Questions to Ask

Vaccination is an important medical decision to be made by you in consultation with your veterinarian. Educate yourself then ask the upcoming questions before you vaccinate. Click the links for more information. To learn why over-vaccination is a problem, read Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant.  Do not vaccinate pregnant animals.

Top veterinary organizations (AVMA, WSAVA, AAHA, AAFP and AHVMA) and many top veterinary schools divide vaccines into “core” (with which all pets should be vaccinated) and “noncore” (which should be given only when a specific risk exists, if then).

AAHA (p. 12) recommends puppies get 3 doses of the core vaccines (distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus) every 3-4 weeks starting at 8 weeks with the final dose at 14–16 weeks of age or later.  (Some U.S. experts forgo adenovirus “because canine hepatitis has not been a clinical entity in North America for more than a decade.” Others recommend giving it once after 16 weeks of age.) WSAVA has new guidelines for puppies.

Core vaccines for cats include panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and rabies. Per WSAVA (p. 14): “All kittens should receive the core vaccines. [For panleukopenia] a minimum of three doses is recommended: one at 8–9 weeks of age, a second 3–4 weeks later and a final dose at 14–16 weeks of age or older should be administered. Cats that respond to MLV core vaccines maintain immunity for many years in the absence of any repeat vaccination.” According to vaccine researcher Dr. Ron Schultz, if your cat is already 16 weeks of age or older at the time of its first vaccine, only a single dose is needed to provide solid, long-lasting immunity. No booster vaccines are needed for most adult cats, except rabies as required by law.

Questions to Ask BEFORE You Vaccinate Your Dog or Cat

1.  Is my pet already immune from the disease in question?

After completing puppy or kitten core vaccination series, dogs and in some cases cats likely have long term or even lifetime immunity for the important diseases (canine distemper and parvovirus; feline panleukopenia). Vaccine labels recommending annual or three-year revaccination intervals for canine core vaccines generally reflect the length of time the vaccine was tested before approval, and show minimal, not average or maximum, immunity given. Revaccinating an animal with pre-existing immunity (as a result of prior vaccinations) will not make the animal “more immune” and increases the chance of an adverse reaction. It is also an unnecessary expense.

A blood titer test can be performed to test immunity for most core diseases. Please read this before giving the distemper vaccine to an adult cat and this before vaccinating aging dogs or cats

2.  Do I know that only the rabies vaccine is required by law? 

Groomers, day care providers and others may insist on certain vaccinations, but aside from rabies, what they require is their choice and may be based on inaccurate or outdated information. Veterinarians in the same community vary in their requirements and recommendations. It pays to shop around.

The 1-year rabies vaccine is usually required at 3 to 6 months of age per local law. Generally, a “3-year vaccine” (guaranteed by the drug maker to give 3 years of immunity) is given a year later, then every 3 years thereafter unless outdated local laws conflict with state law. (Note: change the law!) There is no benefit, but substantial risk, to vaccinating more often, or earlier, than required by law. Failure to vaccinate on time, however, can result in being required by your vet or the law to start the series from the beginning even though vaccines don’t automatically stop giving immunity at 1 or 3 years. A French study of dogs has shown the 3-year vaccine to last at least 5 years; blood tests show 7 or more years of immunity.  

The USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics reports that the rabies vaccine is responsible for more adverse reactions than other vaccines. Do not give this vaccine during surgery or with other drugs.  Give 3 or more weeks apart from other vaccine boosters. Many veterinarians suggest the use of vaccines free of thimerasol (mercury) for dogs and Merial Purevax for cats.  Some locales allow exemptions for unhealthy animals.

3.  If a “noncore” (optional) vaccine is recommended, do I know my pet’s individual risk of contracting the disease in question, the severity of the illness, the success rate of the vaccine and the risk of vaccinating?

Noncore vaccines can be given alone or mixed with core vaccines (not recommended). Bacterial vaccines like Leptospira, Bordetella, Borrelia and Chlamydophilia are more likely to cause reactions than the MLV core vaccines (per WSAVA Guidelines, p. 31) and should be given on different days from other drugs.

Leptospirosis, the “L” in a canine combo vaccine, is not a problem everywhere or for all pets; the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the disease, must be given frequently, is known to cause more adverse reactions than most other vaccines and is believed to be particularly problematic for toy breeds (although large breeds are also at risk).  (See more WSAVA Guidelines, p. 12.) Eminent vaccination scientist Dr. Ron Schultz, who lives in a Leptospirosis endemic area of the U.S., does not recommend the vaccine or does not give it to his own dogs.

Bordetella (kennel cough) is given as nose drops, is generally a mild, self-limiting illness (like the human cold) which is mostly spread in close quarters with poor ventilation. Hence, the name “kennel cough.”  The vaccine has limited effectiveness and is not recommended by Dr. Schultz and others.

Noncore bacterial cat vaccines, Chlamydophila (Chlamydia) and Bordetella, are of limited effectiveness. Read WSAVA, p.16. 

4. Is my pet ill?

All vaccine manufacturers recommend vaccinating healthy animals only, but don’t define “healthy.”  Poor health could include (but is not limited to) allergies, ear infections, kennel cough, severe stress and malnutrition as well as serious chronic illnesses like liver, bladder or kidney disease, immune system dysfunction, neurological disorders and cancer. Barring a local life-threatening epidemic, vaccination can often be postponed until health improves.  A positive titer test for a core vaccine can offer peace of mind. 

Caution: Vaccinating an unhealthy pet not only puts your pet at great risk but also risks vaccine failure, something especially dangerous for pets and for the public when vaccinating against rabies. Medical exemptions to rabies vaccination are available in some areas.

5. Does my pet have a personal, family, breed or species history of vaccine reactions? 

At risk pets should be vaccinated only if a particular immediate, potentially fatal risk exists and perhaps not even then. If the vaccine must be given, a different brand than the one that caused the reaction is often recommended, although this is no guarantee of safety. WSAVA (p. 31; #54) says that a positive titer test precludes the need for vaccination for core diseases; they discourage revaccination with noncore vaccines.

Cats are particularly at risk for injection-site sarcomas (as are some dogs) and have special vaccination needs. Click here for more details. Also read Vaccination Protocols for Dogs Predisposed to Vaccine Reactions.

6. Is my veterinarian recommending a combination vaccine?

A Purdue study of 1.2 million dogs shows that multiple vaccines given in one visit, especially when given to a small-to-medium size dog, may greatly increase the chance of a vaccine reaction. (A second study shows risks to cats.) Multiple vaccines also make it impossible to determine which vaccine caused any subsequent reaction.

Vaccines are available with only one or two or three antigens in one hypo (called monovalent or bivalent vaccines) although you may have to shop to find a veterinarian who carries them. Using monovalent or bivalent vaccines could lessen the chance of a reaction while increasing the chance that your pet is getting only necessary vaccines.  To further lessen the chance of a reaction, bacterial vaccines should not be given with viral vaccines. Note: many common products contain 4-7 vaccines, mixing bacterial with viral, and are given with additional vaccines like Bordetella and rabies. These practices unnecessarily increase the likelihood of reactions.

7.  Have I been fully briefed about the vaccine’s possible side effects?

Often, clients are warned about common reactions like fever, lethargy and possible loss of appetite but are not warned about moderate and serious reactions. Though less common, these reactions can be life threatening and may require expensive long-term treatment. You have the right to evaluate risks versus the benefits before vaccinating. Ask to read the vaccine “package insert.”  This will help you evaluate risks and also determine if your pet is having a reaction should he or she become ill or exhibit odd behavior or impaired function after vaccination.

8.  Have I been told how to react to and report a vaccine reaction?

Some reactions require an emergency trip to the vet. Others can be treated at home.  Have your vet explain which reactions are emergencies. All possible reactions must be reported to the vaccinating vet (or emergency vet) and recorded in your pet’s file.  Click here to learn how to report adverse vaccine reactions. Do not presume your vet will report any reaction.

9.  Do I know to keep a written record of vaccination details?

It’s important to record injection sites (front, back, right or left leg, etc.) plus the vaccine manufacturer and brand name, the lot, serial number and expiration date for each vaccine given. Vets retire and move and records are lost or recorded inaccurately. It is imperative that you know which vaccines were given when and where, especially for cats (WSAVA, p. 14) but also for dogs.  It is important to give different vaccines in different spots; vaccination sites should be rotated yearly.

10.  After having been briefed by my veterinarian about a vaccine’s benefits and risks, can I freely give my informed consent or comfortably withhold it?

You have the right to refuse vaccination, in part or in full, if you do not believe it is in the best interest of your animal (although with rabies there may be legal complications unless your vet will apply for a medical exemption).  You may also request to be more fully informed before proceeding and can ask to see the vaccine “package insert.” It’s not easy to reject or modify your veterinarian’s recommendations, but your animal’s well-being is your responsibility, both morally and financially.  An activist against over-vaccinating children suggests that refusing is easier if you just say: “Not today, thank you very much.”  Some people also like to take with them a copy of an article or study from an expert.  
 

DISCLAIMER: All information and links provided here are for general information purposes only, and are not to be intended as medical or legal advice. This information should not be used to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified pet health care professional.  It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from available research.  The decision whether or not to vaccinate is an important and complex issue and should be made by you in consultation with your pet health care provider.  Our goal is to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through education.  We neither promote the use of any vaccine or vaccine protocol nor advise against it.  Authors of posted articles may not agree with all the information in other posted articles.

32 Responses to Questions to Ask

  1. Barbara on November 19, 2014 at 9:34 am

    I have a question – my dog is 11 and gets a rabies shot every 3 years. My town in NJ requires licensing every January and that license requires copy of a recent rabies vaccine. Every third year I have a problem, because my dog’s yearly schedule would have her getting vaccinated in September, but without the certification that she had the shot, they will not give me the license. I have fought this for many years, but they insist that giving her the rabies shot 9 months early is not a problem. I do not want to have her take any shot that is not due. My vet is non confrontational with the town, and the town officials won’t budge. Am I wrong in assuming that 3 years is 3 years to the month and not 9 months early? Is there any, even if it is small, danger in this practice? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  2. Carmen on November 17, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    What other options do I have because I don’t want to get my dogs vaccinated after reading this information.
    I know in the state I live in it’s mandatory that dogs and cats have their rabies shot ever year. Please let me know what other options I have. Thank you

    • adminjr on November 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Carmen, the state law in EVERY U.S. state is revaccination every three years, except for the second vaccine. The first vaccine is given around 4 months, then the next a year later, then every three years from then on. There are only a few counties that require yearly revaccination, but those laws can be changed. Where do you live? http://www.dogs4dogs.com/rabies-laws

  3. miguel on September 16, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Hi, my little 3 year old poodle (female) was hit by a truck this past friday she survived and shes getting better each day the doctors told.me her spine was good and she only had her left back leg wounded but it should heal in 4 to 6 weeks. I give her baby food like gerber and she eats it but she hasent pooped and its been 2 days since i brought her home from the emergency hospital is she going to be okay? And another question is she does go pee pee but her pee is brown and i think its blood is that also normal?

    • adminjr on September 16, 2014 at 8:48 am

      Miguel, it’s normal for a dog not to poop for a few days after a trauma. You might offer a little plain canned pumpkin – unsweetened.

      The pee is more concerning. If it is blood, that’s serious. I think you should contact the vet who treated her.

      Good luck,
      Jan

      • miguel on September 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm

        Thanks alot .. well its not blood but it is brownish is that still okay or normal? Because she seems nornal

  4. […] trying to decide whether or not to vaccinate. Good links about titering and length of immunity. Questions to Ask | Truth4Pets __________________ Daisy and […]

  5. Juanita Voorhees on May 29, 2014 at 8:52 am

    I bought a AKC 8 week old Pomeranian male who was given his first puppy shot a few days before getting him. I took him to the vet per the contract and I was told he needed the puppy shot again but another type that the vet used. So unknowingly I allowed this and sent my breeder a copy of the vet bill so she could see I did have him checked. She called me and was livid with my vet for doing this after being given a shot just days before. Besides finding another vet is there anything I can do? Also is there any chance he can come down with parvo?
    Thank you.

    • adminjr on May 29, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Juanita, what vaccines was your dog given both times?

  6. peter cullip on May 23, 2014 at 3:17 am

    I have inadvertently just given my cat it’s second rabies vaccination in 9 months. Is this harmful to the animal?

    • adminjr on May 23, 2014 at 6:08 am

      Peter, yes, it’s harmful. The degree of harm done varies. This is the most reactive vaccine for cats. It is not even required in many states. Check the laws for future reference. http://www.dogs4dogs.com/rabies-laws

      One of the worst things that could happen, but it probably won’t, is an injection-site tumor. The vaccine should have been, but may not have been, given in the right hip or leg. I am sorry to tell you that this is done so the leg can be cut off if a tumor develops. If it was given in the upper back, this is worse. In any event, make sure everything is posted in your dog’s veterinary file.

      The other thing to watch for is an autoimmune immune disease, although this probably won’t happen either. Allergies might. Vaccines are strong drugs.

      If it were my cat, I’d immediately contact a holistic vet. A conventional vet won’t have a clue how to help. There’s a referral list at http://www.truth4pets.org. Some consult by phone. I’d try CharlesLoopDVM.com first unless others live near you.

      You might also check out catshots.com. Don’t worry. Just watch the area (after you know where the shots were given.) Good luck.

  7. Zara on May 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Please give me an advice. We have a cat and a dog, both are 1 year old. I havn’t given them any vacination. But few days ago I saw another cat in our garden and my cat was almost fighting with him. Is it necessary to take him to a veterinarian to get a vacination?

    • adminjr on May 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Zara, this is a tough question. If your cat was never vaccinated, and it made contact with another cat, there is a possibility of disease. If it was a feral (wild) cat, or suspect the cat could have been rabid, you have a big problem. This could threaten your cat and also you and your dog.

      On the other hand, there’s also a problem vaccinating as they will probably want to give a bunch of unnecessary vaccines.

      All things considered, you should probably see a vet. I’m not a vet and can’t give you advice in a situation like this.

      • Zara on May 11, 2014 at 2:22 am

        Thank you for your answer. I will take my cat to the vet tomorrow. But today I saw a poisonous snake in the garden. I brother killed it but now I am afraid for the dog. He is living outside. I think of giving him to someone else because of the snake. What should I do?

        • adminjr on May 11, 2014 at 12:31 pm

          Zara, it’s my personal opinion that all dogs should live indoors with their family. They are pack animals.

  8. Nancy carter on February 24, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    We have always been the ‘above and beyond’ type of pet owners that blindly took our pets in for regular check ups and vaccines. We have 3 wonderful Springer Spaniels. We live in Winston Salem, NC 1/2 a yr and Lake Hickory the other 1/2. We “had” a vet in Davie County and another in Hickory. In the beginning, we were happy, and so were they. Why not we were the Bank of Springer Spaniel, NC. Like an ATM, we went we let them stick needle after unknown needle into my babies. Over the years there were BIG hiccups, ie surgery of 1 hour going into 7 hrs, being told there was no way we had a pregnancy after a very expensive work up and CT Scan! And having puppies the next week losing 3 of the 4, being told our female was just feeling her age *after the above HARD delivery,and not checking for a pyrometra – we go back in after I diagnosed it based on online info. We rushed to the Emergency vet and she had the life saving surgery. We sponsored work ups and spaying for a pair of kittens found by a teen – we told them we would cover it and the price not only was not discounted. But she went up $75, our male being neutered at the Davies vet and she would not accept the vaccinations from Hickory, and he was reinoculated, she left after messaging us that he had a rough time and there was an issue during surgery. We rushed straight over to find him left in the care of the receptionist/tech who could answer none of our concerns. After trying to reach the vet several times, we gave up. I honestly could go on and on. LET ME SAY THAT IN THE BEGINNING WE WERE VERY HAPPY WITH BOTH THESE VETS. They took time with our babies, came in early to address what I felt sure was the beginning of bloat. (I was right.) costs were reasonable, and they seemed to care. After building bigger practices with bigger equipment and bigger budgets. A constant, more shots, more tests (including a heart worm test for the first time in years and years, lo knowing we on bought the monthly pills from them. It seems we were almost penalized for paying so quickly. The kicker a yeast infection I had treated with miconazole nitrate ( I had told her all this) was retested, scraped and we were told ” it’s probably a yeast infection, BUT because of the miconazole that it was, neg but that she felt sure it was yeast – that will be $400, please and no more heartworm preventative until we came in for another round of VACCINATIONS AND TESTS. Let me add this baby has ulcerated boils which I have treated with more success than the vet – right on that leg/hip muscle injection sites? To top it off we really really like both these vets. I think life (kids, soccer, bigger homes, bigger practices) get in the way. Ideally they would listen to my concerns at least, maybe do the blood work to see if the antibodies are still there. I believe in consistency, but I love and worry about proper treatment for my pets.

  9. andrea on February 15, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    I am very concerned about my lab in pro training for AKC Hunt Tests. In Oct, 2013, I boarded my dog with his trainer for 4 days. Of course he required a bordetella shot. At the end of Jan., 2014, 4 months later, I sent my lab off for pro training. Before my trainer leaves for training in Texas, the first of March, he would like to administer another bordetella shot for convenience rather than find a vet late March or first of April, which would technically be 6 months. I understand that my dog is living in a kennel enviro with many other dogs but I’m uncomfortable with administering the vaccine early, and really would rather he catch the “cold” if it were to happen than to vaccinate at all. I’m feeling like this is the end of Pro Training for me and my buddy, but too concerned abour the ramifications. Any comments and/or suggestions would be helpful.

    • adminjr on February 16, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Andrea, you are right to be concerned. Please read http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2012/03/21/bordetella-does-your-dog-really-need-the-kennel-cough-vaccine/

      Remember that Bordetella does not give long-lasting protection (if any) so should be given about 2 weeks before boarding.

      Good for you for watching out for your dog. If you give the vaccine, don’t give any other vaccines or meds with it.

      • andrea on February 16, 2014 at 4:40 pm

        The website recommended was EXCELLENT. That was basically the info I needed to present to my Pro Trainer. Much thanks for the information!!

  10. Lecia on December 30, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    My 8 year old indoor cat is required by local law to get rabies vaccine annually. What risks are associated with he vaccine, and is it worth pursuing a waver? She is in excellent health, I prefer not to give her unnecessary stress and chemicals.

    • adminjr on December 31, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Lecia, yearly rabies vaccines are Draconian. Very dangerous. Are they using a recombinant vaccine that’s only good for a year? Check it out. And research VAS, Vaccine Associated Sarcoma, a very bad cancer that cats (and dogs) get from vaccination.

      Get a waiver if you can, but most vets won’t apply for a waiver unless the animal has serious health problems. And many states won’t allow them.

      Change the law. There’s lots of information on truth4pets.org to help you. Educate yourself, line up some cat loving friends, and contact your state legislators.

  11. Marj on December 20, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I have rescued a lab approximately 9 months old. I know the rabies shot is mandatory. If I give her the DHPP PUPPY L4 once does she need boosters or is this one shot sufficient to protect her?

    • adminjr on December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      Marj, the one shot should protect her according to Dr. Ron Schultz, the top vaccine researcher. However, why would you give her so many vaccines? Distemper and parvo are the two important vaccines. I am not a vet, but I wouldn’t give the lepto vaccine (L) unless there were a known epidemic in your area and unless the vaccine is proven to protect against local strains. This vaccine is more likely to cause an adverse reaction than any other.

      Are you sure your dog hasn’t been vaccinated? A titer test can tell you if your dog needs vaccinating now. http://truth4pets.org/2012/06/titer-testing/

      Do not give the rabies vaccine at the same time as the other vaccines. Wait at least two weeks between vaccines. http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2010/09/23/rabies-vaccination-12-ways-to-vaccinate-more-safely/

  12. Kathy on December 7, 2013 at 11:23 am

    If our pets are over a year old then can we stop getting the shots except the rabies. I have all small dogs and I have always thought vaccines were not needed for the life of the dog.

  13. […] Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating Your Dog or Cat  […]

  14. […] I've written a Q & A to determine when dogs need vaccinating, if anyone is interested. Questions to Ask | Truth4Pets I'm so exciting this study will finally be done! __________________ Jan Rasmusen National […]

  15. Sanja P Chambers on August 7, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Hi, I would appreciate if you could give me your thoughts on my dogs’ situation which is that this year I did the titer test for both of my dogs on parvo and distemper and they came back negative.
    One dog is going to be six this year, and the other one we can only estimate and we think he is about same age. They are both on Bravo raw and honest kitchen dehydrated veggies and some supplements.
    They do not socialize with other dogs that much and when they do the other dog is vaccinated but we do live in rural NH and we walk in the woods every day.
    Would you vaccinate them?

    • adminjr on August 16, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      Sanja, unfortunately, a test can read negatively and the dog can still be protected. Has your dog ever had a positive titer?

      95% of dogs who received just one parvo or distemper vaccine after 15 weeks of age have lifelong immunity according to the top expert, Dr. Ron Schultz. Read the results of his study here: http://truth4pets.org/2012/06/duration-of-immunity/#more-217

      Both parvo and distemper are dog to dog illnesses, and mostly puppy to puppy.

      I am not a vet, but if it were my dog, I’d write Dr. Jean Dodds and ask her to read the tests. I expect she’ll do so for a small fee. She has a lab doing wonderful titer testing according to breed and is a strong opponent of over-vaccination. Contact her from http://www.hemopet.com and put “titer test reading” in the subject line. If that is not an option, if it were my dog, I’d presume immunity, but it’s up to you. Don’t trust anyone else to make this decision for you.

  16. Debra Daniel on February 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I would also like to know this. It is required by law that they get these shots. will I get in trouble if I don’t get them for her? what kind of trouble could I get into? Would she end up getting rabies or distemper?

  17. Debra Daniel on February 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    I live in Philadelphia. I adopted a dog from PSPCA not long ago. Her shots are due on February 25th. Rabies and distemper I think. What options do I have to get a Veterinarian that will give me the shots for my dog that doesn’t have all those harmful ingredients like aluminum and color red and monkey stuff? I want the very best for my dog, and I want to keep her healthy.

    I even have her on a vegan dog food which has enough protein. I am a vegan myself. I don’t believe in loving one animal and eating the other! I have seen how they torture animals before slaughter… thank you.

    • adminjr on February 2, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Debra, what shots your dog needs depend on what she’s had and how old she was when she had it.

      The only legally required shot is rabies. What is necessary and when, again, depends on past shots. Let me know and I’ll try to help.

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