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The Pros and Cons of Pet Vaccinations


The Pros and Cons of Pat Vaccinations

by Jona Sun Jordan D.V.M. 

Vaccinating to prevent disease is subject to a great deal of debate. Heated discussions arise over what, when, who, and even whether to vaccinate at all. Each side has arguments, statistics, and horror stories to prove why their way is right. I am here to tell you that the bottom line is that there is no such thing as a risk free life. We all must make decisions about who, what, when, where, how, and why to vaccinate ourselves, our children and our pets, and no matter what decision we make, there are risks. 

We have been using “standard protocols” like “Every dog gets a vaccination of X every year.” But the real world is more complex than that. A more intelligent plan would be a protocol based on an individual’s needs and tolerances. Here are factors that I use to evaluate my patients need for vaccines:

General Health Status

Most vaccines say they should not be used in sick or debilitated animals. I include any condition where the immune system is busy doing other things: recurrent infections, diabetes, autoimmune disease, IBD, cancer, asthma, or allergies, and any inflammatory “-itis” disease like arthritis, thyroiditis, hepatitis, endocarditis, cystitis or gastritis. 


Nursing animals are protected by antibodies in mother’s milk. Without mothers milk they are at higher risk for getting sick until they develop their own immunity. Their resistance depends on nutrition and the number and potency of viruses to which they are exposed.

The immune system has other things to do besides kill viruses. It must also deal with toxins, bacteria, and cancer cells. Over time the system weakens from the normal wear and tear of living. An older animal with a good immune system that has been vaccinated regularly should be immune, and if they have a non-responsive immune system more vaccines are not likely to help anyway. 

Previous vaccination history

More is not necessarily better! Some breeders vaccinate their animals weekly or every two weeks – this is severe over-vaccination, and can cause problems including blood thickening from immune protein complexes that clog filter organs like the kidneys.

Veterinarians used to only care about the date of the last vaccines, but now we also care about the total number of vaccines your pet has had, so keep all your records.

Reproductive status

Live vaccines are more dangerous in pregnant or breeding animals. Pregnant females should not be exposed to other animals that have been recently vaccinated with live virus vaccines as they may be shedding live virus. (Killed virus vaccines cannot be passed accidentally from one animal to another). 


Animals going to parks, grooming parlors, shows, boarding facilities, day care facilities, shelters, or being touched by the public are at higher risk of exposure to disease than pets that stay home with few contacts to the outside world. 

Animals kept in clean environments are exposed to fewer diseases than those kept in dirty environments because more “nasties” grow in grunge and because filthy environments can damage the patient’s immunity. For example, higher ammonia levels in dirty or poorly ventilated areas damage the lungs increasing susceptibility to pneumonia.


Is there a history in the family or the breed of being extra susceptible to a particular disease or of having vaccine reactions? If so, that pet should be protected against reactions before, during, and after vaccinating by the use of antihistamines or homeopathic remedies.

Legal Requirements

Some states require vaccinations in order to license a pet, and some allow a veterinarian to certify that specific animals should be exempt for medical reasons. You can verify this with your local licensing agency.

Sometimes the most life threatening risk is less from the disease than from authorities concerned with human health. An indoor only cat that bites someone may be at higher risk of death from rabies testing than from rabies. Better to vaccinate than put your pet at risk unnecessarily.

Remember, the vaccine itself does not protect your pet. Vaccines “exercise” the immune system and like any other form of exercise, up to a certain point you strengthen the system but beyond that point you wear the system out. The idea is to take a nasty street virus and weaken it so it is strong enough to stimulate a response, but too weak to create illness. This is a delicate balance since there are always patients with stronger or weaker immune systems. My best advice is: Really talk to your vet and weigh the risks before you decide.