3 Puppy Vaccination Mistakes: Too Early, Too Often, Too Much

Aussie PuppiesIn January 2010, breeder Cindy Williams was enjoying her litter of four beautiful Newfoundland puppies. The puppies were big and strong and, at 8 1/2 weeks, the puppies were examined by the vet before venturing off to their new homes. They were treated to the usual puppy wellness check including a health exam, microchips and first vaccination. All of the puppies passed with flying colors.

Ten days later, a female puppy, Gracie, began showing less interest in her food, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. Soon afterward, one of her brothers exhibited the same symptoms. Overnight, Cindy noticed a curious twitching around Gracie’s head and mouth. Cindy brought her into the vet clinic first thing the next morning.

At the clinic, Gracie was given IV fluids, steroids and antibiotics – as well as valium to calm the twitching. The treatment didn’t have any effect however. Later that evening, Cindy was horrified to see that Gracie’s brother Doc began twitching as well. In the meantime, Gracie was suffering continuous seizures that were not responding to any drugs.

Later the next afternoon, Doc was seen by a neurological specialist who declared he was suffering the same battle as Gracie. By the end of the day, both puppies were suffering terribly and Cindy chose to let them pass. She requested an autopsy as their litter mates were at home and she was worried about them.

When the autopsy results came in, it was confirmed that the puppies had distemper.

Cindy was surprised by this: the dam was vaccinated, there were no unvaccinated dogs on her property and no outbreaks in her community. The puppy run was also enclosed and Cindy supervised the puppies when outside, so she was certain that racoons did not get in that area. Cindy began speaking with veterinary immunologists, and learned that it was possible that the vaccine she had given her puppies, a modified live combination vaccine (Da2PP – distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and parainfluenza), could have ‘awakened’ in her puppies and actually caused the very disease she was trying to prevent. She didn’t know how to pursue this any further, apart from reporting it to the vaccine manufacturer and the CIFA, the Canadian department for veterinary biologics.

Cindy kept her two remaining puppies and vaccinated them at 14 weeks with a recombinant vaccine and thankfully, they escaped further harm. Then, nearly two years later, Cindy received a chilling call – it was happening again.

Bastian and Bella were two beautiful Newfoundland puppies who Jeannette Many Horses was delighted to welcome into her home on January 7, 2012. These puppies were bred by a caring breeder of 40 years who, like Cindy, did her research and raised her dogs on raw food and vaccinated them minimally. Bastian and Bella were vaccinated with a recombinant combination vaccine at the breeder’s home and, soon afterward, departed for their new homes.

Bastian and Bella were the picture of health when they jumped into Jeannette’s arms for the first time. As they grew and flourished, Jeannette concluded it was time for their second set of vaccinations. On January 20th, the puppies went to the veterinary clinic for a checkup and for their vaccinations – a combination vaccine from a different manufacturer but with the same components as the vaccine Cindy used. Jeannette’s vet also added a monovalent killed coronavirus vaccine.

On January 25th, five days after their vaccination, both Bastian and Bella became lethargic and had very loose stools. When Jeannette called the veterinary clinic out of concern, she was told that this could not be a reaction to the vaccine as the puppies would have exhibited symptoms sooner. She was advised to do nothing and that the illness would likely pass on its own.

Two days later, Bastian began shaking and pacing and his seizures and pain continued unabated. The following morning, on January 28th, Jeannette received a phone call. Cindy had been informed of Bastian and Bella’s illness by another breeder and immediately contacted Jeannette to warn her of her own terrible experience. Jeannette decided at this point that it would be best to let Bastian cross. On the morning of January 30th, Bella also joined her brother.

One day later, on January 31st, the unthinkable happened. Jeannette learned that Bastian and Bella’s litter sister, Sophie who lived several states away, also succumbed to distemper, just nine days after her second vaccination.

Like Cindy, Jeannette suspected her puppies got distemper from the vaccine. After she received the necropsy results, Jeannette sent the puppies’ DNA to Michigan State University for testing. The results showed a 100% match between the vaccine virus and the distemper virus found in her puppies. In other words, Bastian and Bella died from vaccination – with 100% certainty.

Then Sophie’s DNA also results came in, proving that she too died from the vaccine virus.

Many veterinarians and pet owners have suspected for years that modified live vaccines have the ability to revert to virulence in the host. These five puppies all died from their modified live vaccinations and were relatively unscathed by the recombinant shots. However, simply switching to a recombinant vaccine will not render the vaccine harmless, as you will see below.

Pay now or pay later

Like Cindy and Jeannette, Georgia was aware of the potential damage of vaccinating too often. Georgia however, decided to not vaccinate her Great Dane puppy, Easy, at all. Easy was a vibrant puppy but Georgia later became concerned about recent parvovirus outbreaks in her area. She decided to titer Easy when he was six months to see if he was protected against parvo.

Easy’s titers came back as low for parvo and Georgia felt pressured by veterinary advice to vaccinate him. She took what she envisioned to be the safest route possible and had Easy vaccinated with a monovalent, parvo-only vaccine since his titers showed protection against distemper. The vaccine was delivered to Easy’s scapular area and, three weeks later, Georgia ran a second titer which was now positive. Easy was protected – from parvo at least.

At the age of 18 months, Easy developed osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in his scapula – right where the vaccine was given one year ago. Six weeks later, the pain became too much for Easy and Georgia helped him to cross.

Any vaccine given at any point in a dog’s life has the ability to kill him or cause serious harm. If pet owners want to avoid vaccine-related dangers, then the best option would be to not vaccinate at all. This is a viable option for many who would gladly trade the risk of vaccine related damage for the risk of acute infection from puppy diseases.

Pet owners who don’t vaccinate – and the vets who support this practice – realize that the risk of distemper is very low and that parvovirus in unvaccinated and healthy puppies is treatable in the majority of cases. They also realize that vaccines are ticking bombs that can create immediate and devastating disease in puppies such as Jeannette’s, or that the result might be more insidious, as was the case with Easy.

Here is a list of potential adverse vaccine reactions, according to noted veterinary immunologist, Dr. Ronald Schultz. If you vaccinate, these vaccine risks are not completely unavoidable. There are steps that you can take however, to decrease the risk of disease in your puppy.The first step is to have a fundamental knowledge of the immune system and what vaccines can and can’t do.

Vaccination or Immunization?

It may come as a surprise to some people – and many vets – that vaccination and immunization are not the same thing. Your dog or puppy is perfectly capable of creating immunity all by himself – and once he does, the immunity likely lasts for a lifetime.

Naturally acquired immunity is why, not that long ago, parents used to have ‘chicken pox parties’ for their children; and also why, once children got chicken pox, they never got it again. Natural immunity is how most dogs survived without vaccination when parvovirus first came on the scene over thirty years ago – and how the original strain of parvo is still in the environment but very rarely causes noticeable clinical signs in dogs – even though there is no vaccine for it.The body has a highly functional immune system that works exceedingly well in most cases.

Vaccines do not immunize: they sensitize. Their job is to introduce small amounts of disease to the body, albeit artificially, so the body is able to form immunity on a more convenient and predictable time frame.

Most vets pay a lot of attention to vaccinating but very little attention to immunizing. The result is that most puppy vaccination series are poorly timed and the wrong vaccines are given at inappropriate times and given too often. Simply stated, puppies are vaccinated too early, too often and with too many vaccines at once.

When this happens, the vaccines suppress the immune system instead of supporting it – or in many cases, they can cause an over-stimulation of the immune system and the body can begin to attack its own cells (autoimmune disease). So it is crucial that every vaccine and every puppy is treated with the utmost caution and care and that immunization, not vaccination, is the goal.

Too Early

When puppies are very young, they are protected from disease by ingesting their mother’s first milk, called colostrum. This rich milk contains maternal antibodies against infectious disease, which the mother passes down to her puppies. The puppy’s immune system is not fully mature, or active, until it is around six months of age, so the maternal antibodies provide passive immunity to each puppy.

When a puppy with a reasonable amount of maternal antibodies is vaccinated, the maternal antibodies will essentially inactivate the vaccine, just as they would a real virus. The maternal antibodies for distemper are fairly predictable and are usually low enough for vaccination to be effective at eight or nine weeks of age. In the case of parvovirus however, the maternal antibodies last a lot longer in most puppies so vaccinating at eight or nine weeks wouldn’t be all that effective.

In a study performed by Vanguard, it was found that a combination vaccine (which typically contains parvovirus, distemper and one to five other antigens), given to six week old puppies had only a 52% chance of protecting them against parvo. This means that the puppy has all of the risk of the vaccine but only half the potential benefit. At nine weeks of age, 88% of the puppies in the study showed a response to the vaccine. At 12 weeks, 100% of the puppies were protected. Some vaccines will provide protection earlier or later.

Vaccinating puppies under 12 weeks of age, and certainly under nine weeks of age, for parvovirus is a high risk, low reward approach. Not only is the parvovirus component of the combination vaccine not all that likely to be effective, it can actually work to block the effectiveness of the distemper component. It also makes the vaccine more dangerous, because the more antigens contained in the vaccine, the greater the risk of autoimmune disease (including allergies, joint disease and cancer).

Moreover, most vets haven’t seen a case of distemper in years, which begs the question: what is the big push to start vaccinating puppies at six to eight weeks of age when the parvovirus component is unlikely to work and it is very unlikely the puppy will come into contact with distemper?

Too Often

Pfizer performed an interesting field study in 1996 where they split vaccinated puppies into two groups. Group A received a single vaccination at 12 weeks and Group B received a first vaccine between eight to 10 weeks and a second at 12 weeks. When titers were measured, 100% of the puppies vaccinated once at 12 weeks were protected whereas only 94% of the puppies in Group B were protected – despite receiving two vaccines as opposed to one. It appears that the first vaccine can interfere with the second vaccine. So vaccinating your puppy twice not only doubles his risk for adverse vaccine reactions, it appears to make vaccination less effective overall.

Most people – and many vets – believe that it takes more than one vaccine to create immunity in a puppy. This simply isn’t true. It only takes one vaccine to not only protect a puppy, but to protect him for life.

After more than 40 years of testing immunity in thousands of dogs, Dr. Ronald Schultz has come to the following conclusion: “Only one dose of the modified-live canine ‘core’ vaccine, when administered at 16 weeks or older, will provide long lasting (many years to a lifetime) immunity in a very high percentage of animals.” That very high percentage is nearly 100%.

The only reason vets give puppies more than one vaccine is that they are trying to catch the small window in time when the maternal antibodies are low enough that they will not block the vaccine, but the puppy is young enough that he is not exposed to viruses in the environment. The point in time when the maternal antibodies for parvovirus wane enough for vaccination to work can vary between eight weeks and 26 weeks. So vets dutifully and mindlessly vaccinate every two to four weeks – with a combination vaccine, not just with parvo – trying to get one of them to work.

Most vets also vaccinate once more at a year of age – just to be certain.

Nearly all vets vaccinate every year or three years after that – for some unknown reason because there is no scientific validity to this practice. As Dr. Schultz stated, there is no need for revaccination once a puppy is protected – and if a puppy receives a vaccination at 16 weeks, he is very, very likely to be protected.

Too Much

The result of these errors in judgement is that puppies receive more vaccines than they need – lots more. They receive a parvovirus component in their first combination vaccine when that part of the vaccine has little chance of working. Most puppies are protected against distemper with the first vaccine if not given too early, yet most puppies are given a combination vaccine containing distemper at 12 to 16 weeks and older – when they really only need the parvovirus.

Most combination puppy vaccines also contain an adenovirus component. Adenovirus has been shown to suppress the immune system for ten days following vaccination. This means that puppies that receive needless vaccines not only suffer the risk of adverse events from the vaccine, but they are more at risk of picking up any other virus or bacterium that crosses their path because their immune system has been overloaded by the vaccine itself.

This is not a good proposition for a puppy taken to the vet clinic to receive his vaccines, because it exposes him to the riskiest possible environment, outside of perhaps an animal shelter, and his immune system will be suppressed while his body tries to fight four, five or even seven different diseases, all at the same time. It’s no wonder that puppies can succumb to vaccine-induced disease – their immune system is simply overloaded at a time when they are exposed to a pretty dangerous place for puppies to be.

Adenovirus is an upper respiratory disease that is self limiting – that hardly seems like a good trade off for immune protection when puppies need it most. The same applies to parainfluenza – and coronavirus which commonly occurs only in puppies too young to be vaccinated anyway. And that’s just the core vaccines.

Some puppies will also be vaccinated with other non-core vaccines including the particularly dangerous leptospirosis vaccine. Clearly, vets are very good at vaccination. The problem is, current puppy vaccination programs don’t adequately address immunity. Very few vets take a realistic and scientific look at the best time to vaccinate for distemper, followed by the best time to vaccinate for parvovirus, followed by asking why are we even vaccinating for self limiting diseases such as coronavirus and adenovirus, which are really only dangerous in puppies who are too young to effectively vaccinate anyway?

Taking the Guesswork out of Puppy Shots

Vaccines may seem technologically advanced, but when given randomly and for no good reason, they are at best useless and at worst dangerous. Vaccine manufacturers are constantly trying to improve the safety of vaccines, but there will always be an inherent danger when injecting pharmaceutical products, along with their toxic chemicals, into puppies.

Until the dubious time comes when vaccines are completely safe and completely effective, there are two proven, effective ways to reduce the number of unnecessary vaccines in puppies, thereby reducing the risk of puppies dying or suffering permanent illness from vaccines.


Not that many years ago, vets used something called a nomograph to tell breeders the best time to vaccinate their puppies. The nomograph examines antibody titers of the dam and determines almost exactly when her maternal antibodies will wear off in her puppies. The value in knowing this is that the breeder can provide the right vaccine at the right time, eliminating the need for, and risk of, unnecessary vaccinations.

Nomographs are perfect for breeders who are interested in using only monovalent (single virus), vaccines in place of the more dangerous combination or polyvalent vaccines. For example, the nomograph could predict that the maternal antibodies for distemper will wane at eight weeks, but that parvovirus might be at 14 weeks. The breeder would then vaccinate with the right vaccine at the right time and the vaccination schedule would be based on science instead of guesswork. Yet for some reason, nomographs have fallen out of favor.


For puppy owners without the advantage of a nomograph, titers can save puppies’ lives and protect their well being in the long run. Instead of guessing if vaccination is necessary, running a titer three weeks after a vaccination will indicate with nearly 100% certainty whether the puppy needs another vaccine or not.

Titers also allow vets to use the safer monovalent vaccines. A puppy can be vaccinated at an age when he is likely to respond to the vaccine – and if he comes back with a titer three weeks later, he is protected and very likely for life. If there is no titer for parvo at that time, a monovalent vaccine could be given and a titer run three weeks after that. If the titer is low, then the vaccine can be repeated but if it is high, the puppy is protected against parvovirus, very likely for life. And the good news is that, there is now a new and affordable in-house titer test.

Despite these two easily accessible options, many vets believe – and lead us to believe – that puppies must be subjected to a series of vaccinations. Many vets understand titers but don’t offer them as an option to vaccination. This may be because vaccines are cheap and titers are not. Whether that equates to less profit for the vets or they are assuming that puppy owners don’t want to invest in a safer vaccination program is unknown. Titers can be expensive – but so can the damage that results from vaccines. Unlike vaccines, titers are completely safe for puppies.

Many vets are also unwilling to stock monovalent vaccines because of the higher cost. The most likely scenario however, is that vets are simply vaccinating with the typical puppy schedule out of nothing more than habit and convenience.

In the end, the best way to avoid vaccine damage – and your puppy being the subject of another tragic story – is obviously to not vaccinate. This might increase the risk of acute disease, but domestic and wild animals – and people too – have been exposed to viruses for years and the immune system, when not suppressed with vaccinations, poor diet, toxins and drugs, has a profound ability to fight off exposure to viruses and bacteria. Simply supporting the immune system can go a long ways toward avoiding acute disease such as parvo – and will certainly reduce the severity of the symptoms.

The second option is to choose vaccines wisely and with a constant awareness that every vaccine has the potential to kill the patient. Nomographs and titers are useful tools that really aren’t that expensive in the long run when compared to the thousands of dollars pet owners spend on chronic, vaccine-induced diseases including but certainly not limited to, hypothyroidism, seizures, cancer, arthritis, allergies and gastrointestinal issues. They are very cheap insurance in many regards.

The worst option is to do nothing different and haphazardly vaccinate puppies every two to four weeks with a combination vaccine. Many vets fail to make the connection between chronic, debilitating disease and over-vaccination, so unless a puppy’s head swells to the size of a football immediately after vaccination, they are reluctant to blame vaccines for any of the adverse reactions that Dr. Schultz identified.

It’s important to understand that we pet owners can open vets’ eyes to safer and more effective puppy vaccination programs by paying for titer tests and investing in monovalent vaccines – even if that means having to buy a whole case of vaccine vials for one little puppy. Chances are that case of monovalent vaccines will disappear, one by one, and every one used means one less puppy who will be potentially harmed by needless or thoughtless vaccination.