DuncanHorse, Vaccines, and Enough is Enough

Enough is MORE than enough.

I have a dog whose life changed after his final puppy shots (ConneryBeagle).  It started immediately, but it took us a while to understand the full ramifications…the autoimmune issues leading up to his third year, when the vet who had kept him alive also grimly suggested that I prepare to lose him early.

Very, very early.

That Connery is still alive at 8 1/2 is beyond everyone’s expectations and due to extensive and intricate care–there’s a reason I have a fundraiser book for his medical expenses, and a reason I’m running my car into the ground rather than replacing it at its age.  And there’s a reason he’ll never get another vaccine.

Things came on more slowly with Duncan.  Last year, he struggled after his yearly floating and shots.  Both his  vet and I thought it was his effort to adjust to his “new” teeth, since the previous vet hadn’t compensated for his missing molar, and that meant a significant amount of mouth work this time around.

Hindsight is everything.

This year, Duncan had a normal floating with his shots…but he clearly didn’t feel well in the days following the vet visit–and besides that, he was being plagued by bugs, with welts the size of which I’d never seen on him before.  I put him on colic watch, I cajoled him to eat with nummies and special feeding routines, I rubbed on new fly spray and I thought he was coming out of it.  Even when he woke up one morning with thick pasterns, I wasn’t too worried–he’s stocked up before with changed feeding routines (alfalfa, that devil hay!).

But he got more swollen, and more…and suddenly his skin was oozing in various places where it runs thin.  His belly was bloated, his head was hanging, and he didn’t want to move at all.  It happened very quickly once it started, in the course of a a late afternoon/evening.  (FRIDAY, of course.)  It was then that I realized the bizarrely reactive bug bites were part of the whole picture, and then that I realized he was in a full-blown immunological reaction from the shots–and that the stocking up was in fact vasculitis.

My poor noble boy!

I was lucky.  Patty (of Friday’s Write Horse blog feature!) responded to my “What the heck?” from earlier in the day, and as things developed into Friday night, offered some meds until I could reach the vet.  Within five hours, he was a different horse.  In short order I got a stamp of approval on treatment.  Another forty-eight hours and it became evident how many little things from the past week–things I’d been trying to resolve piecemeal–were part of the vaccine reaction.

That was more than a month ago.  It’s taken several courses of treatment, a completely new feeding regimen and supplements, additional consultations, and lots of horse hugs–but he’s finally starting to put muscle and weight back on.  And he didn’t get laminitis, although I’m still watching for signs of trouble.

The week before his shots, Duncan looked like a 15yo horse instead of his 21 years.  Now he looks a decade older.  I’m told he’ll recover; it’s going to take a while at this age and he may never be what he was before it happened, simply because of his age.  It’s hard for an old boy to come back from something like this, although a Lipizzan at 21 is still generally an active, athletic creature.

First flirt

Me: No shots.  Ever again.

Vet: Sadly, there are no studies saying that the shots are good for more than a year.  There are only studies saying they’re good FOR a year.

Yes.  Because who funds those studies?  Who decides the parameters of the studies?  The vaccine people, that’s who.

I’m not a “vaccines are evil!” person.  I think vaccines are awesome.  I think they save lives.  I think there’s a responsibility to vaccinate.


And I think part of being sensible is not letting the vaccine manufacturers define what IS sensible.  Do puppies need their shots that close together?  Do they need that many?  Do horses and dogs needs shots every single year? Do they really?

I don’t think so.  I think in this single household, I have two animals who have suffered for trusting what the vaccine people say is necessary…and assume is safe.

No more.

Now I make the best choices I can, consulting vets, doing research, and knowing that for Duncan–for Connery–shots are no longer life-saving at all.  And believing that it didn’t have to come to this for either of them.

What do you do about shots for your critter kids?


About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
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19 Responses to DuncanHorse, Vaccines, and Enough is Enough

  1. Heather Dryer says:

    Ack! Poor Duncan Horse! So far Topper hasn’t seemed to have any issues after her yearly vet visit (knock on wood), but you can bet I’ll be very aware of any changes in her going forward.

  2. Christy says:

    I have to admit that I am what many people would consider a ‘bad’ pet owner. I have two indoor cats who at six and seven years old now have only ever had their kitten and first-year vaccines. I do avoid interacting with cats that I know are carrying contagious diseases, but aside from that I have never had concerns about my girls’ health or vaccination status.

    I also have an older retired racing greyhound who has received more than a few vaccines over the years as a result of his career. He’s coming up on being due for his next veterinary-recommended rabies vaccine and I am strongly considering skipping it. Rabies is not a significant concern in my area (read: effectively unheard of) and he’s had… Let me find the paperwork… Eight rabies vaccinations in eleven years. I have not yet seen any documented scientific evidence to indicate that further rabies vaccines are necessary. Should I find such evidence I am willing to reconsider my decision.

    In the case of all of my animals I count myself quite lucky that I have a large number of friends available to care for my pets in the event of an emergency, so I do not need to worry about having vaccine certificates on hand for a boarding kennel.

  3. Lara H says:

    When my cat baby became an indoor cat, I stopped getting the yearly rabies vaccine. A couple of years later, when she had a health problem, the vet INSISTED she be vaccinated before treatment. (An additional charge when money was really tight.) In my opinion, this particular vaccine is a useless expense.

    I’m sorry that you’ve had such bad luck with vaccines. I agree they can be good if used sensibly. You do what’s right for your critter kids, and don’t let anyone change your mind!

    • Doranna says:

      Lara, one thing to keep in mind is titers as an option (except they’re even more expensive, depending on the titer, so in this case not so great). The other problem with them is that they’re not 100% reliable, especially if there’s cell-mediated immunity in play. Connery regularly tests negative on Parvo, a lesson that got him a couple extra Parvo shots before I put my foot down on the situation–but if there’s one thing he’s exposed to due to his showing, it’s Parvo. He’s clearly not vulnerable to it, and he’s clearly had a ton of chance to build both vaccine and natural immunity.

      But titers are still a good option for some circumstances, and I have no doubt I’ll be using them for my animals who can take vaccines. If the titers are positive, then no vaccines; the first year they’re negative, then they get vaccines. They might still have cell-mediated protection, but the impact of the vaccines won’t be as significant for those dogs.

      Belle, at twelve, will likely not receive vaccines again. She’s my first dog to be in the “every three year” routine nearly from the start (as opposed to every year). That’s a little ahead of the curve, but I had a progressive vet in Flagstaff (the same who kept Connery alive).

      PS My question is, did your vet then delay treatment of your cat until the vacs had fully kicked in, several weeks later? Because if not, what was the point?

  4. Kendra says:

    One of the big things I’ve learned from reading your blog is the IDEA of not simply always accepting what a vet says as gospel. You have introduced me to the much more complicated and difficult world of having to take responsibility for ALL decisions about my animals – and that the vet’s word is just one more source to take into account. I don’t like it. I am basically a lazy person, I want the VET to make those decisions for me. But …. You are right. Noone knows my animals like I do – and more importantly, noone else can take that responsibility for their very lives off of my shoulders.

    About vaccine manufacturers – YES! Another key point is that we are letting the vaccine manufacturers make these decisions, not even the vets themselves!

  5. jlh says:

    Sorry to hear about Duncan, glad to hear he’s doing better.
    this issue kind of points to why herd immunity achieved through the majority of the population having been vaccinated is a good and responsible thing.
    there will always be some (animals or human) who react outside the bell curve for reactions, both in acquiring immunity from a vaccine and in reaction to some of the adjuvants needed to carry the vaccine. Some will carry their immunity longer, and some will never be immune. By the responsible majority thinking not only of themselves, but of others, the ones who can’t be immunized will be somewhat protected by the “fire-breaks” of the immunized majority.
    I do agree with you that “annual” vaccination is an arbitrary number set by the manufacturer’s research. Titers are going to provide more information as to the individual needs of animals. in many cases, just vaccinating will be the cheaper route to take, if your animal has no other issues.
    We have seen more site reactions due to the adjuvant from certain brands of vaccine than others.
    we also have very real issues with encephalitis, WNV and rabies in our area, and have to have a vet out to do Coggins on an annual basis anyway, so we have everything of that nature done anyway. when we were breeding, we’d not start until April, so we’d do the shots in late February, to have the mares at hopefully peak immunity when they foaled. we then didn’t vaccinate until the next year, and foals didn’t get their first shots until at or nearly yearlings because of studies showing that maternal antibodies limited the effectiveness of the earlier vaccinations.

  6. Marilyn says:

    In the beginning, I believed all vets were Deities. Then I lost a dog to illness from commercial pet food. After that, I made my own, but I still believed in vets. Until my rescue, Ko, injured his back and was paralyzed from the mid-back down. I was told he would have to be on heavy (and expensive) drugs for the rest of his life, which would not be very long because of the drugs’ side effects. I remembered something from an SF story I’d read years before — a story by Anne McCaffrey about a plague which paralyzed. One of the main characters went back to old, long forgotten techniques, using something called “repatterning.” I did some research on it (well before the Internet: I actually had to go to the LIBRARY!) and started repatterning my Ko. I took him over to my parents’ on a daily basis and worked his limbs in the warm water of their jacuzzi (and paid for new filters on it because of the fur!). Ko was quickly weaned off the drugs. Ko learned to walk again, though he lacked some proprioceptive awareness, that is, he sometimes had to think about where he was placing his feet. Ko Ko lived another nine years. The vet was amazed.

    When I got Shadow & Sunny, I was careful about everything, but was stupid enough to believe the vet who wouldn’t accept Sunny’s vaccine record from Mississippi and insisted on giving a six month old pup an entire new vaccine series. (I had gotten Shadow much earlier, so the vet had given him his series.) I don’t think it’s an accident that my Sundog had thyroid issues, obesity issues, and heart issues now that she’s older.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m a historian, among other things. I know what rabies could do in the days before vaccines. I know about smallpox plagues. (I was one of the last set of school children to receive a smallpox vaccine before being allowed to start first grade.) I know that in London, in the 1800s, if you weren’t among the upper class, you could count on losing four out five children before their fifth birthday to things like whooping cough and diphtheria. I have a friend with post-polio syndrome. I used to sit for a child whose Mom caught German measles while pregnant. So I think vaccines definitely have their place.

    But between politics and Follow the Money Pharmaceutical Firms, I’m deeply thankful to have the vet I now have. She does titers, among other things. Because I really don’t believe that a 2.5 mile difference in the location of my house makes a difference in the effectiveness of a vaccine. Orleans Parish (County) has a one-year rabies tag. Jefferson Parish, whose border is that 2.5 miles, has a three year tag. I don’t believe that 2.5 miles makes two years’ worth of a difference.

    I’ll discuss it next week with that vet after (ahem) our New Arrival gets here. (I do hope S&S and Babette don’t read this blog! Though the setting up of a new crate in the bedroom has S&S somewhat suspicious!) But I suspect that S&S won’t need vaccines at their age of 14 years and five months. Babette, at Age 3, MIGHT be another story.

  7. Marilyn says:

    P.S. Good thoughts are being sent in the direction of Duncan Horse. It’s scary when our non-human friends are sick.

  8. Doranna says:

    Christy, I think responsibility is defined by how the situation is handled. People who come in contact with your kitties should have awareness of their status–they might have a vulnerable cat at home they they’d prefer to protect. And caregivers (from petsitters to groomers) need to know–if a cat hasn’t had rabies shots and doesn’t have titers, they might choose not to handle it. (It doesn’t matter what you or I think of the shots routine…we shouldn’t make decisions for other people.)

    Because my guys compete and sometimes train elsewhere, they do need proof of their status. Titers aren’t perfect, but they’re a good tool for this.

  9. Doranna says:

    Kendra, I do believe you’ve given me an idea for another blog… 8)

    JLH, thanks for that further discussion of herd immunity–it’s a valuable concept, and underscores the need to make responsible decisions that keep the herd as a whole (whether it’s horses or a dog pack or even the neighborhood) in mind. And maternal antibodies–a whole ‘nother thing to think about!

    Marilyn, I did repatterning with Jean-Luc, my brain-injured dog (an injury that happened shortly after birth due to his open fontanel). Hours and hours of it. I’ll never know how much good it did…but with the addition of agility training, his life certainly changed profoundly for the better–a whole new dog! I’m so glad Ko had you to be creative (that water work–genius!) instead of just giving up. You know, Belle was partially paralyzed when she was five, and she wasn’t expected to run again. I won’t say it was easy–she had a disease process that flared regularly until she was about 9 1/2–but given her #2 Preferred Agility Cardigan lifetime status, I think she, too, proved the value of owner persistence. 8) And hey, happy pending new arrival!

    Duncan is actually again showing signs of immune hypersensitivity these past two days. I’m watching him like a hawk!

  10. Sue Farrell says:

    I’m afraid I’m one of those people who is leary of all the shots and flea and tick medication—but I still tend to go along with whatever the vet says. However, we did lose a cat a few years ago to a rare cancer at the injection site of one of the vacines and the vet at the time said since our cats never go outside we could skip some of the shots—-this blog reminded me that I need to suggest that routine to our new vets.

  11. Doranna says:

    It’s *hard* to go against the grain on this. It’s a blessing to find a vet who’s open to discussing vaccine needs on a case-by-case basis.

  12. Poor horse … Sandie and I hope he does get better. He has given you so much delight that he deserves a good time.

  13. Marilyn says:

    Jean-Luc was very fortunate to have someone who cared as much as you did. There are some people who would have just had him put down, and instead, he got to live a full and rewarding life.

    Seeing Belle’s pictures and all — it’s very difficult to believe she ever had an issue with being able to move!

    Yes, Saturday, at around midnight-seventeen (well, Sunday, actually), Harper Longhair Dachshund will be arriving. He’s a black and tan, and when you look at his picture, you can just see the mischief dripping off him. He’s my first show dog — we’re co-owning him with Shadow & Sunny’s breeder who wants to show a dog, but with eleven of his own currently (including several rescues), he felt it wouldn’t be right to breed a litter to show one or two dogs. Even if he could probably count on us to take a couple of the companion dogs. He was the one who pointed me at Harper’s litter. I had inquired about a companion dog from that breeder, and then Brian said, “Hey, why don’t we go in on a show dog? You get your companion, and I get one to show!”

    I have a feeling Babette Beagle will be asking Connery for advice….

  14. Doranna says:

    Credit Jean-Luc’s breeder for committing to keep him–not having any notion that she’d run into someone who could offer him a rehabbish type home. 8) I didn’t get him until he was 10mo. He flew to be with me from AZ to my then NY home, and Delta lost him along the way. That was not a good day for anyone. (Obviously, he was found.)

    Ooh, a breed dog! You’ll have fun!

    Ross, thank you! He does indeed deserve all that is good. 8)

  15. Adrianne says:

    I’m not a vaccines are evil person. But I have done extensive research. When it came time to vaccinate my children I had to say no because they put mercury, a highly toxic ingredient in the vaccines. It took a lot of protests to get the mercury out of the vaccines, and soon my children will be fully vaccinated.

    One of the few vaccines I went for was tetanus because the disease is so deadly, and we did spend time with horses. My son was promptly crippled with tetanus symptoms for a week. I reported this to the doc, who point blank refused to report the incident to the vaccination database. If we can’t get reliable statistics on vaccines, then how can we trust their safety?

    More recent vaccines use squalene, and I have read studies that link squalene to immune system failure. I see that this may be an issue under debate, but until the debate is ended, I won’t accept any vaccines that include it.

    In my pets, my dog never seemed to have a reaction. My cat was very ill from vaccines one year, and I’ve been extremely reluctant to vaccinate since.

    I hope Duncan makes a quick and complete recovery.

  16. Jennifer Roberson says:

    Having the “right” vet is absolutely vital. Doranna and I shared the vet in Flagstaff, a man who was indeed progressive and who took our own observations into consideration–very unusual! My vet before I moved to Flag vet was the same.

    I’ve been in Tucson over a year, and have yet to find a vet in whom I place every confidence despite trying four of them. My problem on top of that is that I breed–too many vets consider breeders to be part of the overpopulation, unhealthy pet issue. There’s a vet in Albuquerque, where Doranna is, that I’d trust with everything–she also breeds Cardigans–but the problem is that she *is* in Albuquerque, while I’m Tucson. 8-(

    • Doranna says:

      I’m grateful to have found a vet to work with here–and still have a holistic vet to try for Connery–but I still miss Dr. Jim!

  17. Doranna says:

    Adrianne, yeah…I guess it’s all about being thoughtful. The problem is in trusting the wrong people. We shouldn’t have to fight bad advice or even one-sided advice in order to make good choices for individual situations!

    Duncan is still showing signs of super-reactivity, but he’s definitely feeling better. 8)

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