Thursday, April 25, 2013

Veterinarians And Vaccines: A Slow Learning Curve

by Nancy Kay, DVM 

Am I feeling frustrated and disappointed? 

You bet I am after reading an article titled, “Vets Slowly Move to 3-Year Vaccine Protocols” in the most recent edition of Veterinary Practice News.

According to the article, approximately 60 percent of veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate their adult canine patients by administering “core” vaccinations annually. 

This in spite of the fact that, for a decade now, it has been public knowledge that these vaccines provide a minimum of three year’s worth of protection.

Current canine guidelines recommend that adult dogs be vaccinated against distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus no more than once every three years. 

Bear in mind, these are not rules or regulations (although I wish they were) they are simply guidelines. With the exception of rabies (mandated by state governments) veterinarians can vaccinate as often as they please.

The risks of over-vaccinating

What’s the downside to your pets receiving three-year vaccines once every year? My concerns extend far beyond wasting your money. (Please pause for a moment while I step up on my soapbox!) Vaccinations are so much more than simple shots. They truly qualify as medical procedures because each and every inoculation is associated with potential risks and benefits. While adverse vaccine reactions are infrequent and most are mild, every once in awhile a vaccine reaction becomes life threatening. As with any medical procedure, it is only logical to administer a vaccination if the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Giving a three-year vaccine once a year defies this logic in that the patient is exposed to all the risk of the procedure with absolutely no potential benefit. How in the world does this make sense?!

Why some vets continue to over-vaccinate

According to the Veterinary Practice News article, there are two reasons why approximately half of veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate. First, they believe as I do in the importance of annual health visits. They also believe that the lure of a vaccine is the only way to convince their clients of the need for a yearly exam, and for good reason. In 2011, the “Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study” documented that many people continue to believe that vaccinations are the only reason to bring their overtly healthy pet in for a veterinary visit.

The second explanation provided for over-vaccinating is that veterinarians don’t want to interrupt the revenue stream derived from annual inoculations. Despicable, in my book!

A possible third explanation is that some veterinarians remain unaware of current vaccination guidelines. If so, they must be living under a rock and begs the question, why would you want such an “outdated” individual caring for your pet’s health?

What you can do

Okay, now that I’ve ranted and raved a wee bit, I invite you to join me on my soapbox! Here are some things you can do to prevent over-vaccination.
  • Stand your ground! If your vet insists on administrating core vaccinations to your adult pets every year, share a copy of current canine guidelines. You may need to agree to disagree and/or find yourself a more progressive veterinarian. Remember, you are your pet’s medical advocate and you have the final say so!
  • Bring your pets in for a yearly checkup, whether or not vaccinations are due. I cannot overstate the importance of an annual physical examination for pets of all ages. It’s a no brainer that the earlier diseases are detected, the better the outcome. The annual visit also provides a time to talk with your vet about nutrition, behavioral issues, parasite control, and anything else that warrants veterinary advice. Enough people bringing their pets in for annual wellness exams may convince more veterinarians to revise their vaccine protocols in accordance with current guidelines.
  • Spread the word by sharing the information in this blog post with your pet loving friends and family members.
To learn more about vaccinations, I encourage you to read “The Vaccination Conundrum” in Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.

How frequently are your adult pets receiving their core vaccinations?


DR. NANCY KAY wanted to become a veterinarian for just about as long as she can remember. Her veterinary degree is from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and she completed her residency training in small animal internal medicine at the University of California—Davis Veterinary School.

Dr. Kay is a board certified specialist in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and published in several professional journals and textbooks. She lectures professionally to regional and national audiences, and one of her favorite lecture topics is communication between veterinarians and their clients.   Since the release of her book,
Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, Dr. Kay has lectured extensively and written numerous magazine articles on the topic of medical advocacy.  She was a featured guest on the popular National Public Radio show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Dr. Kay is a staff internist at VCA Animal Care Center, a 24-hour emergency/specialty care center in Rohnert Park, California. As a way of providing emotional support for people with sick four-legged family members, Dr. Kay founded and helps facilitate the VCA Animal Care Center Client Support Group.  She also facilitates client communication rounds for VCA Animal Care Center employees.

Dr. Kay was selected by the American Animal Hospital Association to receive the 2009 Hill’s Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award.  This award is given annually to a veterinarian or nonveterinarian who has advanced animal welfare through extraordinary service or by furthering humane principles, education, and understanding.  The Dog Writers Association of America selected Dr. Kay for two awards.  The first was the 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award recognizing
Speaking for Spot as the publication that best promotes the health and well being of dogs. The second award was for the Best Blog of 2009 (

Dr. Kay’s personal life revolves around her husband (also a veterinarian), her three children (none of whom aspire to be veterinarians) and their menagerie of four-legged family members. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare moments in the garden or riding along the beach atop her favorite horse. Dr. Kay and her family reside in Sebastopol, California.


  1. I've worked with several different vets. Some were wonderful other not so much. I can see how vaccines bring attention to bringing a pet in for a yearly checkup too. I personally only would want one vaccine for my dog right now and that's the leptospirosis one. The last clinic I worked for, which was my least favorite as far as their policies were concerned, did a lot of vaccinating.

    1. Not all vets were created equal, that's for sure. It is important to find one whom one can trust and whom it is possible to work with and discuss things.

      And people should get the idea in their heads to bring their dogs for check-ups. It is so important.

      So both sides have things to work on.

  2. This is such an important topic. All vets are not created equal as mom learned when we lived in Germany. It took almost 5 yrs but we finally found a wonderful clinic here where we live in the US and they are so careful to give us only what we need and showed mom how the other vets gave us all so much stuff we did not need. Our vets are in business but not at the expense of pet health, they truly care and want the best for the pet not for their bottom line.

    1. All vets certainly weren't created equal. It is important to find a good one.

      It's interesting, took us 5 years to find ours too.