Vaccines help protect dogs against serious and potentially fatal contagious diseases. In the case of rabies, that risk extends not just to dogs but to you and any other mammals that may come in contact with the virus. Before vaccines it wasn’t uncommon for distemper to wipe out entire kennels, sometimes more than once. When parvo first hit and there were no vaccines there was little people could do to prevent it and many dogs died. While there can be risks associated with vaccine use, adverse consequences are very rare. Abandoning vaccines because of this low risk is putting your dogs at the much greater risk for contracting a contagious disease.
If your dogs are staying healthy without vaccines it is probably as much because most the other dogs they come in contact with are vaccinated; if your dog is never exposed through contact with an infected dog or its excretions you can’t really know if it has high natural immunity or not. Given the dire nature of the diseases for which we vaccinate, not doing so isn’t worth the risk. The important thing with vaccines is to avoid over-use because it can interfere with proper immune function.
Rabies vaccination of dogs is generally governed by law. Modern vaccines will be effective if administered on a three year cycle after the dog has had a shot as a puppy and at a year. However, local law may dictate more frequent administration. For other vaccines, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that most have a three-shot puppy series, an adult vaccine at one year and every three years thereafter. If the dog has not been vaccinated prior to 16 weeks, it should have two doses with a 3-4 week interval, and every three years thereafter, with the exception of parainfluenza for which one initial dose is adequate. Exceptions to these general rules are bordatella, leptospira. and Lyme, for which a two-dose puppy series is recommended with annual adult boosters. (Bordatella may be given every 6 months in high-risk areas.) Vaccines for rattlesnake bites and periodontal disease should be administered per the manufacturers’ labels. Not recommended for use are: killed canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-1, killed canine adenovirus-2, giardia, and coronavirus. AAHA considers parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus-2 (modified live), and rabies to be “core” vaccines, necessary for all dogs in North America. If you live elsewhere there may be a different group of vaccines necessary to protect against diseases that occur in your region’s environment.
If a dog has a compromised immune system, due to illness, parasite load, malnutrition, immune-suppressive medications, or stress its immune system may not be able to respond to a vaccine. In puppies the immune system must learn how to function; vaccine failure may occur simply because the puppy’s immune system didn’t know how to react properly (the reason multiple doses of some vaccines are given.)
Vaccine reactions are rarely due to the vaccine itself, but to other substances intended to maintain viability of the vaccine or extend the product for ease of administration. In puppies the immune system is learning to function and may occasionally prevent a proper immune response to the vaccine leading to an overreaction. Vaccine reactions in can occur for a wide variety of reasons: The dog was ill, medicated, under stress, or – in rare instances – has an inherently faulty immune system. If the dog previously had similar reactions to other things this might indicate some sort of immune system dysfunction but in that case the vaccine may have been coincidental to the reaction if the dog was exposed to whatever caused the prior episode again around the time of the vaccination.
Veterinarian-diagnosed vaccine reactions were reported in 5% of the dogs in the ASHGI health survey but rabies was the only single type ofvaccine for which a significant number of responses were submitted. If your veterinarian confirms that an apparent reaction was caused by a vaccine, follow his/her advice on how to proceed in the future.