Sox, a 15 year-old Terrier mix, walked into my office recently. I had never met this 17-pound love ball before but was happy to see him. At the same time, I was perplexed: Sox has no teeth, never leaves New York City, yet his owner had brought him in for a rabies vaccination. My first thought was that Sox needed a different approach, one with medicine and a personal plan, rather than a schedule of vaccinations.
A veterinarian saying don’t get a vaccination? What a shocker, right?
Not necessarily. Even the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), vets’ governing body, is moving toward ending knee-jerk vaccination recommendations and instead promoting vaccinations when medically appropriate.
It’s true that vaccinations save lives, especially by protecting the puppies I see in NYC who are subjected to Parvo almost daily. But Sox was another story. Above all, we needed to look at his overall health. What was Sox eating? Was he drinking more water lately? Did he have any risk of rabies since he never left the house? Could he have transmitted rabies since he has no teeth?
When you ask if your dog needs a vaccination, the answer from your vet may be, “I don’t know.” A vet who says, “I don’t know” is a good vet in my opinion. Because even in older animals vaccinations can save lives, but I do what is medically appropriate first: I run a titer. A titer asks the same question and tests the blood for the presence of antibodies to the disease.
If a high enough level of antibodies exist in the blood, your dog doesn’t need a vaccination. You have just saved your pet an injection and possible side effects by running a simple blood test. If not enough antibodies exist, your dog needs the vaccination. Much better and more scientific than a knee jerk reaction!
First, vaccinations aren’t benign. They attack the immune system in order to get a response, and they can cause certain types of reactions, including, in rare cases, cancer.
Second, vaccines don’t always work. The main reason a vaccination does not work is if it is given when the animal’s immune system is down, whether from being sick or being stressed. And your baby is most stressed at the vet’s office!
This is why it’s so important to take a whole health approach, asking whether the vaccine is truly necessary and harmless before administering it.
Here are some tips for managing your pet’s vaccinations:
Back to Sox: He was drinking more water and was slightly dehydrated. Turns out, he had the start of a chronic kidney issue related to the immune system. With that in mind, we ran a titer to see if vaccinations were needed. Once the titer comes back, I’ll know whether to vaccinate Sox. For now, I’m happy we could find an issue before it became a problem so that we can help Sox can live a happier and healthier life with better food and kidney supplements.
About the author: Timothy Mann, VMD, is the author of The Beautiful Aardvark: A Veterinarian’s Story In Business and owner of Whole Health Veterinary Hospital and Dental Clinic in New York City, which takes a compassionate, integrative health approach to promoting the well¬being of its staff, its clients, and their pets. Previously, Dr. Mann founded and ran the Brooklyn Cares Veterinary Clinic, a veterinary practice serving over 17,000 clients in Brooklyn, New York.