Stabby Stabby: Is it Possible to Over-Vaccinate?

When it comes to vaccinations, I admit my knowledge base is pretty empty. To be perfectly honest, I’m not very good at keeping up with my own schedule. I can’t remember the last time I received a shot for something. Maybe meningitis back in 2004? That may not even be accurate. I’m not scared of needles and I’ve always felt a little poke is worth avoiding a major disease, but I am essentially lazy and never remember to ask my doctor during my yearly check-up.

That doesn’t mean I am as negligent with my pets. Shiva and The Cat both receive their vaccinations on a strict and regular rotation.

Kitty Meister hates the needle but is happy he won't ever get feline leukemia

Looking at her medical records, I see that Shiva is inoculated against the standard rabies, distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus. I am fully aware of the horrors of parvo and I know rabies is practically mandated by law. The other two I know less about but every vet seems to think they are necessary. She also receives shots for canine kennel cough – Shiva had this when we first adopted her and we continue to vaccinate due to her frequent encounters with dogs at agility. This year, we also gave her the leptospirosis vaccine. Our previous vet didn’t seem to think it was important and never mentioned it. But our new vet thinks it is essential. She says she sees many dogs every year with the disease, dogs who barely leave their houses, so Shiva got one more jab with the needle.

I know there is some controversy regarding over-vaccinating our dogs. Since I am not a vet I’ve never considered myself knowledgeable enough to question. If a veterinarian says we should inoculate, then we inoculate. Isn’t the possible reaction still better than contracting the actual virus?

I’ve always thought so. And then I read articles like this that make me unsure. Surely a little kennel cough is better than liver failure!

But how likely are such reactions to occur? So far, Shiva seems to have handled them all without any trouble. I was a little worried the day after she received the leptospirosis shot. I came home from work and she promptly vomited on the floor. Commence freaking out. Luckily, Dog is God in Reverse was on Twitter and reassured me it could have just been something she ate. Which it was considering she showed no other signs after the initial up-chucking. Whew! Of course,  that doesn’t mean it will always be so easy for us.

Like everything else relating to dogs, there is so much information out there but almost all of it contradicts something else. One person says, trust your vet. Another, says vets are just pawns of pharmaceutical companies. One person believes there is no such thing as over-vaccination. Another, refuses to vaccinate anything and seeks more natural forms of prevention.

I guess I stand somewhere in the middle. I trust my vet to a point. If she suggests a schedule of vaccinations that makes sense and explains the reasons behind each needle, then I will probably go along with her plan. But if she was to start telling us we need something crazy –  like a rattlesnake vaccine when we live in a province that barely homes garter snakes – I may raise an eyebrow. However, that hasn’t been the case thus far. In fact, I am a little concerned that Shiva hasn’t been vaccinated for Lyme disease, something that is becoming more common in areas south of here. The vet says we don’t need it but it’s always on my mind when we travel through tick country.

How do you feel about pet vaccinations? Do you worry about over-vaccinating? Are you as confused by the controversy as I am? Have you sought a more natural approach to virus prevention? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

34 thoughts on “Stabby Stabby: Is it Possible to Over-Vaccinate?

  1. Our vet does rabies and lepto. Our Best Friend has never been vaccinated for parvo or Lyme or kennel cough. I’m too lazy to dig out the records from two years ago, but I seem to recall he got a shot for something that needs a booster every three years.

    As a mom, I can tell you that my kids are vaccinated against EVERYTHING, including chicken pox. And I am afraid of needles; our now-favourite family tale is how I passed out when the kids got their swine flu shots! I still went for mine two weeks later.

    And, on a side note, not getting my e-mail subscription update. 😦


    • Is it weird that I have always been kind of fascinated by needles? I probably shouldn’t have admitted that…

      We don’t vaccinate for everything every single year. The rabies we have I think is good for three years. Some of them we do every other. I know some believe that often rabies can be good for life, or for five or more years. It probably depends on the dog. It’s all very complicated, I find.

      Stupid subscriptions. I’m so sorry they still aren’t working. I’d thought I’d fixed it but obviously not. They will be the death of me yet!


  2. My Vet is not entirely holistic but leans towards it. I question her every year when annual check up comes around about what is best for the dogs.

    Sampson and Delilah are vaccinated against Rabies, which is required in my state. I also vaccinate them against Leptospirosis because we hike a lot and they are constantly exposed to water that other animals might urinate in.

    I do not vaccinate against Kennel Cough because Sampson has had it three times even though he had the shot! The way it was explained to me, was that there are about 12 different strains of KC and the vaccination covers 3 of them. Odds aren’t good if you ask me.

    As for Lyme disease, two years ago I asked and was told there were three different vaccines available. One they knew was harmful to the dog, one was ineffectual and the last one was new and there was no reliable data to determine its effects.

    As for the parvo and the distemper, I think we didn’t do that last year and I cannot remember why. But Delilah is scheduled for her yearly exam next Wednesday and I will ask.

    There is also something you can do call “titering” where they draw blood and test the level of antibodies, if they have a certain level there is no need to vaccinate.

    @Lori R, I too stopped getting my e-mail alerts and I think it was due to the new hosting Kristine is doing. I just went to her blog and re-subscribed.

    Lyme Disease


    • See, you obviously are a lot more knowledgeable than I am about these things. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

      We don’t vaccinate parvo and distemper every year, either. I think those are on an every other year rotation. But I can’t be sure.

      Perhaps that’s why my vet hasn’t thought Lyme disease was necessary. If the vaccine hasn’t been proven there is no point. I didn’t know that about kennel cough either.

      I did assume that some dogs had strong enough immunity systems on their own. My childhood dog was never given much more than a standard rabies shot and she drank out of every stanky puddle she could find. Just as some humans can naturally avoid most illnesses, dogs probably can too. It all depends.


  3. Thanks so much for stopping by & leaving a comment on my toy room art ~ i really appreciate it!

    we vaccinate our dog for the simple ones that are required, like rabies, and then also for kennel cough since we do have him boarded a few days a year. i’ve never really looked into it though, just do what the vet says!


    • Thanks for your comment! Before getting into the dog blogging world, I didn’t realise vaccinations could be such a hot topic. I think if everything is fine and your vet is a good one, you are on the right path. 🙂


  4. Good post… and a difficult subject. I don’t like to overvaccinate but at the same time I want my dog to be protected. I try and stick to her due dates and not do too many shots early. She of course has rabies, not just because state mandates it but because I have run across several animals myself that have had it. She also gets her Distemper, wonder if she really still needs that. I also give her a nasal bordatella, but only 1 time a year (though they say it’s only good for 6 months) due to her being at shows and living at a kennel. I do believe she got kennel cough once, as it was a cough her family had and then she got after hanging out with them. But had I taken her to the vet they probably would say she did not have it as she was not presenting signs upon testing. It was a very very mild case, whether that was due to her vaccine, or just being a healthy dog we’ll never know. I also vaccinated her against Lepto this year after talking with the vet, and us being outdoors a lot, and me letting them drink out of creeks/ponds readily. And along with that I also got her a lyme shot now that the effective percentage is upwards of 80%, and we have ticks almost year round. A big part of that though is simply staying on top of tick medicine and checking her after being out.

    So some may think mine has a lot of vaccines, but she also is exposed to a ton going to shows and events, not to mention living at a kennel. The biggest thing I think you can do for your dog is keep them healthy, fit, and active and this will help offset any negatives of a shot. IMO, but I’m not a vet.


    • Thanks for sharing your experiences!

      Since Shiva is always encountering new dogs at agility classes and events, and has had kennel cough in the past, I figured it was important for her to be vaccinated. Even if only to prevent her from spreading it around. Our classes are held in a doggy daycare facility – perfect environments for such viruses.

      I don’t want to over-vaccinate, but I also don’t want to under-vaccinate. It’s really hard to know what is appropriate. Hopefully as the years go by I will get a better understanding of these issues and of what exactly my dog needs.


  5. Titer, titer, titer….ask for that next time your dog needs a vaccine not required by law (distemper/parvo). After one shot (at age 1), Oreo’s antibody levels are sky high and he may never need another one of those shots.

    Costs more than the shot to titer, but in the long run it is much healthier for the dog/immune system.

    I do vaccinate for lyme, since I had lyme disease myself last summer, and had to take a megadose of doxycycline yesterday beacuse I pulled a deer tick off my neck. Ick. HOping that did the trick, and I don’t have to do another 3 weeks of antibiotics.

    Chewy and Oreo both had their lyme vaccine two weeks ago, and it knocked them both on the floor. They were like zombies for 24 hours. But, in the case of lyme, the risk is too high in my area not to vaccinate.

    My vet pushes lepto. I’ve never given it to Oreo, because Misty became ill after the shot. It scared me, but now I realize it lepto is becoming a problem in my area.

    I am considering giving lepto to Chewy at least once while he’s young. I think it will help build his antibodies up. Plus, he likes to drink water, where ever he finds it….gutters, puddles, etc.

    My vet gave me some metacam to give my dogs before their next shot, in hopes of reducing any negative side effects. Seemed to work for Chewy’s distember shot this week…no side effects.

    I also split all our shots up…wait a couple weeks between each needle, so their body has time to recover. It is just a vet tech visit, so all I have to pay for is the shot.

    I think it is a personal decsion for everyone, but research shows less is best.


  6. I have more….

    My holistic vet says the lyme vaccine is 85% effective.

    I believe it, because I’ve pulled dozens of deer ticks off my dogs, and they’re never contracted lyme. Unlike my unvaccinated self!


  7. Thanks for writing this post! We too have been struggling with the vaccination issue lately. Our vet recently started recommending the lepto virus again here in Oregon after years of not recommending it. This was due to a higher incident of the virus in the rat population as well as a few cases they’ve seen in dogs, one of which resulted in death. I am still torn on this vaccine. It’s a difficult cost-benefit scenario to evaluate. From talking to two vets (in the same practice) and doing loads of online research, here’s what I have found out about Lepto:

    -There are anecdotal accounts of a higher reaction rate to the Lepto virus than to other vaccinations (Rabies being the exception – it tends to see the highest rate of adverse reaction).
    -Per my vet, she saw lots of reactions when she first graduated from vet school 10-15 years ago. The vaccine has since been improved and she feels it’s a lot safer now.
    -Lepto has several strains (like kennel cough) – the current vaccine most vets are giving only protect again 4 of those strains – I think there are something like 8 different strains but I could be a little off on that number. Just because your dog is vaccinated, does not mean he/she is fully protected!
    -Lepto is not necessarily a fatal disease and can be treated successfully if caught early. Treatment will generally run several thousand dollars.
    -Both susceptibility in terms of the chance of death from Lepto and reaction to the vaccine seems to be higher in smaller dogs than the larger ones.

    Where did I land in my decision? We are going to vaccinate our new puppy Hurley against Lepto but we will be giving it to him separately from the Distemper/Parvo vaccinations and Rabies. This allows his immune system to tackle one vaccination at a time and reduce the chance of a reaction or the severity of said reaction. I am vaccinating Hurley because he is going to be out and about in the public with me – in the store and I hope to train him as a therapy dog. I am not, at this time, going to vaccinate either of my other 2 dogs. For me, it came down to his risk being higher than Maggie & Sadie.

    It was a tough decision and one I spent a lot of time weighing. Bottom line is that there’s no easy answer.


  8. Vaccinations are one topic I am thoroughly confused by! I think Moses is only currently up to date on rabies, which is required by law and just seems to make sense. And I can say with some confidence, and without checking his file, that the parvo vaccinations stopped in adulthood, and that we’ve never bothered with kennel cough.

    But the others? And why? I could hardly tell you. The conflicting (and very strong) opinions on either side are overwhelming (for every person who recommends titering, there’s another who laughs at its absurdity), so I haven’t looked into it as thoroughly as I’d like to form my own opinion. I can’t even say I stand in the middle – I’m off the chart in a section labelled “Undecided/Uneducated”.


  9. I do worry about over vaccinating. I swear the more I read, the more concerned/worried I get. With our first dog we followed our vet’s protocol and vaccinated for everything. Since Sophie was such a sick puppy, I read and researched a lot more.

    We found a holistic vet, she practices modern medicine with a holistic view point (from her website). She is great! I talked to her about how I didn’t think bortadella was necessary since it doesn’t protect against all strands of kennel cough. She said she doesn’t administer unless a patient insists and wrote us a waiver for Sophie’s daycare which they accepted without a problem.

    We are now on a titer schedule. Sophie had all her puppy shots and first year boosters. Our regular vet and our holistic vet both said lyme wasn’t necessary so we passed. And now when Sophie is next due for her DHPP, we will do a titer to see if it is needed.

    Depending on her levels, our vet will determine if vaccines are needed. We will of course get the Rabies booster as required by law. But if her body still retains the antibodies to fight the other diseases, I don’t see a reason to vaccinate again. Of course, all of this is with our vet’s blessing. We are truly lucky because our regular and our holistic vet both work well together. (we needed two vets, as our first vet was at their wits end with what to do with Sophie as a puppy)


  10. I think I’m sort of like you – I don’t want to over vaccinate, but I still don’t know much about it. In general, I trust my vet’s recommendations, but I do ask questions about what’s going on.

    I had a dog get Lyme disease (and she ultimately passed away because we didn’t catch it early), I wish I had more knowledge about the effectiveness of the Lyme vaccine. I’ve heard different things about it (that it could be harmful/ineffective) but I don’t know how accurate that information is (or how much weight to give it when considering to vaccinate).


  11. @sara – I agree: “titer, titer, titer.” At least with my adult dogs. I do rabies on a 3 year rotation because I live in the county and it is allowable; in town, the law is every year which is ignorant. I do bordetella (kennel cough) on everyone because of dogs coming and going in the sanctuary. I avoid Lepto – not necessary here and my Louie reacted badly to it. Consensus for the senior dogs is to vaccinate every year again due to compromised immune systems and their going out to adoption events where they are exposed to perhaps not vaccinated dogs and bacteria, etc. A tough, tough question. Very good discussion in the comments – thank you.


  12. I go with what my vet recommends, but like you if she mentioned something way out, I’d then question it. This year for the first time she suggested kennel Cough, as there has been a prevalence of it here recently.


  13. I like the AAHA schedule. I would like to follow it-basically core vaccines are only every 3 years, rabies by law, and other vaccines based on risk in your specific area.

    The reality is, sometime I am almost guaranteed to want to take a training class or need to board the dogs and they will have to have vaccines. It’s either that, or we don’t take classes, or I never take a vacation. I have never seen a boarding facility without core vaccine requirements.

    So, for now we are are the 3 year waiting period, but we’ll see what happens before its time to vaccinate again.


  14. Rugby had a bad reaction to his 1 yr old vaccines and he didn’t walk for 2 days afterwards and was VERY flinchy/snappy about the injection sites being touched.

    He also has a permanent bald spot on his hip from where the rabies vaccine was injected.

    He has not had any shots since those 1 yr old shots. Besides the required rabies, I am still debating whether or not he should get ANYTHING else. My first vet wanted him done with everything. The second said if he was HIS dog he would not ever vaccinate him again and the vet we just tried out has offered to do titers and I may just take her up on that offer, but I don’t think he needs it just yet.

    The kennel cough vaccine is a joke and Rugby got kennel cough even though he was vaccinated against it as a puppy. We didn’t even do that one with the 1 yr old shots.


  15. My dogs are vaccinated with C3 (parvo, distemper and hepatitis) + kennel cough + heartworms. Kennel cough is now delivered through inhaled droplets because we found the vaccination to be ineffective. I use the 12 month heartworm needle because it is the easiest form of heartworm prevention.

    They are kept up to date with their vaccinations, and this is the minimum required to keep them at a bording kennel. Thank god we don’t have rabies in Australia though!


  16. This is something I feel really passionately about and something I have researched extensively for the past three years, even going so far as to request the CDC records for our area on the number of reported cases of rabies. After reading a crap load of research (not blog posts, but rather actual reports in medical journals and studies from reputable universities) I feel quite confident talking about vaccines and how they work, the risks – and benefits and exactly WHY yearly vaccinations is actually making our pet population sicker, instead of better. I believe whole heartedly in puppy vaccines and the practice of vaccinating stray/rescues upon intake, but I do not maintain yearly vaccinations on our dogs anymore. PLUS – here in Canada, with the exception of some areas in Ontario, it is NOT required by law to maintain current vaccinations, not even rabies.

    Here is a really really good article, based on 1999 study by Purdue University (I have read the full study report and find this article to be a good summary of it)

    It’s far too much info and research to share in a blog comment, but I am always happy to chat about vaccines via e-mail if you are interested in more in depth info 🙂


  17. They only thing that we vaccinate for now is Rabies. All 4 of our pups have had reactions of varying intervals to other vaccinations and we’ve done loads of research and decided to take a holistic approach as possible to veterinary medicine. I do believe that our pets are over-vaccinated … I actually wrote a term paper on this topic if you’re interested in it!


  18. Great post – and the comments are really helpful. We vaccinate the boys for rabies, because it’s required to travel to Canada, which we intend to do this year. I’ve not had them vaccinated for Letpo, but I’m going to talk to the vet about that for Buster. He’s always drinking out of streams, puddles, anywhere he can find a little water.


      • It really depends on the municipality. There is no Canada-wide law that all dogs must have rabies vaccines, but each town or community has it’s own set of rules. Some city by-laws do require the rabies vaccine in order for the dog to be registered and licensed.

        From what I know, I am pretty sure it works both ways and to bring a dog into the US one must be up-to-date on the rabies shot.


  19. I have wondered the same thing after meeting a lady who never gave any kind of medication and did everything naturally. Her dog had heartworm three times and she took care of it without no medicines whatsoever. But I didn’t have her skill or knowledge and came to realize that I would rather give the basic booster shots, rabies, along with heartworm and flea and tick, than take the chance they were to become sick. The dogs have never had any side effects from any of the vaccinations or medicines, but I do try to keep them all to the minimum. It would take a lot for me for my vet to convince me of needing more than those, but if it made logical sense I might think about it.

    I am very lucky to have a vet I trust quite highly, but I base my decisions on many factors and my own intuition. So far, so good.


  20. Our holistic vet [whom we don’t visit much because she’s EXHORBITANT] didn’t think vacs were necessary. Our current [conventional] vet sends us yearly reminders. We only do the C3 though. Kennel cough is apparently em… a cough and dogs that contract it recover as we humans do. So he doesn’t see the necessity of it.

    Some boarding kennels here will accept a clean bill of health from the vet in lieu of the C5. Others [like the one we’re going to] insist on the full C5. So Georgia had to have the extra kennel cough vac done.

    Tough call, as with vaccinating human babies.


  21. Good topic, and good grounds for debate. I’m where you are at the moment, i.e. not an expert on the subject, and trusting my vet as long as they’re reasonable. George currently gets one booster once a year and that’s about it. He’s never had anything wrong with him (touch wood) and he also has never developed any reactions to the vaccine. So I haven’t been giving it much thought, to be honest. I’ve read about it in various places, and I know that some people choose not to vaccinate at all. I think we can’t apply a single rule to everybody, since the place where you live should be taken into consideration. For example, if you live in the countryside, your dogs are likely to be exposed to different diseases to those that they’d be exposed to if you lived in the city. I’m guessing. George’s breeder didn’t vaccinate her dogs at all, for example, they opted for a homeopathic alternative. Some people say that doesn’t work…As you can see from my answer, I’m confused. I’ll personally stick to George’s current plan, at least whilst it works for us. I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s comments, there’s a lot to learn in there.


  22. I’ve enjoyed reading this post and the great comments. Aside from what to feed a dog, this has got to be one of the most passionate dog (and cat) debates.

    We, so far (the dogs are young still), have vaccinated the dogs with everything but Lepto. Our vet doesn’t give Lepto routinely, but regardless, we were told Corgis have a high rate of allergic reaction to it and to never vaccinate for it.

    There aren’t too many holistic vets in my town (I really only know of one) so we go to a conventional vet who is leery of titers giving false security. I really don’t know where I stand on that matter.

    I can tell you that from having way too much experience with parvovirus, that most dogs are exposed to it in the environment and develop natural immunity to it in adulthood. (That’s why it’s known as a puppy disease.) I, therefore, question why any vet would recommend an annual parvo vaccine vs. a titer every few years.


  23. Oh…so behind and catching up as usual!!

    The eternal vaccine debate!! 🙂 I did a HUGE article on this a while back – it’s always hard to know what to do best. There is definitely an acknowledgement now, even by the pet vaccine companies, that there are significant risks in over-vaccinating and that certain dogs, esp certain breeds, are prone to vaccinosis, in some cases, life-threatening. (Great Danes are one of those breeds!) This is why they have actually developed a 3yr vaccine so you can swap to that, because they found that for most of the core vaccines, most dogs still had high titres in their blood after 1yr and therefore didn’t really need boosting and the the vaccine was just overloading their system. This only applies to the core viral vaccines, of course, a lot of the bacterial ones (like lepto, kennel cough) have very poor efficacy and immunity drops even before 1yr, which is why you have to boost them annually – sometimes even more often. And of course, in countries like America, you have to worry about rabies too.

    But I would certainly speak to your vet about considering the 3yrly vaccine for the core diseases, so at least you can reduce the load on those. That’s what we’ve done with Honey – moved her onto 3yrly vaccines for the core but keeping up annual jabs for things like kennel cough.



  24. There is no Canada-wide law that all dogs must have rabies vaccines, but each town or community has it’s own set of rules. This allows his immune system to tackle one vaccination at a time and reduce the chance of a reaction or the severity of said reaction.


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