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Decoding the Dog Anti-Vaccination Movement

By Colleen Williams
April 18, 2019 • 3 min. read
dog vet
Image via Canstock / UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

As we’ve often noticed, trends in human medicine usually trickle down to our pets – and while we like to see the advancements in cancer treatment and orthopedic surgeries, it seems as though anti-vaccination sentiments are now spilling over into pet parenting. “Often issues in veterinary medicine spill over from human medicine, and over the last 10 or 15 years there has been an increase in mostly unfounded concerns about vaccine safety for people — and that, I think, has raised people’s awareness and level of concern about vaccinations for their pets,” says Brennen McKenzie, former president of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association.

So what’s all the fuss about? According to, repeated vaccinations, too many vaccinations at one time, and vaccinations for rare diseases can be harmful to pets. Other pet anti-vaxxers are concerned that vaccines trigger immune disorders and life-threatening side effects (this cluster of supposedly vaccine-related symptoms and side effects is collectively called “vaccinosis”). Titer testing is another common anti-vaccination method where a blood test, “titering,” looks for antibodies in the blood. However, titer testing can’t predict a pet’s protection from certain diseases – it can only reveal which antibodies are present. Cell-mediated immunity, not antibodies, determines your pet’s ability to fight infection.

There have even been recommendations to take your pet to a crowded park to gain immunity against common diseases and followup with titering tests to see if your animal has “gained immunity.” The problem with this is pets don’t have immune protection until they’re exposed to a disease. When pets do come into contact with, say, canine distemper, they don’t get “just enough” to grant them immunity – they get infected and very sick, sometimes fatally. Plus, many diseases are highly contagious. For example, in a 2014 outbreak of distemper in Amarillo, Texas, over 200 dogs were infected. That’s a big risk to gain “natural immunity” whereas vaccinating your pet means they are protected without enduring the disease.

Veterinarians are overwhelmingly recommending pet parents get animals vaccinated according to the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Canine Vaccination Guidelines. So while some vets say that “combo shots” and unnecessarily repeated vaccinations can be hard to process for very young, very old, and immunocompromised pets, it’s worth it to protect your pet’s health. Plus, fatal reactions from pet vaccinations are rare; more common side effects include lethargy, diarrhea and reduced appetite.

dog vet

What Vaccines Does My Pet Need?

Pets’ vaccines are divided into core and non-core. Essential, medically-necessary vaccinations are considered core, while non-core vaccines are optional but may be beneficial for many pet parents.

Dog Core Vaccinations

  • Parvovirus
  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Adenovirus-2
Cat Core Vaccinations
  • Panleukopenia
  • Herpes virus
  • Rabies
  • Calicivirus

Ask your veterinarian which vaccinations are legally and medically necessary for your pet. Non-core vaccines are useful for pets at risk of contracting certain diseases, like kennel cough and leptospirosis. Risk factors include high contact with other animals, especially at kennels and boarding facilities, dog parks, farms, or in multi-pet households. If you live in an area where ticks are present, the Lyme disease vaccine offers protection from the blood-sucking buggers. Additionally, immunotherapy options are administered via vaccine, like in the case of treating melanoma.

Outdoor cats or multi-cat households may want to consider vaccinating for feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), chlamydophila, and kennel cough. FIV in particular can be devastating to cats and is easily preventable via vaccination.

If you have concerns about your pet’s vaccination schedule, talk to your vet! Most vets will create a modified schedule for adult pets; vaccination guidelines are especially strict regarding young animals whose immune systems aren’t fully developed yet. Our pets rely on us to take care and protect them, and vaccinations are one way we can fulfill this promise.

Note: While Healthy Paws does not cover annual wellness visits that include vaccines, we will cover treatment that is a result of a new accident or illness for enrolled pets (after the applicable waiting period has passed, barring any pre-existing conditions). So, while some vaccines minimize the risk of disease, there are some rare times pets still contract an illness that must be treated. Additionally, in the case of the “melanoma vaccine,” it is filed as immunotherapy and cancer treatment, so it would be covered by our policy.

Healthy Paws recommends preventative care so you can avoid challenging diagnoses later on. Many pet parents rely on pet health insurance to pay up to 90% of their vet bills, so they can focus on what really matters: getting great health care for their pet. Find out more by getting a free instant quote.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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