Manufacturers of drugs for humans are obliged to test extensively for side-effects of drugs, and duly report every last side-effect they find. These same requirements do not apply to your precious pet.
Consequently, datasheets on veterinary vaccines, which disclose all the facts about their products-good and bad-offer virtually no information to either the vet or you, the owner, about what this drug will do to your dog over time. Indeed, tests to determine this have rarely been conducted.
Prompted by the concerns of pet owners and veterinarians, the UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) asked the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) Working Group on Feline and Canine Vaccination to study the safety and efficacy of feline and canine vaccines by collating all suspected adverse reactions (SARs), and incorpora-ting these data together with all relevant studies from the medical literature.
As the Working Group discovered, a good percentage of the side-effects from drugs are related to vaccination. Of all the suspected adverse effects of canine or feline medication reported dur-ing a three-year period in the UK, 31 per cent were associated with the use of vaccines (Vet Rec, 1998; 143: 455). Compared with other countries, that figure is conservative. In Sweden between 1991 and 1995, nearly half (47.5 per cent) of all adverse drug reports for dogs were related to vaccines.
In the UK, according to DEFRA's 2002 VPC report covering 1985 to 1999, vets reported 1190 SARs for cats and 1133 for dogs. However, it's estimated that only 10 per cent of all side-effects are ever reported, which means that the truer figure for dogs and cats suffering from serious side-effects during that 14-year period could lie anywhere from 23,000 to 233,000 SARs.
According to a Japanese survey, of the 284 cases of dogs reacting to single and multiple vaccines, skin symptoms were the most frequently observed (53 per cent), followed by gastrointestinal symp-toms (16 per cent) and respiratory and/or cardiovascular symptoms (14 per cent).
Of the 27 cases of adverse reactions to rabies virus vaccines, the most common were gastro-intestinal symptoms (26 per cent), followed by respiratory and/or cardiovascular symptoms (22 per cent) and dermatological (skin) symptoms (11 per cent).
Eleven (or 3.5 per cent) of the side-effects were so serious that they proved fatal-which means that, for every 100 dogs suffering a side-effect to vaccines, four will die because of them (Surg Gynecol Obstet, 1967; 124: 1-24).
The worst side-effects
A number of serious illnesses, which have lately been considered in the nature of particular breeds, or just part of the business of being a dog, are now being linked to vaccination.
Damage to the immune system, so that the dog's immune system begins attacking itself (autoimmune disease). The VPC report showed a relationship between vaccination and immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia (IMHA) or immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMTP). The former refers to lowering of the dog's red blood cell numbers, while the latter describes a reduction in blood platelets.
Autoimmune illnesses accounted for 1.6 per cent of all canine reports of vaccine side-effects. Early reports linked IMHA to the live parvovirus vaccines (Mod Vet Pract, 1983; 64: 375-9), but later studies have shown a link to the combination vaccines (J Vet Intern Med, 1996; 10: 290-5) and the distemper vaccine. The rabies vaccine has been linked to the autoimmune disease known as 'immune-mediated polyneuritis' (poly-radiculoneuritis), which is similar to Guillain-Barr'e syndrome, a paralytic disease in humans linked to the widespread administration of the swine flu and live polio vaccines.
Hypersensitivity or anaphylaxis, with symptoms including oedema, itching, shock, lowered blood pressure, weakness and diarrhoea. According to one study, one in every 3000 vaccinated animals will have a reaction (Paul MA, Wolf AM, 'Vaccinations: What's right? What's not?'. Proceedings of a symposium held at the 1999 North American Veterinary Conference, Schering-Plough Animal Health). Combination vaccines or those containing large amounts of foreign proteins, such as leptospiral vaccines, appear to be the most likely culprits.
Corneal oedema (the so-called 'blue eye'), which is a side-effect observed in dogs after receiving either the CAV-1 or CAV-2 strain of the canine adenovirus vaccine against canine hepatitis. Even Pfizer, the vaccine's maker, admits that vets need to approach this live vaccine "with caution".
Polyarthropathies (arthritic joint problems), the most common vac-cine side-effect, seen in 5 per cent of all reactions, with nearly 9 per cent causing lameness. Arthritis has been particularly linked to the combination vaccine (Am Coll Vet Intern Med, 2000; 14: 381 [abstract 216]) or followed the administration of live vaccines (Adv Vet Med, 1999; 41: 715-32).
Other joint problems linked to the distemper vaccine include a bone disease called 'hypertrophic osteodystrophy,' (probably due to an underlying bacterial or viral bone infection), causing severe lameness and extreme pain in young growing dogs, usually in the large breeds, and juvenile cellulitis (causing swelling, pustules, hair loss and lymph-node enlargement). The distemper vaccine may also be responsible for canine rheumatoid-like arthritis (Br J Rheumatol, 1994; 33: 27-31).
Hair loss, particularly following the rabies vaccine.
Encephalomyelitis (or dog ME), which has been linked to certain strains of the distemper jab (Greene GE and Appel MJ. 'Canine distemper', in Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat, 2nd edn. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1998: 9-22), the live rabies vaccine, and the interaction between the distemper vaccine and CAV-1 or -2. When given individually, these vaccines don't appear to cause a problem (Can J Vet Res, 1989; 53: 154-60).
Respiratory illness, usually following intranasal vaccines given for kennel cough and canine parainfluenza vaccines.
When the first licensed coronavirus vaccine came on the market in 1983, it was almost immediately withdrawn after nearly 1000 side-effects were reported (Comp Cont Ed, 1986; 8: 117-24; Compend Cont Educ Pract Vet, 1985; 7: 1012-7), including neurological problems, and accumulations of fluid in the lungs and abdominal cavity. Ultimately, the coronavirus was found to be present in the affected dogs.
Similar problems have arisen with the rabies vaccine (Arch Environ Health, 1969; 19: 862-7).
Factfile: Alternatives to vaccination
If you decide that you don't want to subject your puppy to vaccines of any variety, you can vaccinate your pet with homeopathic nosodes. These are homeopathic dilutions of the products of the illness in question, given orally. The idea is similar to vaccination in that nosodes help the body's immune system to recognize and dispel the foreign invader.
There are only a few published studies on the use of nosodes. Nevertheless, those that have been done confirm that nosodes are effective at preventing specific diseases. In one large-scale study, more than 18,000 children were successfully protected against meningitis by a homeopathic remedy (Meningococcinum IIHC) with no side-effects (Eizayaga FX. Treatise on Homoeopathic Medicine. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Marcel, 1991).
Nosodes also show 'promising' evidence of preventing allergies (Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2000; 2: CD001957; Forsch Komplement"armed Klass Naturheilkd, 1996; 3: 230-6). However, at least one study has shown that nosodes did not protect a litter from parvovirus (Proceedings of the Second Annual Midwest Holistic Veterinary Conference, 1996; 98-9), although many long-term homeopathic vets have reported anecdotal success.
UK homeopathic companies such as Ainsworth's in London (tel: 020 7935 5330) or Helios in Tunbridge Wells, Kent (tel: 01892 537 254) have formulated homeopathic nosodes for dogs and cats.
A combination of the following remedies can be used, given in tablet form, for dogs of all ages, regardless of vaccine history: Hard pad and distemper 30C; Parvovirus 30C; Leptospirosis 30C; Hepatitis 30C; Kennel cough 30C.
Use the following schedule:
- one tablet twice daily by mouth for the first three days, then
- one tablet once a week for six weeks, then
- one table once a fortnight continually.