead of puppies being vaccinated at 6 weeks and leaving for their new homes at 8-weeks, I started their first Parvo/Distemper vaccination at 8.5 – 9 weeks, and kept them until after their 12-week vaccine, or with an agreement with new owners that they would follow the protocol.

Hmmm… I did say this would be a short post to simply provide some links. Maybe I will write more about this in the future, but you need to read it from the experts in the field of immunology, not me. I hope and encourage you to become as educated as can about the health of your dog–or any puppy you consider getting. The first weeks and months of their precious lives not only depends on the health of the bitch, what she is fed, her immunization history, etc., (Nutrigenomics, but that’s for another story) but what the breeder feeds them, the attention given to the pups, what they are learning at critical develpemental periods. But one of the most important decisions is what vaccination protocol they have chosen to start your pup on. Because what they have chosen is absolutely critical to the health of your pup for the rest of their life. Research it like their life depends on it. It does. It is your responsiblity–not your veterinarian’s, not your breeder, not your friend or mom. There are no excuses. Choose your breeder wisely. Choose your veterinarian wisely. Chose your vaccination protocol wisely.

There is no question vaccines protect pets against potentially fatal diseases. However, the number and frequency at which they are administered, and the health risks they pose are. There is increasing evidence that some vaccines provide immunity well beyond one year–and sometimes for life–and repeated vaccinations do not enhance resistance to disease, but instead, can pose grave health risks such as injection site sarcomas (cancer), autoimmune diseases such IBD, hemolytic anemia, allergies, arthritis, tumours, seizures, dramatic behavioral changes, etc. And these health risks all come much later, when they are yours and very few would ever think to consider the over-vaccination in a puppy trigged them. More and more studies prove they do. But the right vaccination at the right time is necessary and titers to prove or disprove immunity, instead of over-vaccination, are crital, life-saving tools at our disposal. And not to use them is just ridiculous.

For instance, if a pup is started on a minimal protocol at 8 weeks (the earliest now recommended, unless in a shelter situation where the history of the bitch is unknown, or the bitch dies during whelping, or is unable or unwilling to nurse the puppies withing the first 12 hours), and then another vaccine at 12 weeks, followed by a titer test at 14 weeks to show immunity or not, we know if the pup needs another vaccine. Even better, though is a pup started at 9-10 weeks, then 13-14 weeks, titered at 15-16 weeks, and possibly vaccinated again at 17-18 weeks if the titer shows no immunity. If we make this a normal practice, if breeders and veterinarians recommended this protocol instead of 2,3, even 4 more combo vaccines, do you see the lives that would be saved? If the practice would have been to titer that beautiful pup after 2 or the 3rd vaccine, it would have shown he had no immunity yet. It would have saved his life. It would have saved all the puppy lives lost. And hundreds of thousands of dollars lost trying to save sick puppies. And when I think of the domino effect that had–and the effect such practices can have to safely protect thousands of puppies, it astounds me.

Recommended Minimal Core Vaccination Protocol:

  • Parvovirus & Distemper at 9-10 weeks and 14-15 weeks. (Distemper + Parvovirus, MLV, e.g. Merck Nobivac (Intervet Progard) Puppy DPv
  • Titer Test puppy at 16-17 weeks (titers in a puppy are not recommended until after 14 weeks of age and then 2 weeks after a vaccination).
  • Single monovalent Parvovirus vaccine at 18 weeks (unless titers show immunity).
  • Rabies at 6-months (24 weeks) of age and at least 3 weeks after any other vaccination (never at the same time as other vaccines). And then as required by law in your state.
  • 1 Year Old: Distemper + Parvovirus (Optional booster or measure antibodies via titer blood test). Retest every three years, or annually, if desired, for serum vaccine antibody titers.

Quick Facts:

  • Maternal antibodies passed through colostrum in the mother’s milk within the first 12 hours of life provide protection against all diseases the mother is protected from.
  • Maternal antibody interference is the most common causes of vaccine failure to immunize. Breeders should use nomographs to estimate when the best age to begin vaccination (when the maternal antibodies are most likely to begin to wane). See more on nomographs below.
  • Maternal antibodies start to diminish and typically wane by 12-14 weeks of age, thus protection against distemper and Parvovirus is needed. Two doses are recommended 3-4 weeks apart and should NOT be started before 8 weeks and never before 6 weeks unless extreme circumstances as mentioned above where a puppy did not receive maternal colostrum within the first 12 hours of life. Vaccines given earlier are not only neutralized by the residual maternal immunity, but also expose the pups to all the extraneous components of modified-live vaccines (e.g. tissue culture remnants, fetal calf serum) and delay the timing of the first highly effective vaccine.
  • Once a puppy/dog has immunity, it is likely protected for at least 3 years–and most of the time for life. Titer tests show immunity or not. It’s that simple. Immune or not. A titer test can be administered every 3 years, or annually if preferred, to be certain. Titers for breeding bitches annually is ideal and a nomograph for every litter.

Excellent Articles

The following articals are excelllent and critically important starting places:

Variables of Vaccinations in Dogs

Puppy Vaccinations: Timing is Critical

Parvovirus Variants and Vaccines

Vaccinating Against Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Quick video discussing the importance of Vaccine Titers

New Approach to Vaccinations Lessens Potential Health Risks to Pets

Canine Vaccine Protocols and Non-Core Vaccines

AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines

Titers and Nomographs

We now have tools available to test for immunity against the life-threatening diseases in our dogs and they need to be used before vaccinating “just because” or “just to be safe”. That makes absolutely no sense. Why would you vaccinate a dog for something he is already immune to? It doesn’t help anything. It causes more harm. And a simple antibody titer (blood test) shows immunity or not. Every adult dog should have this every 3 years. Every pup should have this follow-up titer test two weeks after their last distemper-parvo vaccination to confirm they responded to the vaccine and have developed immunity. Vaccination does not automatically equal immunity (as demonstrated by the older pup mentioned earlier). A titer test will confirm.

There are now Maternal vaccine nomographs that estimate the amount of maternal antibodies passed to pups via her colostrum. This estimate is based on the dam’s vaccine antibody titer, taken either two weeks before or two weeks after whelping, which is then plotted by a lab. The plot indicates when the pups maternal protection is likely to wane and when they will be able to best respond to a vaccine. Nomographs increase the number of pups protected from Distemper and Parvo and decrease the age at which that happens. Bitchs’ pups with low individual titers responded to their 7-week vaccination and puppy titers in all pups showed successful immunity and they needed no further vaccines. Bitchs’ pups with high titers could not respond to a vaccine until 17 weeks of age! Read that again. A bitch with high antibody titers pups could not respond to a vaccine until 17 weeks of age. So no vaccine at 6, 10, 14, or 16 weeks would protect that pup. Let that sink in. Simply by knowing the bitch’s titers, each litter’s vaccination and socialization program can be based on when it will best respond with immunity to a vaccine. Everything can be planned around this, when the pups are able to leave, the socialization program, etc. Vaccine titers and nomographs are being offered for around $50! There is really no excuse to not use these fantastic, relatively low-cost tools now. For the future of the pups. For their health, for your wallet, and your avoidance of heart ache, and the thousands of pups that could be saved, use these tools and become as knowledgeable as possible about what vaccines and when are best for your pup. Find a vet that will recommend and support a simple, affordable blood-draw and lab test over another wombo-combo vaccination “just to be safe.” Wouldn’t that be like adding oil to your car before checking to see if it needed any? But go ahead, “just to be safe,” and just like too much oil can damage your automobile, too much of a good thing will harm your dog, too. And there are dogs that can be “non-responders” to vaccines. So pup can have all the vaccines in the world and still not be protected. Like adding oil to a resevoir that has a gaping hole in it. Another vaccine does not prove immunity, only a titer test does. So there could be hundreds of thousands of dogs out there vaccinated to the hilt, but not immune and contracting and spreading disease. And no one has suggested the dog get an annual titer, but they’ll give him another vaccine. Imagine if Doggy-Daycares, classes, dog parks, etc., required proof of immunity, instead proof a vaccine that may not have provided actual immunity. Imagine how much safer and healthier all could be.

About Canine Nomographs

CAVIDS Titer Testing (School of Veterniary Medicine University of Wisconsin)

Excellent Video explaining Titers and Nomographs

So, that pup you are getting that’s had a combo-vaccination (and depending on what combo was used, could severly suppress their immune system for 10 days) before 7-8 weeks of age is likely not protected from it and now, no longer has maternal antibodies to protect it either. Unless the breeder had the bitch titered and nomographed. So you’ll need to be very careful with pup especially during the stressful time of bringing pup home. You’ll want to reduce visitors, places you visit with pup, etc. Get the Parvo/Distemper at 9-10 weeks, then at 13-14 weeks, titer 2 weeks later. If the titer shows immunity, you are good, no further vaccination. If the titer shows no immunity or immunity to one but not the other, you’ll need to get whatever pup isn’t immune to at 18 weeks. Then Rabies, as required by law, at least 3-4 weeks after any other vaccine. Ideally at/after 6 months (24 weeks).

Well, that should keep you busy for a few hours. What else could be more important? Oh, right, what you feed your dog or puppy! That is another subject I am very very very passionate about. More on that is coming. Again. 🙂

That’s all for today.

Hug your Llewellin Setter tonight. Because you can.