All responsible dog owners know that their dogs should be vaccinated against transmissible diseases and receive regular annual boosters, and this is something that most of us just take for granted and don’t pay much mind to.
However, a small proportion of dogs cannot be vaccinated using standard methods for various different reasons-such as an underlying health condition that is contraindicated with vaccination, or because the dog has proven to be allergic to or sensitive to the standard vaccine protocols that we use in the UK.
This does not always mean that the dog in question simply cannot be vaccinated and will have to take their chances-whilst vets do not usually offer alternative vaccines to the standard combined shot as standard, they may suggest another approach if there is a problem. You can of course always ask your vet about alternatives too if you have any concerns.
In this article, we will look at some of the different types of vaccination approaches that are available for dogs, and discuss their various merits and why they might be viable alternatives for dogs with issues connected to regular vaccines. Read on to learn more.
Core or multivalent vaccinations for dogs are the type of shots that your dog will generally receive as standard if they don’t suffer from vaccination problems, and have not requested a different approach. This consists of a one-shot vaccination that offers protection against several different conditions, rather than having to have the vaccination for each individual disease administered separately.
In contrast to multivalent vaccinations, another option is monovalent vaccinations, which are administered as one vaccine per shot, meaning that the dog will need a different shot for each condition. This may be appropriate if your dog is sensitive to the core vaccination protocol, or if they are allergic or have reacted poorly to the combined vaccine themselves.
Recombinant vaccines are made of antigens that can be grown on infectious organisms such as viruses, which stimulate the body’s natural defences to reject the presence of the infectious agent itself and build up antibodies against it.
In order to create a recombinant vaccine, the viral strain in question must be broken down into its component parts at a genetic level, in order to produce a substance that will trigger the appropriate antibody response without causing an infection. This then means that the vaccine is made safe to administer to a dog without risk.
The majority of vaccinations available for dogs are classed as inert vaccines, and this refers to the mechanism of action in terms of how the vaccine protects the dog. Inert vaccines are sometimes referred to by other names interchangeably, including deactivated vaccines, dead vaccines, or killed vaccines.
In order to produce a vaccination of this type, the live part of the virus or bacteria that causes disease is killed, making it harmless, and then mixed into a liquid solution before injection.
The body’s immune system identifies the introduction of the inert vaccine as a potential threat to the immune system, and produces the natural antibodies required to protect against it. Ultimately, an inert vaccine tricks the dog’s body into responding to the vaccine as it would to a real threat, but without the risk!
One of the potential downsides of this method of vaccination is that it has a slightly higher chance than with other forms of vaccine of triggering an allergic response in the dog, and as the core vaccine protocol is an inert vaccine, this can be one of the issues with giving core vaccinations.
Live vaccines, or more correctly, modified live vaccines make use of viral or bacterial strains that are actually alive at the time of administration to the dog. However, these strains are genetically altered within laboratory conditions to ensure that they cannot actually cause infection or lead to the dog contracting the condition they are supposed to protect against.
Once administered, the body responds to the presence of the virus or bacteria as it does in the case of inert vaccines-viewing them as an attack on the body and so, generating antibodies, despite the fact that the virus or bacteria itself is harmless.
Modified live vaccines can help to provide much faster protection than other forms of vaccination-and will greatly shorten the waiting period between vaccination and full coverage being achieved. However, modified live vaccines are slightly more expensive to produce, and need to be stored carefully in order to preserve the live agent, as well as having a shorter shelf life.
Additionally, public perception of live vaccines are often skewed towards suspicion, due to a lack of understanding of how they work, and the safety of this method of vaccination.
Because natural and traditional medicine has undergone such a popular resurgence within the last couple of decades, some dog owners seek more natural methods of vaccinating their dogs by means of homeopathy and alternative therapies. Some (but not many) UK vets will offer or suggest this approach to their clients-usually holistic and natural practitioners. The principle of homeopathic vaccination is based on the administration of veterinary nosodes-processed particles of diseased tissue-to vaccinate the dog according to homeopathic principles.
Whilst homeopathy has a large following in the UK and a large number of strong advocates including some qualified veterinary surgeons who will use and advocate for their methods, in broader terms, homeopathic vaccination is not widely accepted nor backed up with empirical evidence for its effectiveness, and should not be considered at present as a viable alternative to vaccination.
Finally, the principles of herd immunity are often very important for people whose dogs cannot receive vaccination for any reason, although this course of action (or inaction, essentially) should only be considered in the absence of other options.
The principle of herd immunity is based on the concept that if the majority of a population (herd) are vaccinated against a condition, the condition will be much more limited in terms of its prevalence and spread, making it safer for those few unvaccinated animals within the population.
Herd immunity works well in actual herds-for instance, cattle herds for which a small proportion of the cows cannot be vaccinated, because the status of the rest of the herd and their condition are well known. However, in terms of the dog population, the vaccination status of any other given dog or the wider dog population in the local area are not things that the owner of the dog in question have any say over or can be expected to know, and so is less effective.
Like homeopathic vaccination, herd immunity should not be considered as a true alternative to administered vaccinations unless there is no other option and proven vaccines are unviable.