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why are dog vaccinations given every year?

Dog Vaccinations – Why Every Year, Side Effects and Best Advice

So Humans Need to be Vaccinated for Viruses as Babies and That Lasts for Life but Dog Vaccinations Need to be Given Every Year?!

A debate has been raging behind the scenes on the ideal way to administer dog vaccinations. Well, not so much vaccinations, they’re great and vital. They’ve eradicated a number of terrible illnesses in humans and pets. What is in question is the annual boosting of your dog after they had their puppy vaccinations.

When we consider the sheer number of viruses that can bring down a human, the only booster a Westerner following their initial vaccinations as a child (such as the MMR vaccine – Measles, Mumps and Rubella) is maybe a flu jab when they’re 70, and even that is debated.

Dogs, on the other hand, are boosted annually for a whole range of viruses following their initial vaccinations. Moreover, they’re often given all at the same time (such as the 7 in 1 jab). This stands out as being very very different to what goes on in human medicine. It implies that not only are dogs apparently subject to a far greater array of viruses than humans but that for some reason their initial vaccinations and boosters thereafter seem to wear off after a year. This would be something that would raise the eyebrows of Louis Pasteur, the part creator of modern vaccination.

Eventually, in 1995, the question arose in the veterinary literature (Dodds 1995Scott 1995), are we over-vaccinating our pets? In short, the hefty majority of the literature and all the top veterinary immunologists not working for a drug company agrees. Since then a number of studies have highlighted not only the uselessness of over-vaccination but the outright dangers in many cases of boosting your dog annually. Here’s the argument…

if louis pasteur could see the state of dog vaccinations today he'd die, again
Louis Pasteur, father of vaccination, currently rolling in his grave at the goings on in the vet industry

What is a Vaccination?

A vaccination contains a small, modified dose of an infectious disease. It is administered to the body in order to elicit a mild immune response. The disease is then imprinted on “memory” cells and the immune system is now “primed” or “immunized” for further encounters. It can now remember the virus so should it encounter it again it will be immediately ready.

The active agent of a vaccine may be intact but inactivated forms of the pathogens or they can be purified components of the pathogen, such as the proteins from the outer coat of the virus, that have been found to rouse the immune system. Once the system detects these in the bloodstream the immune reaction will occur.

why are dog vaccinations given every year?

Where Did Annually Boosting Dogs Come From?

A core vaccine is essentially a vaccine that is REALLY required, ones that everyone is in agreement the dog needs. Required core vaccines for Irish and UK dogs are Canine Parvovirus (CPV), Distemper (CPD) and Canine Adenovirus (CAV, causes hepatitis). These are usually given together or separately at roughly 11, 14 and 16wks, after which point full immunity to the disease is expected. Many vets vaccinate younger than 11 weeks although the literature is not so keen on this. Dogs are then boosted for these initial vaccines at a year, in line with best practice. This was standard practice (and is becoming so again, more on that in the next article).

At this point boosting annually thereafter is in hot debate. When I began in guide dogs ten years ago dog vaccinations every year was the new norm but it wasn’t always that way. Only in the last decade or two have dog vaccine manufacturers started testing their boosters after only one year. When they found that the boosters did indeed last a year they stopped testing and cited in their booster literature “this product is good for 12 months”. Now this leaves veterinary practitioners in a very tough situation. If they go against the packets recommendations and a dog gets a disease their insurance is liable. Moreover, pressure from company reps and sadly some vet groups meant practising vets largely fell in line with the new recommendations and began recommending boosting your dog every year.

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Incidentally, and entirely unexpectedly for the manufacturers of these drugs, vaccine sales positively boomed. More and more diseases were advertised as “potentially dangerous” and soon we went from three core vaccines to a 7 in 1 jab. Every year. For life.

However, this is not in keeping with recommendations from independent authorities.

Would you question your doctor if they told you to get a measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, and hepatitis shot every year of your life until you died, instead of only a few doses as a child?”

Dr. Christina Chambreau DVM

 The Top Veterinary Immunologists Advise Core Vaccines in Dogs (Parvo, Distemper, Adenovirus) Should be Given No More Than Every Three to Five Years …

After the paper by Dr. Scott, Professor of Virology and Director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, entitled “Are We Vaccinating Too Much?” (Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 1995), which concluded…

..we have to change our focus from yearly vaccination to that of a yearly physical

…the first symposium of Veterinary Vaccines and Diagnostics kicked off in 1997. A meeting of over 500 experts in the field, it was agreed that boosters should be given no more than once every three years. Not everyone agreed at the start. Mc Caw et al. (1998) examined antibody titres in 122 healthy dogs brought to a veterinary hospital for revaccination. All dogs had been vaccinated between 1 and 5 years previously. It was found that 27% of dogs had a less-than-protective parvovirus titre. Similarly 21% had a less-than-protective distemper titre. These results suggest that, for whatever reason, vaccination in dogs may not be life-long, but as in humans, can be long lasting. While some debated that you do not need a lot of protection to be protected (the presence of only a handful of antibodies is enough to kick the process off) and with no further investigation of timelines Mc Caw et al. concluded from their that annual boosting was perhaps best practice.

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Carmichael on the other hand (1999) found that dog vaccination periods of three- to five-year intervals were reasonable. Recently experts conclude immunity to be “probably lifelong” (Bonagura and Twedt 2008). Most convincingly was Mouzin et al. (2004), who studied 322 healthy client-owned dogs and their immunity following a full vaccination program for distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus and canine parainfluenza virus. The study concludes:

…in most dogs, vaccination induced a response that lasted up to and beyond 4 years for all 5 antigens. Results suggest that revaccination with the same vaccine provides adequate protection even when given less frequently than the traditional 1-year interval”.

This is really convincing as Mouzin et al. produced this study on behalf of the drug company Pfizer Inc.!

Schultz (2006) agrees. A veteran, world-renowned veterinary immunologist and outspoken critic of annual boosting, Schultz states core canine vaccines (parvo, distemper, adenovirus) provide immunity for in the very least three years (except in the case of vaccines for bacteria such as for Leptospirosis (more on this later). Dr. Schultz affirms that protection following the first annual boost for these particular diseases is not only long term but that

revaccination fails to stimulate a secondary response as a result of interference by existing antibodies

(Schultz 2006)

In plain English, existing antibodies neutralised the booster shot, making them a pointless assault on the immune system.

A practice that was started many years ago that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccinations. Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal. Only the immune response to bacteria requires boosters (e.g. Leptospirosis in dogs)“.

Dr. Schultz, Veterinary Immunologist and Chairman of the Dept. of Patho-Biological Sciences, University of Wisconsin.

But My Vet Says Dog Vaccinations are Perfectly Safe…

With all due respect to your vet, unless they have conducted a large scale, independent study into the side effects of vaccinations (extremely difficult, laborious and expensive, and thus rarely done by even the largest anti-booster groups) then assurances that boosters are perfectly safe can only be regurgitated information arising from the drug manufacturers themselves, as no independent immunologist would agree.

Take me to Vaccinations in Dogs Part 2: Side Effects


Bonagura, J. D. and Twedt, D. C. (2008). Kirk’s current veterinary therapy XIV. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Carmichael, L. E. (1999). Canine viral vaccines at a turning point―A personal perspective. Advances in Veterinary Medicine, 41: 289–307

Carmichael, L. E. (1999). Canine viral vaccines at a turning point―A personal perspective. Advances in Veterinary Medicine, 41: 289–307.

Dodds, W.J.(1995). Estimating disease prevalence with health surveys and genetic screening. Adv Vet Sci Comp Med., 39: 2996.

McCaw DL, Thompson M, Tate D, Bonderer A, Chen YJ. (1998). Serum distemper virus and parvovirus antibody titers among dogs brought to a veterinary hospital for revaccination. J Am Vet Med Assoc, 213(1):72-5.

Mouzin, D.E., Lorenzen, M.J., Haworth, J.D. and King, V.L. (2004). Duration of serologic response to five viral antigens in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 224(1): 55-60

Schultz, R. D. (2006). Duration of immunity for canine and feline vaccines: A review. Veterinary Microbiology, 117(1): 75–79.

Scott, F.W. (1995). Are We Vaccinating Too Much? Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 207:421 425