In the last decade some people have questioned the need for giving vaccines, at least so frequently to dogs. In the past the routine suggestion has been to vaccinate once a year. These suggestion were based on the vaccination schedules tested by the drug companies. But the pharmaceutical companies were not required to ask the question, how long does each vaccination last? Now, the guidelines for vaccine frequency have been modified and tailored more to the individual pet’s need. For instance, the American Animal Hospital Association now recommends that dogs who have received their initial Parvovirus vaccinations need only be re-vaccinated once every 3 years on average.
But if we are cutting back on overall vaccine rate, why is it that we still recommend that all puppies receive a series of vaccines? It has to do with the maternal antibodies they received from their mother as well as the maturity of the puppy immune system.
Our current vaccines are excellent at stimulating immunity in older puppies in just one or two shots. However, puppies who nursed on their mother’s milk have maternal antibodies in their blood that block the immune system from responding to these vaccines. These circulating maternal antibodies protect them from bacterial and viral assault while the puppy’s immune system is maturing. But they also prevent the puppy’s immune system from becoming activated by vaccines.
As the puppy ages, the maternal antibody levels decline. By as early as 6 weeks, 25% of puppies have a strong immune response to vaccinations, and by 14 to 16 weeks of age the maternal antibodies have fallen enough to allow a full immune response in 90% of puppies. Veterinarians administer vaccines for the major viral diseases every 3–4 weeks starting around 6 to 8 weeks of age to increase the likelihood that as the maternal antibodies are falling, the lower levels don’t leave the puppy exposed to disease but instead, the immune system is activated.
Once puppies have received their series, they should receive a booster in one year followed by boosters not more often than 3 years thereafter. Alternatively, antibody titers can be performed regularly to determine whether a booster is needed.
For adult dogs who have not been vaccinated as puppies, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, the American Animal Hospital Association Vaccine guidelines recommend one vaccination followed by general recommendation is that they receive one vaccination followed by a booster 3–4 week later. However, they state that one vaccination alone is considered protective. In fact the World Small Animal Veterinary Association guidelines recommend just one vaccination in adult dogs.