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A note of caution about dog vaccines
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


May 02, 2007

The mammoth recall of pet food that grabbed headlines over the past month after contaminated batches were linked to at least 16 pet deaths has put a new spotlight on proper handling of pet products and care issues.

But there's another area that has gotten little attention but could also pose a risk to dogs, especially those among the smaller breeds.




It involves vaccines and how often they should be given.

According to major veterinary schools and the American Animal Hospital Association, most major canine vaccines should be given once every three years - not annually. In fact, for some smaller breeds - pugs, Yorkies, French bulls, Maltese and Pekinese - the yearly vaccines can lead to sometimes lethal complications.

While most vet schools and national veterinary societies endorse the three-year regimen for distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza and adenovirus 2 vaccines, it's hard to find veterinarians who aren't pushing annual shots for these diseases.

An informal phone poll of more than 15 animal hospitals in the Pittsburgh area found only one, Point Breeze Animal Clinic, that was giving shots at three-year intervals.

"Are we vaccinating too much? The answer is yes, we are," says Dr. Lawrence Gerson, who runs the Point Breeze practice.

He says toxic reactions to vaccines in all breeds are well documented. "It's not just pugs; clearly in Weimaraners there are problems," he says. In addition, a Lhasa Apso died at his practice just last year.

Ohio State Veterinary School has developed a vaccine protocol especially for Weimaraners, but problems can crop up in all breeds.

Gerson says he's especially careful with dogs such as dachshunds and miniature types, and dogs under 30 pounds, when giving a vaccine against leptospirosis (a bacterial illness transmitted through infected urine), which is considered a discretionary shot given to at-risk dogs. "I've had fatal reactions to vaccines in my practice, but that's not the norm," he stresses.

What is more common, he said, are side effects the dog experiences - swelling, itching or vomiting.

He is frustrated that many of his colleagues are slow to change to three-year boosters.

"These are mainstream protocols," says Gerson. "I can't think of many dogs that need distemper more than every third year. You can make an argument for less; there's not really an argument for more."

The American Animal Hospital Association revised its guidelines in 2003 to include the three-year protocol after convening a panel of experts who studied the issue.

"We are following these guidelines in our own hospital, and I would never do that if I wasn't fully confident of them," said Dr. Thomas Carpenter, association president, who runs his own veterinary practice in Costa Mesa, Calif. "It is very, very safe."

In fact, the vaccines may protect a dog more than three years, he said, although sufficient research isn't available to confirm that yet.

Carpenter said he's not sure why more veterinary practices aren't following the three-year protocols.

"I believe with any change in protocols, there are probably early adapters, and there are probably people who are slow to adapt. All the vet schools are using the protocols, so the students are graduating with the protocols in mind. (The changes are) not going to happen overnight. We at the AAHA hope to positively influence the profession based on science (with the published protocols)."

Asked whether vet clinics are pushing annual vaccinations to keep revenue coming in, he discounted that.

"I think veterinarians are concerned about being sure that they provide the best health care, and people who are doing it annually are more worried about being sure that the patients are being protected."

Dr. Jamie Bush, a veterinary resident at Colorado State University, is studying how environmental issues such as booster vaccines can specifically affect the onset of PDE, but the implications of her research go beyond the pug community.

"I do feel that (all) pugs are predisposed to problems from vaccine," says Bush, saying pugs should not be given booster shots more than once every three years.

"My personal opinion is that all dogs should have limited vaccines, and those that might be more predisposed to hyper-sensitivities especially," she says.

That would include older dogs or those with chronic disease conditions.


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