It's totally normal to wonder about the safety of what you're giving your dog. From toys to treats to food, we all spend a lot of time thinking about what's best. It's no surprise our vets get a lot of questions about whether or not vaccines are safe for dogs. Vaccinations have become a bit of a heated issue, so let's state something right off the bat. You and your veterinarian should decide together which vaccines are safe for your dog, but please understand that your veterinarian has the experience and compassion you need to feel good about the vaccines you decide on. If you don't feel those qualities from your veterinarian, look for a different one.
Why Are Vaccines for Dogs Recommended?
Every vaccine has been designed over a period of decades specifically to illicit an immune response to disease-causing organisms. Over the course of your dog's life, she will undoubtedly encounter some of these organisms. Vaccines are - statistically - by far and away the best way to protect your dog against the threat of many serious diseases. The American Veterinary Association says that, "Widespread use of vaccinations within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals." And it makes sense...without vaccinations, contagious diseases like rabies, bordetella, and influenza.
Are Vaccines for Dogs Safe?
In a nutshell: yes, absolutely. Vaccine compounds, even those made for pets, are some of the most widely-studied drugs in the world. Before a vaccine is made commercially available it's put through thousands of tests and trials designed specifically to identify any potential unknown issues. Vaccines that make pets sick would not stay on the market very long simply because veterinarians would stop using them. That being said, vaccinations with dogs come with some level of risk. This is true of any medical treatment. It's vitally important to weigh the risk vs. reward of vaccines for your dog before deciding not to treat; is the minimal risk of reaction from the vaccine worth the more statistically significant risk of your dog catching the disease you're looking to prevent? It's a trade-off that most pet parents and veterinarians more than willingly make.
What Are the Risks Associated With Dog Vaccines?
The primary "risk" to your dog from getting a vaccine is a reaction. By and large, vaccine reactions are very rare, and when they do occur they are mild and short-term. Vaccine reactions occur in somewhere around 13 in 100,000 dogs. These kind of reactions could include anything from a rash at the ingestion site to vomiting to flu-like symptoms. Vaccine reactions are brought on by the body's antibody response to the vaccine compound. In a very, very limited number of cases, some dogs have suffered more serious reactions after being vaccinated. These reactions have included anaphylaxis, stiffness in the joints, systemic illness, or severe inflammation. The USDA keeps detailed records on these reactions. Some dogs are more predisposed than others to suffer a vaccine reaction. The younger or smaller a dog is, the more likely a reaction is to occur. The more vaccinations are given at the same time, the greater the chance of a reaction. Dogs with the Multi-Drug Resistance Gene (MDR1) have a natural sensitivity to some vaccines as well as many common veterinary medications.
Should You Vaccinate Your Dog?
Unequivocally yes. Talk to your veterinarian. Does she vaccinate her own dogs? Of course - because she knows that unvaccinated dogs have a higher-than-acceptable chance of contracting some kind of contagion such as distemper, parvovirus, or hepatitis. Does your dog need every vaccine available and to be vaccinated once a year like clockwork? Not necessarily. Rabies is the only canine vaccination required by law in all 50 states, but almost all pet parents choose at least some supplemental vaccines for their dogs. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog's specific risk factors, lifestyle, and tolerance to vaccines and come up with a plan together.
Ready to vaccinate?