The Dog Vaccine Booster Debate


Most of us are used to hearing the mantra that responsible dog owners should vaccinate their dogs and then boost annually. Recently however, vaccine safety has been questioned. Could yearly vaccination boosters soon be a thing of the past? With many vets and dog owners questioning the necessity of annual vaccine boosters, what is the best option to take?

dog vaccination boostersAny dog owner and vet needs to weigh up the pros and cons of annual vaccination boosters for that animal. The vet and owner must take into account the perceived risks of the vaccine versus the likelihood of contracting a potentially life-threatening disease. This is especially important for a dog that has existing medical conditions which might make the dog an unsuitable candidate for annual boosters but it is now also being seen as important for any dog, even healthy ones. Recent evidence seems to suggest that immunity for many of the vaccinated diseases lasts more than a year, so are annual vaccine boosters really necessary?

What are we actually vaccinating against? Dogs are usually vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza and leptospirosis. These are the most common, highly contagious diseases that can cause serious illness or death in dogs. Vaccines contain small amounts of altered viruses and bacteria which stimulate a dog’s immune system to produce antibodies to the disease. Dogs who use kennels or show dogs who meet many other dogs in close proximity may also be vaccinated against kennel cough.

Vaccines have been blamed for many things like allergic reactions, cancers, autoimmune diseases and even behavioural problems. Could over vaccination be the cause? Many now believe that over-vaccinating destabilises the immune system, potentially leading to all sorts of chronic illnesses. But does non-vaccination leave your dog open to viral disease? Even vaccines cannot guarantee immunity. Is the answer to keep your dog as healthy as possible and research alternatives. Either way, you will most likely find yourself in a lose-lose situation. If you vaccinate then you can, in some cases, get problems related to the vaccine. If you do not vaccinate then you can, in some cases, get problems from infectious viral disease. What problems would you rather face? What do you consider to be the pros and cons for your own dog?     

Vet Bruce Fogle warns that having a healthy well nourished dog does not safeguard against infection. “Antibodies produced by the immune system give protection. These are produced either by surviving the disease or through preventative inoculation”. Fogle also warns about the pitfalls of stating cause and effect when looking at reactions in dogs and attributing them to the annual booster vaccination. A clear link needs to be established.

Catherine O’Driscoll formed Canine Health Concern in 1994 after two of her dogs tragically died. Undertaking research free from commercial bias, Catherine proposed that the annual boosters we give our pets in the belief we are protecting them from disease are actually the cause of ill health in our pets today. Catherine started a quest to make vets and owners aware of the dangers of over-vaccination and to promote genuine canine health care, uninfluenced by the marketing of commercial corporations.

Dr. Jean Dodds' Recommended Vaccination Schedule claims that distemper is rare and boosters for this have been questioned as some research suggests that once a dog is vaccinated they are protected for years or even life. Similarly, there is a claim that Leptospirosis is also rare and has seen some of the worse reactions to vaccination so risk could well outweigh benefit. According to these recommendations, parvovirus is rarely a problem for normal healthy dogs and the initial vaccine has been shown to last approx 7 years or even a life time.

Consider though that these rare diseases are rare because of vaccinations. Bruce Fogle points out that when he started work in practice infectious disease was the greatest dog killer. Fogle says “Now I see perhaps one death every five years. In poor countries where vaccination is too costly, infectious disease remains the greatest cause of preventable death”. “In western Europe we learned our lesson from what happened in Finland in the early 1990s. When people stopped vaccinating their dogs because it seemed distemper was no longer a threat, and the protected population dropped below the critical level, the disease re-emerged, causing an epidemic of more than 1,200 cases”.

Catherine O’Driscoll counters this by saying that vaccines do not guarantee protection. “When disease outbreaks occur, both vaccinated and non-vaccinated dogs succumb”.

The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) reported more regular incidences of the highly infectious and often fatal disease parvovirus. NOAH chief executive Phil Sketchley said “Just because a dog has his jabs as a puppy does not mean he is protected now. Vaccination needs to be kept up to date by regular boosters”.

Some manufacturers advise that distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus vaccinations do not need to be given every year for immunity to be maintained but state that leptospirosis is still prevalent and should be vaccinated against annually.

More and more vaccine companies now suggest two or three year gaps between booster vaccinations as there is mounting evidence that most dogs can go for many years without needing boosters. Yet many insurance companies and boarding kennels request that annual vaccination boosters take place. What is the way round this? You can find an insurance policy that will pay out except for cases of a disease for which a vaccine could have been given. With regards boarding kennels, you could ask if the kennels will accept a titre blood test to show that your dog has sufficient antibodies or you could find a reputable home sitter.

At the moment there are more questions than answers. If vaccines are necessary evils can we do anything to get the best of both worlds? One suggestion is to vaccinate pups and also give the first annual booster and after that consider titre testing your dog's blood for antibody levels. Your vet can test for parvo, hepatitis and distemper antibodies. If antibody level remains high then discuss whether the annual boosters for those diseases can be avoided that year. Titre testing cannot be used for parainfluenza or leptospirosis. Discuss with your vet whether there is a need for your dog to have the non-core vaccinations. Take into account the risks of these diseases in your area, the specific risk or lack of to your own dog and the effectiveness or otherwise of the vaccine itself to decide what is and what is not necessary for your dog.

Even if vaccination boosters do not cause adverse reactions, for arguments sake, it still makes sense to review the ‘annual vaccination’ mantra. Avoiding unnecessary vaccination is obviously sensible.

By Jenny Prevel

© D for Dog
This article belongs strictly to D for Dog and we do not authorise the copying of all or any part of it.

Dane Hooper
20 March 2016  |  7:02

Why can't we buy the yearly dogs jab over the counter or in pill form

31 July 2016  |  10:05

Many inoculations can't be given in pill form as our stomach acids break down the active ingredient before it benefits our immune system.
I once was allowed to collect an inoculation injection from the bets for my rabbit (because he was elderly and I believed the stress of a car journey and vet visit would kill him)

21 February 2017  |  18:24

According to the American Animal Hospital Association's guidelines that came out in 2011.

Revaccination (Booster) (distemper) Recommendation:
Dogs (puppies) completing the initial vaccination series by 16 wk of age or younger should receive a single booster vaccination no later than 1 yr after completion of the initial series and be revaccinated every 3 yr thereafter, regardless of the product used.

Comments and Recommendations:
Among healthy dogs, all commercially available distemper vaccines are expected to induce a sustained protective immune response lasting at least 5yr.

Among healthy dogs, the rCDV vaccine has been shown to induce a protective immune response lasting at least 5 yr."

It seems to me they are saying: A sustained immune response lasts at least 5 years but revaccionate every 3 years! What would be the benefit of the 3 year plan? Page 5.

31 March 2017  |  21:34

" responsible dog owners should vaccinate their dogs and then boost annually."
I don't know any vets that do this. They boost the lepto vaccine annualy because that has been found not to last but the others are only boosted every three years.

D for Dog
01 April 2017  |  10:27

Unfortunately Pat, many vets do still think boosters for core-vaccinations should be annual. It is very outdated advice and as informed dog owners we need to stop this happening to our pets.

11 July 2017  |  14:31

I am living in Northern part of Cyprus and I am planning to travel with my two small dogs to UK. I was checking the rules for the dogs and saw this "Booster Vaccination".
We have done all vaccinations and interestingly, we insist on some vaccines like "Corona" and "Bronchine" for our dogs and the vets resist and say that these are not required.
I even asked one of the professors about "Booster Vaccination" and he did not have any idea about it.
As I had read in the rules and conditions, this should be done at least three months prior to travelling.
Would you please guide me what to do and how to follow the issue?

Mr Lacey
21 December 2017  |  11:08

We had a 10 yr old Pomeranian who has had her injections regularly because we live in sheltered housing and company pets rule state she must be vaccinated. Apart from the logical reasons to keep pets safe we were informed recently our dog needed her annual booster vaccination. We took her on Tuesday last and she was given her injection in the rump. A Large lump formed were the injection had been given. This was new she had never had this reaction before. However the following day she was a bit lethargic the day after she was fine.

Then suddenly on Friday evening (4 days after the Injection) she started to have breathing issues and what seemed a irritating cough. I phoned the vet at 9-45 pm she said she would be OK and bring her in the following morning (Saturday). When arising at 6am found our beautiful Foxy had died .

After 10yrs of a happy contented life and companionship we had lost our little girl. I searched the web to find any answers and to my amazement I have found an article in the Daily Telegraph March 2017 regarding "Pets have died from adverse reaction to this vaccine". If a vaccine had these consequences for humans it would have been taken off the market. Or at the least a warning given to potential harm and the devastating consequences. The publicity on the benefits of protection are obviously given but the opposite is not. I would have thought that pets who have been injected over a long period of years regularly would have an immune system built up.

So why is it necessary every year to have a booster and put your pet at risk of dying from a adverse reaction due to who knows what? It seems that not enough is known about what does cause the adverse reactions of this vaccine and people are putting their pets and long life friends at risk without the correct information being given by the Veterinary Profession or the Vaccine Manufacturers. It seems like a pot luck situation and you are not given the odds on outcome which can be devastating for some pets and their owners.

This vaccine has saved lives no doubt but how many has it taken. Quite a lot reading other Articles. Is it safe or just a money maker for the manufacturer and Vet profession. I paid dearly for our devastation and received no satisfactory answer. In other words I took my own pet and companions life.

We are all aware that pets are like children to some owners so why put them through this risk without knowing all the facts and in some cases being forced into getting our pets inoculated or moving home or not having a companion for life. We are one off those unlucky couples who have never been blessed with children and our pet Foxy was our child and life long companion. We are too old to start all over again being in our 70's plus age group. I've read quite a few articles on this subject which go back for years. And the vaccine is still being sold and used in this manner. Just seems money matters more.

24 February 2018  |  3:00

I am very sorry about your lost. I have a 2 year old female Pomeranian and I know how adorable these dogs are. I just can't imagine my life without her.
My dog is due for annual booster soon. Can you share with us the vaccine name? Thank you!

Debra Smith
25 January 2018  |  23:24

I am getting ready to inoculate my chuaua puppy at home but I became concerned as to whether or not to use the whole thing on such a small puppy, when the same amount is given to a larger breed puppy. Shouldn't I reduce the amount I administer to her. Will it benefit her just as well if I only give her half the dose?

18 May 2018  |  20:19


David Mieduniecki
05 June 2019  |  14:16




and any help or advice is welcome.

How can I find another to replace our lost one! retired and in misery


08 October 2020  |  19:18

I Think rule of thumb is donít bother with an older dog: My collie had one set of jabs when a puppy and then we didnít bother after that. In nearly 12 years he has not had a single thing wrong with him. Iím sceptical without being anything as extreme as an anti-vaxxer. In humans yes of course, in dogs not as important.

Tony Gallagher
31 January 2021  |  9:30

Bruce Fogles statement regarding Finland is wrong, most of the dogs had received the vaccine yet there were high rates of distemper in the young dog population.

Please correct the article and Mr Fogle!!

Here is a link to the study clearly stating the dogs were vaccinated yet got the disease.

06 September 2022  |  21:01

My dad's dog a German shepherd had his first jab at 12 weeks that night he had 15 fits we had to have him put to sleep the next day it was heart breaking