Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thoughts on Vaccinating at Home

"I'm just here for a rabies shot. I give my dog the distemper vaccine at home myself." This sentiment has repeated so often lately it's become somewhat of a theme.

I grew up on a farm. We gave our farm dogs distemper vaccine at home. For this budding veterinarian, it was fun to play doctor. And it certainly was economical.  Now, as the Practical Pet Vet, I appreciate self-sufficiency and I understand the desire to save money. My goal as a preventative medicine practitioner is to help owners make the best decision for their animal's care from youth until old age. Today's blog is not meant to persuade you not to vaccinate at home. I hope to enlighten you, the reader, about aspects of vaccination you might not have considered.

Parvovirus is highly contagious and often deadly,
especially in young puppies.
I believe vaccination is an important part of preventative health care. Periodically there are outbreaks of canine distemper and parvovirus that trigger rumors of "new" deadly virus strains against which current vaccines are not protective. In actuality, across the U.S. there are pockets of unvaccinated and inadequately vaccinated dogs that are highly susceptible to these preventable diseases. A dog would be inadequately protected if it did not receive vaccine boosters according to schedule as a puppy and young adult. If you're going to vaccinate at home, PLEASE consult your veterinarian to make sure you've timed your puppy's distemper series properly.

An emerging sentiment among many clients is that pets are over-vaccinated. Based on recommendations from independent researchers on vaccine effectiveness, many veterinarians now vaccinate against rabies and distemper every three years. The canine 5- and 7-way vaccines I've seen for purchase at pet stores are labeled to be given every year. Most likely this over-the-counter vaccine is protective for longer than a year. However, because you can't be certain the vaccine was handled properly (meaning kept at the proper temperature during transport and on the loading dock) it may not be as effective as those carried by your veterinarian whose vaccine shipments are more precisely controlled. Boostering annually with the pet store distemper vaccine increases the odds your pet has received a potent dose at several points in time.

Facial swelling may be a
symptom of a vaccine reaction. 
Vaccines, like all medicines, provide many benefits to health but are not completely without risk. Most dogs and cats respond as expected to vaccination and enjoy the benefits of protection with just a moment of minor discomfort. A potential side effect of vaccination in some pets is vaccine reaction, the severity of which ranges from mild GI upset to moderate facial swelling to severe anaphylactic shock and death! I worry that owners who vaccinate at home do not anticipate a vaccine reaction in their pet. Imagine the horrific irony of vaccinating your dog at home on a Sunday night to save some money, then having to rush to an emergency clinic for treatment of a life threatening reaction. If you're going to vaccinate at home, try to do it when your veterinarian is available to help you in the event of complications.

In the end, if it comes down to choice between not vaccinating your dog at all or vaccinating at home I'm certainly in favor of home vaccination. As with any medical treatment there are risks and benefits to consider. I hope to have made some educated consumers today.

1 comment:

  1. We had our puppy, Bandit, vaccinated for Lyme disease, and he collapsed. Good thing we were still at the vet clinic, or he would have died of anaphalatic shock right then! No home vacs for me - unless for farm cats, who won't get in a crate or car, and still need meds.