Ask the Dogtor: Are Vaccinations for My Dog Dangerous?

Written by: Dr. Bo Bergman, DVM

Dr. Bo Bergman discusses dog-owners’ concerns about vaccine safety.

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Bo Bergman—a.k.a. “the Dogtor”—has graciously agreed to answer questions about dog health and care from Orvis Dogs readers. If you have a question for the Dogtor, leave it in the comments section below. Click here to read his introductory post.]

Question: I’ve read that some vaccines are dangerous for dogs and that some people are now refusing to let their pets get vaccinated. Can vaccines make my dog sick?—Mary Beth, via email

Say that you’re on the Internet and you come across an article on vaccines, chances are that you’ll see very different view points. Now scroll down and look at the comments section (if you dare) and you’ll see even more dramatic polarization. Take for example this recent ABC News article, which shows just how different views on vaccinating your companion animals can be. Both sides of the vaccine/anti-vaccine debate provide reasons for or against vaccines, some with better supportive data.

I talk about vaccines every day as part of being a companion-animal veterinarian. Vaccines are extremely important because they save lives and keep animals healthy. How do I know this? Yes, there are the immunology classes in veterinary school and the established research on the efficacy and safety of vaccines, but I’m also influenced by my day-to-day observations of vaccinated versus unvaccinated dogs.

But that doesn’t mean that every animal I see gets vaccines. Which vaccines, if any, and the frequency of vaccination are based on a dog’s age, lifestyle, size, and health. It’s not a cookie-cutter process, and you need to have a discussion with your veterinarian about how vaccines can play a role in your pet’s health. Vaccine titers—a blood test that can identify the presence of antibodies induced by vaccinations—are an option for some vaccines, and hopefully the costs of these tests will continue to come down.

Ultimately you are the guardian of your pet, and the decision to vaccinate or not, whether for philosophical or financial reasons, rests with you. I urge you to base your decision on science, not on emotions. Everyone seems to have a story of some dog or cat who got some illness after a some vaccine. Most things you put in your body are not benign, including vaccines—but the data do not show that vaccines are linked to serious problems. I choose to use vaccines as part of my tool kit to keep my patients healthy and happy because the rewards far outweighs the risks.

Dr. Bo Bergman, DVM, is a graduate of NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine and works at West Mountain Animal Hospital in Vermont.

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