Does a dog need vaccines

Why Your Dog May Not Need Yearly Vaccines

Does a dog need vaccines

Vaccines is a super hot topic in the veterinary medicine world, and with good reason: Many experts believe overvaccination of our pets is harming and/or killing them. As a dog mom whose Cocker Spaniel acquired a mast cell (cancer) tumor at the site of then yearly injections, my life is forever changed. I no longer vaccinate because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” I follow a protocol, in accordance with the latest credible veterinary resources and in following the teachings of Dr. Jean Dodds. 

Am I anti-vaccine? No. Dogs need proper vaccination.

Am I anti over vaccination? Absolutely.

Here’s what you need to know about vaccinations before your dog’s next veterinary visit for shots:

Vaccines Are Not Completely Evil

jean doddsDr. Dodds is a pioneer in veterinary medicine. She says that thanks to vaccinations, historically more lives have been saved and more animals have been safeguarded than any other medical advances. Canine vaccinations have significantly reduced endemics of canine distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus but NOT in wildlife reservoirs.

Though vaccine companies make excellent products, they are not a one-size-fits-all for every dog.

Therein lies part of the problem. The same dose of vaccination that is given to a giant breed is the same one given to a toy breed: Side effects and reactions to vaccines tend to occur in smaller dogs and in dogs who are vaccinated with multiple vaccines together. Sadly, in a huge study that was released in 2005, evidence showed that smaller dogs were at risk and that too many vaccines cause major problems. Nothing has changed, and here we are in 2015!!!

Should Your Dog Have Vaccines?

Diligent dog parents should have a discussion with their dog’s vet about potential adverse reactions. You absolutely do NOT need to re-vaccinate (give “boosters”) automatically. Read our story on mast cell cancer for one of many reasons why.

Titers are a valuable resource. Titer testing measures the exposure to the agent in the dog’s body. It is performed by extracting blood and sending it to the lab. So basically, if your dog tests positive on a titer for parvovirus, you don’t need to vaccinate with a booster. If the titer comes back 1:8 or 1:64, it doesn’t matter. As Dr. Dodds says, “you can’t be a little pregnant!” Similarly, immunity is immunity, no matter what the ratio shows. Any ratio that shows immunity means the animal is protected.

Here is my dog’s recent titer for distemper and parvovirus:

parvo titer

Why Only Titer for Distemper and Parvovirus?

Titers are not as expensive as one would think, and there is now even an in-office titer test your vet can do for your dog. The titers you need only test for are distemper and parvovirus, even though others are available. Discuss the information with your vet but make sure you don’t feel pressured to do what the vet says must be: Seek another veterinarian if your vet is not willing to talk to you.

You can read Dr. Dodds’ vaccine protocol here. Discuss any changes or concerns with your dog’s veterinarian.

Doggie Dilemma

Recently, our friend had her dog, an 11-year-old mixed breed, titers tested. Her distemper showed low, and her vet recommended a booster shot: Which included more than a distemper booster. My friend questioned this and was told a single shot of distemper booster is not available. That is perplexing. So a dog gets titers tested,  but then when one comes back low and the other sufficient, why would a vet want to overvaccinate anyways? If something sounds amiss, question it.

I asked Dr. Laurie Coger, of The Wholistic Vet and the Healthy Dog Workshop, why there is such an issue with getting an individual booster shot of distemper.

vaccine book


“Most vets don’t want to buy a tray of 50 doses of something that few clients will want, nor do companies want to produce what is not going to sell,” she say. “And distemper really isn’t that much of a risk in many areas—it’s parvo that’s the big threat.”

Coger says that historically, distemper was a big disease, and tradition dictates we vaccinate for it. So we do. So much of vaccination protocol is based on “what we’ve always done” rather than true science and appreciation for how extremely effective today’s vaccines are.

Coger’s preference is for DP (distemper, parvo) or DAP (distemper, canine adenovirus, and canine parvovirus) She often starts with parvo only and will not give any of the bigger combinations: it’s just too much and unnecessary in most cases, she reports.

With today’s modified live (AKA infectious) vaccines, Coger reveals that dogs can get lifetime immunity with a single dose of vaccine.

Dexter teeth

What if the Titer Shows Immunity Without Having Had Vaccine?

Interestingly, a dog’s titer test can show that the dog is effectively protected against a disease, such as parvo, and perhaps the dog hasn’t had a parvo vaccine since puppyhood. The reason for this is that the dog has been exposed to parvo in the real world – and that exposure created a natural immunity. “It doesn’t matter how it got there, as long as it’s (the immunity) there,” Dr. Dodds shares.

Color Matters

I attended a webinar hosted by Dr. Dodds and learned that dogs with white or dilute coat colors have a higher propensity to reactions to things in general. Lighter colored dogs are more prone to chemical reactions beyond vaccine side effects – including flea medications and sulfonamides, etc. Use caution if your dog is white and/or is lightly pigmented, as my dog is.

All that might be needed is a titer. The bottom line is that Dr. Dodds recommends more titers for distemper and parvo for adult dogs.

Question: Do you follow a vaccine protocol for your dog? Are you getting yearly shots? Titers? 

Like this article? Read more here:

Medicine Versus Mom: Doggie Vaccines: Yes or No?

Dog Has Rabies Shot Reaction

Vet Comes Clean About Vaccines and Dog Food


  1. I am learning so much from your blog!
    Totally slipped my mind that dogs would even need yearly vaccinations. Passing this on to my girlfriend they just got the cutiest puppy!

  2. I have really been thinking about getting a puppy, but I think I have to hold off for a while because I did not know dogs may need yearly vaccinations. Your blog is truly informative and any current or potential dog owner can learn so much it.

  3. Our vet has always been very open to discussion on this issue. In his final 5 or so years, we stopped vaccinating our dog Pip (a Yorkie) all together. He had so many health issues that we just didn’t feel like his system could take much more.

    We also had a cat who had terrible vaccine reactions. He was exclusively an indoor cat. After the first few bad reactions, we just stopped vaccinating altogether.

  4. I always prefer to be informed rather than simply do what a doctor/veterinarian says. While I love my dog a whole lot, I definitely don’t think he needs every single vaccination out there. Thanks for the detailed information!

  5. Great information and a thoughtful, balanced approach to vaccinations. Thanks for informing dog parents who simply may not know what their options are!

  6. This is interesting I had no idea any of this. Great to know. My dogs got their full sets of shots but have only been getting Rabies yearly, that’s what they get and nothing else but according to our vet that’s all thats needed.

  7. Ever since we found our great vet a couple years ago, we cut way back on vaccines. The vets prior to that had us getting many things we didn’t need. Our current vet discusses all our vaccinations with us every year, so we can make our own decisions on it. We want to be protected, but not over vaccinated and we do feel many vets just vaccinate away because it is easy,they make money doing it, and owners rarely question them

  8. This is great information. I don’t have any pets, but I will share this with friends and family that do.

    1. I watched it live when she had it and had to pay for it but she is incredible and I know does them from time to time.

  9. Fascinating stuff!

    My Boston terrier is on the (very) small side, at just 8 pounds, so this is a huge issue for me. She had a mild case of illness after her last combo shot, and now I’m on the hunt for a veterinarian that will do titer testing. Since we know she’s sensitive, I don’t want to expose her to anything more than I absolutely must.

    I will say, though, that I worked with a Portland veterinarian who provided absolutely NO combo shots whatsoever. They are out there. (Speaking of which, maybe I’ll just go back to that veterinarian… Only an hour’s drive. Hmmm…. Your blog has made me think, as always!)

    Jean from Welcome to the Menagerie

  10. This is really interesting. Its one of those things that I feel stupid for never having questioned. How reliable is the titter testing (ie. its rest-retest reliability)? Do you know of any available data for that? Im so green in this area, I need to do more research and reading! Thanks as always Carol.

  11. I would definitely want to know all I could about shots if I had a dog. It’s important to be able to differentiate fact from fiction!

  12. This is really good information on a topic that I have to admit, I am pretty unknowledagble. I depend on our vet to give us good care, but it’s really important for me to have some understanding!

  13. Great post! It’s great to see more people becoming educated and more veterinarians willing to be on the side of the animals vs the vaccine manufacturers or the companies they promote within their practices.

  14. Thank you for an incredibly informative, although a little scary, post! I always appreciate that you do so much research and are able to summarize the issue so well. I don’t like the idea of over vaccinating, but so many Veterinarians follow the standard schedules and there doesn’t seem to be room for flexibility. I’m glad you pointed out the business end of vaccinations and that Vets don’t want to over-buy what they won’t sell. I’m posting later about a woman I met at PetSmart who seemed to be taking the whole “lets not over vaccinate” issue a bit too far. I think there is a balance, I’m just not certain how I will achieve it w/ my own dogs and the two (bi-coastal) Veterinarians we use.

  15. Carol, I love love that you did this post. It is SO important for people to know about titer testing. I was relieved to learn about it when I did. I so agree that a level head, doing research and talking to your vet re is your dog a good candidate based on age, health, lifestyle, location and immunity is key. Thanks, girl, for putting this out there. Sophie is a very sensitive, light-coated 10 lb girl. I’m very cautious about what I put into her system. Thank you!!

  16. thank you so much. My 13 year old poodle is due for a rabies booster and I don’t want to do it.
    When I had my 10 year old lab boosted she died months later from a sudden cancer that grew in a month. I know she was not the same dog after the booster, then we lost her.

    It compromises them.
    We learned to titer when we got Cole and he has not needed boosters since about age 3. They do not want to titer for rabies…. we’ve been dragging our feet but the vet says we are wrong to worry. A friend lost three dogs right after rabies boosters. Three.
    The practice is sorely behind on studies and seems to just go on precedent. Thanks for your post.
    LeeAnna at not afraid of color

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