Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Does Fido Really Need that Vaccine?


Pet Column for the week of April 21, 2008


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Getting a shot at the doctor's office isn't much fun, and it isn't easy to watch your furry family member get one either--especially when it might be in its derrière. But in a world where even parents of young children are refusing to vaccinate their kids because they feel the risks outweigh the benefits, now some pet owners are posing similar questions to their veterinarian.

Dr. Arnon Gal is a small animal medicine resident at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. He says that, "vaccines are broken down into three categories: core, noncore, and then those that are not recommended due to lack of efficacy or fear of harming the animal."

And just who decides what vaccines are core and noncore? That responsibility rests in the hands of the Canine Vaccine Task Force. They meet each year to review research and data from all over the country to develop the best vaccination protocol.

A core vaccine means that it has been decided that this shot is very important to the health of your dog, and that if the animal is not vaccinated, there is a good chance it will become seriously ill. Dr. Gal mentions that the core vaccines are, "Parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, and, of course, rabies which is required by law." The first three items on the list are usually combined into one vaccine so the animal does not have to receive four different shots at one time--ouch!

In many cases, these vaccines will last three years. However, your veterinarian may recommend a different schedule for one reason or another.

The second category of vaccines, called noncore "usually depend upon where the dog lives and whether or not it is in an endemic area," says Dr. Gal. He gives the example of an animal living in an area known to harbor leptospirosis, like Urbana, Ill. This bacteria is spread in urine and can be zoonotic; this means the other animal in your house, the one-year-old human kind crawling on the floor, can contract the disease as well.

The vaccine to this bacteria is given to most dogs in Urbana because veterinarians know that this area is endemic, or as Dr. Gal likes to say, "if your dog lives in 'lepto-land' you vaccinate for it, and if it doesn't you don't." Many of the noncore vaccines do not last as long as the core vaccines, so they may need to be boostered every six months to a year.

In short, there is no cookie-cutter recommendation for dog vaccines. Other than making sure your animal has received the core ones, it is up to your veterinarian to determine what additional shots should be given.

"Every vaccine has potential side effects," mentions Dr. Gal, but reports show the risk is quite small. According to newly-released data from Banfield, a chain of veterinary hospitals across the United States, after reviewing over one million dogs who had been given a vaccine, only a little over one-third of one percent had an adverse reaction.

Although it may be a hindrance to take time out of your busy day to drive the dog to the vet and keep them up to date on their vaccines, it would be much worse if you found out they had contracted a serious illness and may die, when it could have been avoided with one simple vaccine.

For more information about vaccinating your dog, contact your local veterinarian.