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Dog Vaccination Side Effects - Are We Vaccinating Dogs Too Much?

By Catherine O'Driscoll

Catherine O'Driscoll is founder of Canine Health Concern, and author of the book, 'What Vets Don't Tell You About Vaccines'.

Back in 1991, my four-year-old Golden Retriever Oliver died very suddenly. Like any grieving 'mum', I asked why. Two years later, Oliver's sister Prudence died of leukaemia, and again I asked why. My other dogs were also suffering: Chappie had thyroid disease; Sophie had crippling arthritis; Samson had autoimmune disease (he died when he was five); and Guinnevere had dog allergies. I thought I must be the worst dog owner in the world, and tried to discover what I was doing wrong.

I learnt that all of the above can arise from over-vaccination and inappropriate feeding. My research led to the publication of a book called, 'What Vets Don't Tell You About Vaccines', and this led to a TV documentary that caused huge uproar in the veterinary world. At the time of writing, the British government is poised to announce its decision following a working group investigation into canine and feline vaccination. My hope is that the veterinary vaccine industry does not exert its influence too heavily upon the government. My chief concern is that the government's 'independent' working group advisors are, in fact, paid consultants to the UK's top veterinary vaccine manufacturer.

For the truth is, we ARE vaccinating too much.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners, The Academy of Veterinary Internal Medicine, The American Animal Hospital Association, The American Veterinary Medical Association , Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents, and 22 Veterinary Schools in North America have changed their recommended protocols for vaccinating cats and dogs. The AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents (COBTA) presented their consensus at the July, 2000 137th Annual AVMA Convention. They focused on the following points:

  • When an annual booster vaccination with a modified live virus vaccine (i.e. Distemper , Parvovirus or Fe Distemper) is given to a previously vaccinated adult animal - no added protection is provided. Modified live virus vaccines depend on the replication of the virus for a response. Antibodies from previous vaccines do not allow the new virus to replicate. Antibody titres are not boosted significantly, memory cell populations are not expanded. No additional protection is provided.
  • Vaccine Manufacturers' label claims should be backed by scientific data. There is no scientific data to support label directions for re-administration of MLV vaccines annually.
  • Vaccines are not harmless. Unnecessary side effects and adverse events can be minimised by avoiding unnecessary vaccinations.
  • Average pets are similar enough in their exposure to infectious disease and in their response to vaccines that we can have a standard recommended vaccination protocol.
  • Veterinarians need a standard procedure to report adverse events from vaccinations.

To emphasise what is being said here by some very heavyweight veterinary authorities in America: annual vaccination is unnecessary. This is because vaccines stimulate antibodies against infectious diseases, and these antibodies remain in the system for many years, and probably for life. All annual boosters do is introduce viral challenges that are nullified by existing antibodies - no added protection is provided. On top of this, "vaccines are not harmless".

Having observed that humans got lifetime immunity from most of their childhood vaccines, Professor Ronald D Schultz, head of pathobiology at Wisconsin University, applied the same logic to dogs. He vaccinated them for rabies, parvo, kennel cough and distemper and then exposed them to the disease-causing organisms after three, five and seven years. The animals remained healthy, validating his hunch. He continued his experiment by measuring antibody levels in the dogs' blood nine and 15 years after vaccination. He found the levels sufficient to prevent disease.

Fredric Scott, professor emeritus at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, obtained similar results comparing 15 vaccinated cats with 17 nonvaccinated cats. He found the cats' immunity lasted 7.5 years after vaccination. In 1998, the American Association of Feline Practitioners published guidelines based on Scott's work, recommending vaccines every three years.

"The feeling of the AAFP is, cats that receive the vaccines every three years are as protected from those infections as they would be if they were vaccinated every year," said James Richards, director of the Feline Health Center at Cornell. "I'm one of many people who believe the evidence is really compelling."

However, I would humbly suggest that vaccinating your dogs or cats every three years is probably still over-vaccination. The same logic applies as with yearly boosters: circulating antibodies are merely going to cancel out the vaccine challenge. Rather, the three-year guideline is probably a political concession, mooted by academics to pacify vets who stand to lose a lot if they lose booster income. In Canada, vets are now even being invited to attend seminars to help them increase business in other areas to compensate for reduced vaccine income - so the times are definitely a changing.

But apart from spending money unnecessarily, what else does over-vaccination do for you and your dogs?

The Merck Manual offers some words of caution. It is produced by a giant vaccine manufacturer called Merck, and it's the doctor's bible. Under childhood immunisation, Merck states that patients with B and/or T cell immunodeficiencies, or from families with B and/or T cell immunodeficiencies, should not receive live virus vaccines due to the risk of fatality (ie death). Merck describes features of B and T cell immunodeficiencies as inhalant allergies, food allergies, eczema, dermatitis, neurological deterioration and heart disease. Does this describe any of your dogs?

Children under the care of good doctors and nurses ask parents whether any of the above conditions exist in a family and, if they do, they refrain from administering live virus vaccines (which is what we give to our dogs). So you can't get away from one fact: you could kill your dog (who also has B and T cells) if your dog or his line suffers from any of the above conditions, and you inject live virus vaccines into him. Logically, it makes sense to repeat the vaccine risk as infrequently as you possibly can.

But vaccines are not simply implicated in fatalities. I have found many studies that link vaccines in with a wide range of diseases.

Conjunctivitis: a study was conducted by Frick and Brooks in 1983, involving two groups of dogs with a predisposition to suffer atopic dermatitis. One group of dogs was exposed to an allergen (pollen) and then vaccinated. They did not develop atopic dermatitis. The second group was vaccinated before being exposed to pollen. This group did develop atopic dermatitis, as well as conjunctivitis. The study therefore shows that vaccines sensitise, triggering an allergic state, of which conjunctivitis, as well as atopic dermatitis, are symptoms.

This explains why Canine Health Concern's (CHC's) vaccine survey, involving over 4,000 dogs, should find that 56.9% of all dogs in the survey with conjunctivitis first developed it within three months of a vaccine shot, and 61.2% of dogs with skin problems first manifested symptoms within this crucial timeframe. Our premise is that if the vaccine has no bearing on subsequent illness, then only 25% of all illnesses should begin within each three-month period of the year. Please bear in mind that, across the board, most conditions began within a week of the shot.

Gastro-intestinal problems: I am sure you are aware of the controversy surrounding the MMR vaccine and the assertion of scientists in the UK and the USA that the vaccine causes irritable bowel syndrome/Crohn's disease. My own research indicates that inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract is a byproduct of the vaccine process, rather than being associated with a specific vaccine, although the practice of injecting a number of different viruses at one time may have a bearing. CHC's vaccine survey found that 2.7% of all dogs surveyed had colitis, with 56.9% of cases occurring within three months post-vaccination.

The Concise Oxford Veterinary Dictionary states that Type I hypersensitivity reactions are brought about by an antigen reacting with tissue masT cells bearing specific antibodies on their membranes. This releases substances which cause inflammation. The signs of Type I hypersensitivity vary with the species affected, but can include bronchial constriction, diarrhoea, vomiting, salivation, abdominal pain, and cyanosis. (The word 'inflammation' is key in the vaccine debate.)

In a paper prepared by R Brooks of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Limited for the Australian Veterinary Journal (October 1991), entitled 'Adverse reactions to canine and feline vaccines', systemic reactions to vaccines are described.

Under Type I hypersensitivity, the paper shows that clinical signs in dogs include an initial restlessness, vomiting, diarrhoea and dyspnoea. Brooks tells us that some cases can progress to collapse and death.

As a top level guide, inflammatory (allergic) type reactions post-vaccination can be explained by research conducted by Dr Larry Glickman, and Dr Harm HogenEsch at Purdue University, although there is a good deal of other research to choose from. Their paper was presented at the International Veterinary Vaccines and Diagnostics Conference, 1997.

The team studied the effects of routinely used vaccination protocol on the immune and endocrine system of Beagles. One control group was not vaccinated and the other group was vaccinated with a commercial multivalent vaccine at 8, 10, 12, 16 and 20 weeks of age, and with a rabies vaccine at 16 weeks of age.

The vaccinated group developed significant levels of autoantibodies of fibronectin, laminim, DNA, albumin, Cytochrome C, transferring, cardiolipin, and collagen. This indicates that, when vaccinated, dogs begin to attack their own biochemistry: they become allergic to themselves. Dr William R La Rosa of the sponsoring Hayward Foundation remarked, "... speculation must be that something in the vaccine is one of the etiologies (in the genetically susceptible dog) of such diseases as cardiomyopathy, lupus, erythematosus, glomerulonephritis, etc."

One finding in the CHC survey, for example, was that 53.7% of dogs with kidney damage first developed the condition within three months of a shot. This is hardly surprising when one looks at the Purdue study, since one of the biochemicals being attacked post vaccination is laminin - and laminin coats kidney cells.

Similarly, autoantibodies to collagen might explain the locomotor conditions recorded against cats and dogs in a veterinary practice record survey conducted by the vet Ilse Pedler. Vaccine components have also been found in the bones of arthritic patients, and other studies show that vaccines cause arthritis.

We need also to be alarmed that the Purdue study showed that vaccinated dogs develop autoantibodies to their own DNA, indicating that vaccines cause genetic damage, and we must question the point of scientific research that looks for genetic defects in our dogs when we are constantly introducing new defects with vaccines.

A high number of behavioural problems were found to arise post-vaccination by Ilse Pedler, as well as in the CHC survey. In the CHC survey, 73.1% of dogs with short attention spans first developed this condition in the crucial post-shot period; 72.5% developed nervous/worrying dispositions; and 64.9% began to display behavioural problems.

Encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, is a known and accepted possible sequel to vaccination. The Merck Manual states, for example, "In acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (post infectious encephalitis), demyelination can occur spontaneously, but usually follows a viral infection or inoculation (or very rarely, a bacterial vaccine), suggesting an immunologic cause." This points to a connection between encephalitis and behavioural problems in both humans and animals.

It is interesting that Ilse Pedler noted spinal pain in her survey of practice records, since Merck states that many encephalitides extend to involve the spinal cord.

Ilse Pedler also noticed the onset of epilepsy in animals post-vaccination. Indeed, this merely corroborates our own research, which recorded 73.1% of dogs with epilepsy developing it within three months of a vaccine event. Merck lists epilepsy as a symptom of encephalitis. I wonder how many vets think to report post-vaccinal epilepsy to the VMD's adverse events surveillance scheme? In the human field, compensation has been paid to parents whose children were found to be vaccine-induced epileptics, sadly confirmed on autoposy.

Despite this, Intervet has been quoted at public meetings, and in the press, claiming that epilepsy is not vaccine-induced. Conversely, Merck lists epilepsy as a symptom of encephalitis, and vaccines as a cause of encephalitis.
Ilse Pedler also found a number of injection site reactions in dogs, and even more in cats, and this is corroborated by the high number of injection site cancers documented in cats by American veterinarians - in their tens of thousands every year. In a previous CHC newsletter we published a transcript of a presentation made by an American vet at a BSAVA conference, in which he declared that US vets are vaccinating cats in the tail or leg so that they can lop it off when cancer appears.

81.1% of dogs reported to have a tumour or growth at vaccine site in the CHC survey first developed the tumour within the three-month post-vaccine period.

Collapse was also reported by Ilse Pedler, and anaphylactic shock is an accepted possible sequel to vaccination. Anaphylactic shock can lead to death unless adrenaline is administered immediately.

These are but some of the studies linking vaccines to life-changing or life-threatening illnesses. Dr Jean Dodds, an American vet and researcher, has also written a number of scientific papers to illustrate the correlation between MLV vaccines and a rise in immune- and blood-mediated diseases such as cancer, leukaemia, autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, thyroid disease, and Addisons.

There appear to be two factors preventing drastic changes in vaccine policies for companion animals. The first is that vets have been taught that annual vaccination is necessary, and tie-ins between academic teaching establishments and the veterinary pharmaceutical industry, as well as lost practice income, slow the pace of change. The second factor is fear: we dog lovers are used to relying upon the advice of our vets - who surely are more knowledgeable than us - and we are frightened of exposing our animals to infectious disease.

My own conversion came about in an extremely dramatic way. Having grieved the deaths of Oliver, Prudence and Samson, I sought to protect my dogs without exposing them to vaccine dangers. The result is that I have two six-year-old unvaccinated Golden Retrievers who, unlike Ollie, Pru and Sam, never need to see the vet. Their immune systems are supported by nosodes - the homoeopathic vaccine alternative - and, biologically appropriate, raw dog food. I have no cause to regret laying the vaccine needle aside, and delight at their continuing good health. Thousands of people around the world who have read my book proudly proclaim the same story. The book is currently out of print - so this is not a sales pitch! I would, however, like to save you and your dogs the pain I and my dogs have been through.

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