Hi Dr. Barchas,
Does my four-year-old standard Poodle really need shots every year?
Michelle San Jose, CA
Your dog probably does not need vaccines every year. But I don’t know for sure. And neither does anybody else. Vaccines are easily the most contentious subject in veterinary medicine, and there is no simple answer to the question of how often pets need shots.
In fact, the more you learn about vaccines and pets, the more confusing the subject becomes. I have met only two types of people who truly believe that this imbroglio has simple answers: ignoramuses and scoundrels.
There are, however, some principles regarding animal vaccination that apply in general.
1) The most important principle is that no single vaccination protocol is appropriate for every pet. Always talk to your veterinarian before vaccinating your pet, and tailor a protocol that is appropriate for his age, lifestyle, and health status.
2) In general, younger pets need more vaccines than older pets.
3) Although older pets require less vaccination, they need more frequent veterinary wellness checkups. So, although you may decide that your pet doesn’t need shots this year, please don’t use that as an excuse to skip his annual (or semiannual) exam. All pets benefit from regular, high quality veterinary checkups.
4) Vaccines are especially controversial in cats. In extremely rare instances, certain feline vaccines have been correlated with development of a tumor at the injection site. It is always appropriate to discuss this matter with your vet before vaccinating your cat.
5) One of the cat vaccines that may cause tumors protects against feline leukemia virus. However, a recent study suggests that cats who do not receive the vaccine, and therefore contract the virus, may in turn be more likely to develop those same tumors. Therefore, although the leukemia vaccine may contribute to the development of tumors, it may also prevent them by preventing leukemia. Could it possibly be more confusing?
6) Tests (called titers) exist that may, some day, be able to tell whether your pet needs a vaccine at any given time. However, except for the previously mentioned ignoramuses and scoundrels, nobody actually knows how to interpret these tests yet. Therefore, they cannot safely be substituted for a well thought out, individually tailored vaccination protocol.
The debate surrounding pet vaccination may, or may not, be resolved in our lifetime. Until then, my recommendation is that you regularly discuss the matter with your vet in light of your pet’s individual circumstances.