Rabies Vaccination for Dogs Part 10


Rabies Vaccination for Dogs – AB 272

Dog Getting Vaccinated


Then I wrote Dr. Dodds and Dr. Breitman, asking them the same questions.  All responses are minimally edited.  Dr. Dodds provided many citations and studies in which she participated.  Dr. Breitman mentioned some studies.  If there were multiple parts in one question, Dr. Dodds sometimes answered each part individually.  Her responses are in purple.  Dr. Breitman generally answered the entire question.  Her responses are gold. My comments are in brackets [ ].

Dr. Breitman -Congratulations on tackling an unfamiliar subject.  If perusing the literature, just make sure that you keep to peer reviewed scientific publications as there are lots of people with big opinions and small knowledge in this type of subject.  Even in the scientific literature, there are inferences that are not scientifically supported.  For example, there are many publications that suggest a link between vaccination and immune-mediated disease.  However, these studies show development of auto-antibodies without showing any pathogenic effects.  And these antibodies are shown to develop in percentages of dogs that far exceed the incidence of auto-immune disease in the general vaccinated population.  This, in itself, almost proves the opposite.  Other studies show no increase in auto-immune disease in vaccinated animals.  Even so, I do support the principle  that “above all else, we should do no harm”.  We now know that many of the vaccines that we used to give annually last at least 3 years.  And as veterinarians, we should be medical professionals and not sales-people; so, should only recommend vaccines against very serious diseases or those that the individual patient is likely to come in contact with. 

 I think that the bottom line is that you always have to balance benefits and risks with any medical intervention.  A puppy of 12 weeks of age is similar in physical development to a 6 year old child.  Think about all the vaccinations that are required before our children are allowed to attend school.  If you delayed their vaccinations, would you allow them to be exposed to potentially fatal disease, or would you delay their social and academic development.  The same choice would exist in delaying vaccination of our puppies.  Rabies vaccination is somewhat different that other vaccines because cell mediated immunity seems to be the primary mechanism of protection against Rabies.  I disagree with the writer of that article that killed antigen can only stimulate humoral immunity.  When I was a graduate student in Immunology we would routinely expand the cells involved in cell mediated immunity via vaccination with non-viable antigens.  Because humoral immunity (antibodies) appear to be less important in Rabies vaccination, adequate vaccination does not rely on sustained highly elevated levels of antibody.  The amount (and type) of antibody received passively by the pup is extremely unlikely to interfere with active immunity when vaccinated at 12 weeks of age (as proven by multiple studies).  In addition, Rabies can come inside the puppies’ home (via its vectors).

 If a vaccination is given properly, it should not interfere with a puppy’s enjoyment of going to the vets’.  I can assure you that my patients continue to enjoy their visits with me after this experience.  It could even be argued that it is better to expose them during this critical period of their development.  

First, let me thank you for taking the time out of your day to answer these questions.  I was asked to write this article on learning of ABA 272 in the California legislature proposing to change the age at which rabies vaccine is mandated to be given to puppies from four months to three months.

When I write about something, it’s usually on a subject I know about, but I’m a neophyte at this — if there’s a word that’s more basic than “neophyte,” then that’s me!  Vaccinations is a subject I’ve never given much thought to other than knowing basically what they are, that my dogs should have them, and knowing there is a controversy about them.

My personal position as a long-time dog owner, trainer, and behavior consultant is that vaccinating at three months is a bad idea due to both the puppy’s developing immune system and socialization issues.   Having said that, I’m trying to be as objective and balanced as I can with the article.

If you have any comments, suggestions, ideas, additions – or if I should be asking different questions, please let me know.  I welcome any input.

Here are the questions.

In an August 1, 2008 article in DVM360 entitled Vaccination: An Overview, http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/avhc/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=568351 Dr. Melissa Kennedy states: “Vaccination of the young begins at 6-8 weeks of age. Multiple boosters are given because maternal immunity interferes with vaccinal response. Because one doesn’t know the level in each animal for each pathogen at each time point (and it is not feasible nor cost-effective to measure this), repeated boosters are given until the point when maternal immunity has likely decreased sufficiently to allow induction of immunity, usually at 16-18 weeks of age.”

So my question is – If maternal immunity can interfere with immunization success for not just rabies but all vaccines and if the puppy’s immune system is weakened after administration of a vaccine while it is building up antibodies, then why are we giving any vaccines before the maternal protection has worn off?

Dr. Dodds – Good question, and I personally disagree with the blanket statement here that “repeated boosters are given until the point when maternal immunity has likely decreased sufficiently to allow induction of immunity, usually at 16-18 weeks of age.”

Firstly, vaccines are not innocuous products so giving them repeatedly when their efficacy will be partially or even mostly neutralized by the residual maternal immunity present makes no medical or safety sense to benefit the puppy. Secondly, the real reason we give younger puppies vaccines is to avoid the window of high vulnerability that occurs when maternal antibody has waned sufficiently to leave the puppy at risk of the common contagious viral diseases.  As maternal immunity is essentially gone by 14-16 weeks or age (not later), we give one or two vaccines before that to provide partial protection that spans this vulnerable period.  In the face of regional disease endemics like those for the virulent parvovirus strain 2-c , puppies may safely be given a single parvo vaccine as early as 6 weeks of age, as an aid to partial immunity.

Shouldn’t we wait to give *all* vaccines until we are sure the passive immunity will not cause interference?

Dr. Dodds – Ideally so, but we don’t know the exact age that this can occur in each individual puppy as it depends upon the level of maternal immunity present from the dam at birth,  and how much colostrum the puppy suckled in the first 36 hrs of life.

Dr. Breitman – Many of the conditions that we vaccinate against are potentially fatal and puppies are likely to be exposed to them at an early age if being properly socialized.  Therefore, it is wise to vaccine from the time that maternal immunity is likely to wane through the time that maternal antibody is likely to be too low to interfere with immunization.  Practically this consists of vaccination starting at 8 weeks of age through 16 weeks of age (or older). While some cases of elevated maternal antibody have been demonstrated past 12 weeks of age in cases where the bitch has been hypervaccinated (notoriously Parvovirus), vaccine interference past this 12 weeks timeframe has not been properly demonstrated.  Therefore, I do not agree with the recommendation of some to give the last vaccination in the series at 20 weeks or later.  Depending on the individual needs of the dog, this practically only means one extra vaccination to Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Leptospirosis, and Parainfluenza (in one combined vaccination). The benefits of protecting the dog from these very serious diseases far out-way the risks associated with vaccination.

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Disclaimers – this is a *very* long article (almost 17,000 words) which I have loosely broken up into segments. This is the unedited final draft of the article in its entirety that I wrote in 2013 for a website that is no longer in existence. Not only is the final article no longer available, but I have had computer and Internet issues where some data may have been lost. I have spent several hours trying to piece it together and reformatting.

The article does not reflect current research as of 2018.  However, a good portion of the discussion is still applicable. If there is something that you believe was not true in 2013 or if I have made a mistake in reformatting, please let me know and I will do my best to fix it.

The reason it is posted here is because I was hosting a discussion on DogRead DogRead@yahoogroups.com about my book Doggie Dangers ( Kindle http://tinyurl.com/y8uc4gtc  Paperback http://tinyurl.com/y7vhce9t ), and the subject of rabies vaccines came up when we were talking about wildlife concerns for family dogs. We were discussing how to keep the yard safe from wildlife, but one person mentioned she had a bat fly into her house! Some of the participants requested that I post the article since it is no longer published.

And the final disclaimer – I am a dog trainer, not a veterinarian or medical researcher. Therefore, this article is for information only and not a substitute for any veterinary, medical, or other advice.

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