Vaccinating dogs and cats is never routine. Animal vaccines are potent biological agents which can both protect against serious disease and cause it.
Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) and immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP) are diseases associated with over-vaccinating dogs and cats in which the body's own immune system attacks and destroys its red blood cells (IMHA) or platelets (ITP). A higher incidence of IMHA is seen in dogs within a month of vaccination.
The usual patient is a middle-aged dog. Poodles appear to be predisposed though Cocker Spaniels and Old English Sheepdogs also seem to have a higher than average incidence of this condition.
Even with extensive - and expensive - treatment using IV fluids, prednisone, antibiotics and sometimes blood transfusions, the prognosis is guarded. Moreover, the side effects of strong pharmaceuticals used in dogs and cats can wreak havoc on top of havoc. They are "good drugs with bad side effects."
This is how Candace Sullivan lost her 23 month old standard poodle, Neptune, soon after a "routine" rabies booster shot. It was the second in the mandatory series of two rabies shots, a year apart, for puppies in North Carolina and nationwide.
"The booster shot was given alone that day – with no other services or medications rendered. Within 7 days post vaccine – he began vomiting several times a day and developed severe diarrhea. I later learned these are classic symptoms of early onset IMTP," says Mrs. Sullivan.
After three months, the intense suppression of Neptune's immune system with steroids and antibiotics left him vulnerable to what Candace calls "a wildly out of control staph infection." The once beautiful champion show dog was emaciated, with visible muscle loss and other serious complications.
"Platelets were back to crisis level, his liver elevations were off-the-charts; we were losing him. I had to set him free from this hell on earth."
At this point, the Sullivans felt that euthanasia was their only humane choice. The experience leaves Candace Sullivan sad and angry.
"To say we are shattered [and] devastated by his loss, would be an understatement. When left to my own thoughts - I'm filled with rage over the unfairness of it all. Take heed dear friends – over vaccination kills."
A study published in the June 2008 Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine provides the first clinical evidence for a temporal relationship of vaccine-associated IMHA in the dog.
In addition to IMHA and Injection Site Fibrosarcomas, individual vaccines can cause adverse events and adverse reactions including hypothyroidism and chronic renal failure. For more information, Jean W. Dodds, DVM, and co-founder of The Rabies Challenge Fund, writes extensively about this subject.
Today veterinary medicine offers as many as 16 new vaccines for dogs and cats. After a landmark study in 2003, the consensus among responsible veterinarians is to individualize the protocol based on the age, health status and proximity of exposure. One size does not fit all. And in general, they recommend the fewer vaccinations, the better.
Vaccines are not harmless; a rabies shot is never routine.