Imagine if just one vaccine dose could give your dog lifetime immunity against all deadly viruses. In fact, it can actually be true, says a study. How so? Read on for the details, and why it has not been in vogue in India
Burfi, an eight-month-old mongrel, was taken for his first rabies vaccination when he was 14 weeks old. Within 20 minutes of vaccination, Burfi’s body erupted into rashes. It has been four months since the fateful shot, but the pooch has not completely recovered from the shock. He still has raw and painful welts on certain body parts.
From paralysis to seizures, and from immune-mediated complications to injection-site fibrous cysts, adverse reactions to vaccination and revaccination are not uncommon in pets. Often attributable to annual vaccinations, vaccine reactions also may lead to allergies, skin problems, behavioral changes, and auto-immune diseases. While some pet parents walk away safe with over-vaccination, a majority remains unaware of the symptoms and a handful rest crave for a solution.
Imagine if just one vaccine dose could give your dog lifetime immunity from all deadly viruses! No mandatory annual visits to the vet, no health record diary to maintain and most importantly, your pooch’s immunity system is not at stake. Wonder how far in the future that will be? You are just a blink away! Flutter your eyelids and voila, you have made it to the future.
According to a research study, the minimum duration of immunity provided by modern day core-vaccines might last upto your dog’s lifetime. As per the study, while the canine distemper virus vaccine was found to have an estimated minimum duration immunity of 15 years, vaccines for canine adenovirus and provovirus are expected to keep your furry friend safe for minimum nine years. The deadly rabies can be kept at bay for seven years once the vaccine is injected. The study, done by Ronald D Schultz, professor and chair of pathobiological sciences at School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin, USA, proves that most annual vaccinations that we subject our pets to are unnecessary and might cause more harm than good.
“The duration of immunity following vaccination depends on the persistence of memory B and T cells stimulated at the time of vaccination and the persistence of long lived plasma cells (memory effector B cells), which continue to produce antibody for years after initial immune stimulation. The minimum date of immunity studies in both cats and dogs show ‘memory effector B cells’ continue to produce antibody to the core vaccines in the absence of overt antigenic stimulation for many years. Thus, revaccination does not appear necessary to maintain these cells,” explains the study.
Following Schultz’s advice, a handful of pet parents are doing away with annual vaccinations. These pet parents, while ensuring that their precious one is not overloaded with vaccines, are also keeping an eye on their pooches’ immune system. They are doing that through antibody titer test.
An antibody titer is a measure of the concentration of antibodies in the blood, as determined by a test involving repeatedly diluting a blood sample and exposing those dilutions to an antigen. The test can be done for all four core vaccines – canine distempter, rabies, parvovirus and adenovirus – and the result shows the amount of antobody being generated to fight these viruses. If the result is above 0.5 international unit per ml of blood, your pet need not get revaccinated.
According to one such pet parent, who is also a canine-health care professional, there is a dreadful lack of awareness about vaccines and their side effect. “Pet parents are mostly unaware about the side effects of vaccination and revaccination and also about the guidelines. While most depend on their veterinarian for any details related to the health of their pets, there is no effort taken by vets to explain the facts,” says the pet parent on condition on anonymity.
While the test is the best possible solution available with pet parents who want to avoid over-vaccination, it has not caught on due to lack of awareness among pet parents, the high cost involved and probably just one test center across the country. While titer test for rabies virus is available in multiple cities, it is not available for the rest of the three core viruses.
Mansi SK Saha, a canine nutritionist in Bengaluru and Burfi’s human companion reaffirms the same. “I could locate only one center and that too in New Delhi. The total cost for all four titer tests was said to be around Rs.25,000, barring courier charges, which was way too much. Thus, we decided to send the samples as a group to Florida for testing, so that the courier charges will get shared. Moreover, their testing charges are way less,” explained Mansi, who is not planning on getting Burfi revaccinated.
Although the frequency of titer test to ensure antibody level in the blood is a debatable issue, pet parents who are against annual vaccination and consider this to be a case of over vaccination feel that the annual vaccination routine is a money-making gimmick by both pharmaceutical companies and veterinarians alike.
“According to my research work, there are four viruses that can kill my dog. Apart from these, I would not want to pump in vaccines for any other virus. One of the core viruses is adenovirus, but sadly, the vaccine for this is available only in combination with other eight viruses, which are not necessary. For example, there are 230 strains of leptospirosis virus, whereas, vaccines are available for just five strains. It’s highly likely your dog is being vaccinated for Para influenza too, which is nothing else but the common cold. Why would I unnecessarily strain my pet’s immune system by vaccinating him for common cold?” asks Mansi.
According to the study by Dr Schultz, for the vaccines to generate proper response in animals, a certain time regime should be followed. The first vaccination should be given between 12 and 16 weeks. Why so? Following is the explanation.
In case of animals, breastfeeding duration ranges between 20 days and two months. Once the babies start breastfeeding until they are weaned off, the mother’s antibody gives protection against any disease and takes at least six weeks to leave the babies’ system completely. Initially, when the dog vaccines were available, puppies got shots as early as at six weeks old. It was the mother’s antibodies that fought against the virus – the puppies’ immune system never got activated. It was only when the booster dose was injected around 12 weeks of age that a full immune response was noticed and this gave birth to the notion of compulsory annual vaccination.
According to Anand Vishwanathan, founder and pet relocation specialist at Anvis Pet Relocation, while vaccines in some countries come with multiple year validity, this is not the case in India. “Rabies vaccination in the US is valid for three years, but in India, it mostly comes with the label of one year. Even if you get the one with three years’ validity, the doctors here insist on getting it done yearly. When your vet says that the vaccination has to be done for the safety of your dog every year, it’s difficult to say no,” says Anand, who came up with a middle ground for his pets.
“While vets have been discouraging me to move away from annual vaccination, I do not vaccinate my older dogs. Once my dogs turn seven or eight years old, I stop vaccinating them because I am not taking them outside for a walk,” says Anand, adding that while pumping vaccines is not good for the body, the risk of catching deadly viruses are way too many to skip annual vaccinations in pets that step out of the house even for a walk.
As per the vets, it is the way the vaccines are manufactured and labelled that forces them to go on vaccinating pets annually. “We do the vaccinations every year because the vaccines are made in such a way that you have to administer it next year again to maintain that specific titer value. There are vaccines that claim to have validity of three years. But in case of annual vaccinations, it has been observed that the titer value comes down below the accepted level in one year,” said a veterinarian on condition of anonymity.
The system is not supportive
However, if you are planning to relocate to another country, giving your pet’s annual vaccination a miss might not be a good idea. “If you are planning to relocate with your pet, you have to have the annual vaccination card updated. A single drop might ruin your chances of relocating with your pet. Western countries have strict rues in place for pet relocation. Apart from the annual vaccination record, they also ask for rabies titer test result to double check. If there is a break in vaccination schedule, then there is a six-month waiting period,” says Anand.
“We have had cases when the dog has been vaccinated for three years without delay, but when the titer is run, the value turns out to be less than 0.5. Most vets attribute this to an immune system problem with the dog. There could be problems with the vaccine itself. In such cases, we vaccinate the pet again and wait for 30 days for the immune system to kick in and then titer is done again,” elaborates Anand.