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Jean Dodds, D.V.M., Advocates for Vaccination Caution

Almost 300 dog owners tuned in to a webinar last week to hear Jean Dodds, D.V.M., talk about “New Life-Changing Vaccination Protocols.”

Although recommended protocols – for dogs at least – haven’t changed since 2011 when the American Animal Hospital Association released revised guidelines developed by its Canine Vaccination Task Force, owners and veterinarians have been slow to adopt the guidelines’ recommendation: “Life stage and lifestyle, risk of exposure, and underlying medical conditions should all be considered when developing a vaccination protocol.” In other words, not every dog should have even a core vaccine even if it has been three years since it last had one.

Although Jean Dodds, D.V.M., cautions against over-vaccinating, she supports all puppies receiving a series of core vaccinations. Photo by Can Stock Photo.

Webinar host Laura Simonson of the website, Indogo, introduced Dodds as “the top woman in the world to share this kind of information today.” Indeed, Dodds has been researching, studying and advocating for responsible administration of vaccines for decades. She served on previous vaccination task forces, which have been crafting guidelines since the early 2000s.

Dodds opened the webinar by stressing that no one is advocating for a vaccine-free canine or feline world. The AAHA guidelines suggest that all puppies must have an initial series of core vaccines – distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, adenovirus and rabies – and that those vaccinations must be timed to protect the puppies, but also to create immunity after their mothers’ antibodies have passed from their systems. In addition, young dogs living in areas overrun by leptospirosis and other diseases will need vaccines to protect them. Dodds, however, does not recommend the hepatitis vaccine for all puppies.

For adult dogs age 3 and older, however, Dodds takes a hard line that there should be no such thing as “routine” vaccinations. In fact, she’s supervising a project to test rabies vaccines to determine their actual duration of immunity, to challenge the assumed three-year duration.

Behind the need to give vaccinations only when necessary and to prove how long they last are the risks associated with vaccines.

To demonstrate how vaccines sometimes “go bad,” Dodds showed a diagram of the intersection of four circles: genetics, virus, sex hormones and stress. When any of these are combined with a vaccine, it can result in autoimmune disease. “It’s really important to remember that these things work together,” Dodds said.

A number of factors can lead to adverse reactions to vaccines, including genetics, sex hormones, stress and viruses. Photo by Can Stock Photo.

So, she advises not to vaccinate a dog that’s been exposed to a fungus, parasite, drug or any other toxin until it’s completely recovered from that exposure. And a dog should not be vaccinated when it’s coming into heat, she said, nor during estrus, pregnancy or lactation. It’s not just bitches for which she has concern. Intact males living with bitches in estrus or about to be used for breeding or actively breeding should not be vaccinated, she says. Neither should a dog receive a vaccine just before or soon after a major stressor, such as moving to a new household. Dodds reminded that vaccines are to be administered only to healthy animals. “It says so right on the label,” she said.

Dodds spent quite a bit of time explaining the many benefits that vaccines have brought to our world, both for people and animals. Those benefits, however, do not mean that every dog owner should simply acquiesce when a vet tech or receptionist says, “it’s time for vaccinations again.” It’s a matter of weighing the benefits against the risks, she said.

Dogs over 10 years of age don’t need vaccine boosters, according to Jean Dodds, D.V.M. Photo by Can Stock Photo.

In addition, thanks to the growing popularity of titering – measuring antibodies to a virus in the blood – it’s easy to find out if your adult dog is protected from a particular disease. With a draw of blood and a test in a lab, or even in the veterinary clinic, your veterinarian can determine whether your dog’s last booster for distemper, for example, is still viable. One such test, VacciCheck, can determine immunity from hepatitis, parvo and distemper from a single blood sample. If antibodies remain, there’s no need for a vaccination. Dodds says titer tests should cost between $40 and $60, and if your veterinary clinic is charging a lot more, they’re taking advantage of the situation.

When asked how accurate titers are, Dodds response was: “Very. Every lab does them now.” This is a dramatic change from 2000 when “people didn’t even know what they were,” she said. In addition, she pointed out that “any measurable titer means you have immune memory cells. It doesn’t matter what the number is.” If the dog is exposed, those cells will react and duplicate to fend off the disease.

Dodds is so hard-line on not over-vaccinating that, in answer to several questions about veterinarians who won’t discuss or won’t consider not following an every-three-year protocol or are still recommending annual core vaccines, she advised finding another practice. She also pointed out that holistic veterinarians tends to be more open to considering custom protocols, rather than simply following a guideline designed for the average, healthy dog. It’s easy to find holistic vets at the website of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

She also talked about a fairly new concept in small animal disease prevention – herd health. It’s been determined, she says, that about 70 percent of a herd must be protected against core diseases for the vaccines to control their spread from animal to animal. In the U.S., only about 50 percent of dogs and 25 percent of cats are, indeed, protected.

That does not mean, however, that your dog needs a vaccine every three years. It most likely means that a lot of puppies never get their first series of vaccinations. And, she says, about 50 percent of non-protected puppies exposed to a core disease will die.

Dodds uses the term “non-protected,” rather than non-vaccinated, because not every puppy or dog that is vaccinated is actually protected from that particular disease. Some dogs simply do not respond to vaccines, so never develop the antibodies to be protected. Others are low responders, and don’t respond enough. Either way, this is a genetic trait, Dodds said, that will likely be passed along to any offspring.

For breeders who want to eliminate this trait from their lines, titer tests done before making a breeding decision can prove that the dog has responded to its vaccines – or not.

Dodds also recommends starting puppies’ vaccination series later – at 9 to 10 weeks of age – except in the case of a single dose of parvovirus. This means many puppies will already be in their new homes when the series starts. After each vaccination, the puppy’s behavior and health should be monitored. And, she says, any puppy or dog that has an adverse reaction to a vaccine should never receive that vaccine again. She also advises that last of the vaccine series should be given between 14 and 16 weeks of age when the dam’s antibodies will not neutralize the vaccine.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Dodds said that after age 10, dogs simply don’t need vaccines or titers. They have had enough vaccine to last the rest of their lives by then, and there’s a bigger chance an old dog will have an adverse reaction.

Replays of the two-hour webinar are available from Indogo for $10, with $5 of that charge going to the Rabies Challenge Fund.

Written by

Susan Chaney has been on the editorial side of publishing since 1990, starting her career as a newspaper features writer and editor. A lifelong lover of dogs, Susan has lived with German Shepherds, Labs, Yorkies, an Irish Setter, a Great Dane-Bloodhound mix, a Sheltie and currently a Chihuahua mix of unknown pedigree. She was the editor of Dog Fancy magazine, content editor of DogChannel.com and group editor of Dog World, Dogs USA, Puppies USA, Natural Dog, Cat Fancy, Cats USA and Kittens USA from March 2005 to December 2009 when she left her position to work at home, part-time. Susan lives in Long Beach, Calif., with her artist husband, Tim, that Chi mix and two big cats. As an editor and writer for Best In Show Daily, she is reveling in the amalgam of three loves: writing, editing and dogs.
  • Carol Rutherford March 26, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    Best advice ever

    • Susan Chaney
      Susan Chaney April 5, 2013 at 2:20 PM

      This is such a fascinating subject to me, Carol. For so many years, I hesitated to question my vet when he wanted to vaccinate my animals. It’s been great for me to have this kind of information to help move that discussion along.

  • Tony Yarbrough March 26, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    So how well does this play with the local Health Departments requirements, Animal Control, Humane Societies, Rescues, etc. when the letter of the law must be enforced. Some will recognize a local DVM’s written titering treatment plan provided you obtain one. Recently a neighbors show-winning dog escaped, was captured by Animal Control, and in the absence of the “Tag” ordered instant vaccinations, then scanned the chip… oops! (A) the dog has never escaped in its 3-years (B) there was no community event that would require any ‘instant’ vaccination protocol. (C) the local Animal Control made a mistake? Hard to fix stupid, and worse how it can affect the health of your dog. All that being said, this is the very best I have seen regarding vaccinations and immunizations, and it will definitely improve my breeding program.

    • Susan Chaney
      Susan Chaney April 5, 2013 at 2:14 PM

      Most cities and counties require nothing more than a rabies vaccine, Tony, and it is possible to get a waiver to not give it to a dog — and in some jurisdictions, a cat — if a health situation warrants it. When a dog is running loose, however, all bets are off. While I personally believe that most animal control department staffers do have animals’ best interests at heart, their true job is public safety. Some departments have better resources than others; some have better training than others; and, of course, some have better staff than others. Regardless, happy to hear you found the article informative.

  • mariachiara coscia - Ludi Mundi March 26, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    it’s very interesting! Thanks so much for this article, best regards from Chile

    • Susan Chaney
      Susan Chaney April 5, 2013 at 2:21 PM

      Thank you for reading all the way from Chile!

  • Karen March 26, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    Plus the fact of why is no one making KILLED Vaccines any longer except for Corona? I want my Killed Parvo Vaccine back. I have 1 of the breeds that catches Parvo easily, even if vaccinated. So much of Dr. Dodd’s information hits home. My puppy had mange that had not been diagnosed yet. She’d had her MlvParvo shot 20 days earlier. It’s not fun to putting an I/V in your 18wo puppy every 4′ for 17 days. I knew she was sick 3 days prior but she had no temperature and her feces, temperament and eating was all normal. All I had was my gut saying she had it. I’d already lived through Corona when it was young. It was another MLV Vaccine. It was a ‘do I or do I NOT’ give this vaccine? Now Corona is the only KILLED part of the Combination Vaccine. Every other disease controller in the Combination Vaccine is MLV.
    On the 4th day, I finally called my Vet and asked him if he could take her for the day. I said I KNOW she has Parvo. I have not been asleep in 4 days watching her for symptoms. When we got up to his clinic, he came into the exam room and said she looks fine BUT you look horrible. You shouldn’t even be driving you’re so tired. I said that’s why I NEED you to watch her today. I have a Service Rott at home that would take care of me if 1 of my multiple problems occurred. I knew if I didn’t get sleep soon, 3 of them would start w/o me being to control them. I’d not be able to care for my puppy when she came home and needed me.
    He’s been my Vet for over 20yrs, so we do talk that frank to each other. He said I’m short staffed today or I’d have one of the girl’s drive you home. I said Chuck I’m only 2″ from here, I’ll be fine as long as I know she’s being watched over. Derby will make me go directly to bed when I get home, she doesn’t take no on some things.
    Trusting my judgment, he went ahead and started her on antibiotics and fluids for Parvo when he crated her. Chuck called me on my Cell Phone 4′ later; he knows I take it to bed with me. He told me he’d been running hourly Parvo tests of her and 3 had been negative. The 4th came back positive. He told me to go back to sleep and to pick her up AFTER the clinic was closed. He just said after all these years I trust your instincts. That way all the other animals will be gone and I’ll get your I/V bags and the set up for you to do for the weekend.
    I said Chuck since you’re off on Monday’s, PLEASE write on her chart which I/Vs to give to me and I have your permission to have them dispensed to me. I said you think she has the 3-5 day version. It’s not, she got the 10 day version; ended up being a 17 day version. He called me from home on Monday to see how she was doing. I said her temperature is still up but she did drink some water yesterday. He said she’s over the ‘hump’ then and should be eating within another 3-4 days. WRONG, she didn’t eat or drink anything else for over a week.
    Turns out her Breeder ONLY gives her pups DM shots. So she never got a Parvo Vaccine until I got her at 9wo. Breeder also sent her to me with mange, after charging me $500 for a ‘Vet Check’ for flying her which wasn’t diagnosed until she was over Parvo, as her being so sick advanced the ‘white ring’ size of mange around her eyes.
    I also wasn’t told she’d been sick 2 weeks earlier. The Breeder almost lost her 5yo bitch to this ‘cold’ b/c they couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong with her. My pup, the only 1 in her litter of 6, was the only one to catch it. She never received any treatment though. They flew their older bitch to their Vets twice, to save time over driving there b/c of her she couldn’t breath. I don’t have a problem of owning your own small plane when you live in the middle of no where and you live on a very large farm. Just don’t understand why my puppy was never seen by the Vet since she was sick also. I spoke to the Breeder of her having mange. Her reply was ALL puppies are born with mange. It’s only a problem if they have a bad immune system.
    We have found out since then that besides other multiple hereditary problems she is Auto-Immune. Therefore, she doesn’t get any vaccines b/c they are not KILLED, only MLV. Dr. Dodd’s information hits home so much. The only thing missing is she didn’t come into heat until she was almost 12mo.

    They say there is NO difference in the MLV to Killed Vaccines? Then why do they make both versions in Human Flu Shots? I can remember as a child my Dad getting the flu every time he got his yearly ‘flu shot’. In the early 60’s they only made MLVs. His job required that he got one. His Dr. had to petition the company to allow him not to get the MLV shot. When they started making the Killed Flu Vacci\nes, he took them and never had a problem with them.

    Give us back our Killed Parvo Vaccine and Single Disease Vaccines instead of 6+ Combinations Vaccines. I can remember back in 1988, my old Vet wanted to run titers on our 2nd Rott, who ended up being a Dual ARC Champion and 1 “H” of a Service Dog. I did my own vaccines back then and we gave Parvo boosters every 2wks until their titers kicked in. Her titers did not kick in for Parvo until she was 10 months old. My Vet wanted to know since their are 4 main breeds that catch Parvo easier than other breeds and he knew we would not mind the testing. All my dogs sit when they see a syringe b/c they know they get a cookie afterwards. She didn’t think about going to see her Vet once a month just to get a cookie from him and some love.

    I wish I’d had this information 3yrs ago when I got my current Service Rott. We try to do the best we can for the animals we love. Just not fair. Mastiffs, which I raised for 27yrs are have such a great immune systems I’ve known Breeders put a Parvo litter in an ex-pen next to clean litters. None of the other puppies in ex-pens next to that litter ever got sick. Our 2nd Rott got Kennel Cough so bad that they had to give heCodeinene Cough Syrup and antibiotics. Only 1 of my 8 Mastiffs caught it. He got it so bad, he coughed 3 times the entire week. My old Vet wanted him on cough syrup. I told him no, if he was really sick I would and I also come get antibiotics for him but I didn’t consider 1 cough every couple of days to be a problem.

    • Susan Chaney
      Susan Chaney April 5, 2013 at 2:35 PM

      Thank you for writing, Karen.

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