Are dog vaccines making pets sick?

ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Are dog vaccines making pets sick?
The ABC7 I-Team investigated claims of dangerous side effects from dog vaccines.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team investigated claims of dangerous side effects from dog vaccines. Vaccines are considered a standard part of owning a puppy, but some pet owners say these routine shots are harming their animal.

The current human measles outbreak has been partly blamed on the rejection of vaccines. Now, dog owners are questioning the shots their animals are getting. The I-Team has learned of growing concerns about the number of routine shots, and whether they're harming pets health instead of protecting it.

"She's not quite the same dog she used to be," said Julie Harding, owner of a 4-year-old Vizsla named Piper.

This past summer, Harding says Piper became violent and vicious, with unexplained seizures.

"She was foaming at the mouth, she was flailing everywhere," Harding said.

Neurologists at a specialized clinic diagnosed Piper with auto-immune meningitis.

"They asked has she had a vaccine recently," Harding said.

Piper was vaccinated against leptospirosis, a potentially deadly disease. This report says the brain swelling could have been triggered by that vaccine and her predisposition to allergic conditions. Veterinary neurologists say it was unusual to receive Piper's case and four others possibly linked to one vaccine within a month-and-a-half. The manufacturer tells the I-Team each suspected adverse reaction was thoroughly reviewed and no causal association between the vaccine and the Chicago cases was found.

"In the last year to year-and-a-half, we have seen more cases in this practice related to dogs who have recently been vaccinated. We are trying to understand what the risks are," said Michael Podell, D.V.M., a veterinarian neurologist and neurosurgeon.

In a yearly visit, dogs could receive a host of vaccines. Some owners say over-vaccination is jeopardizing their pet's health, causing everything from swelling to autoimmune disorders and more.

"Once we stopped giving him all of these extra vaccines he's been a lot healthier dog," said dog owner Crissy Conway.

Ron Schultz, a long-time researcher of canine vaccines, finds immunity of many diseases can last a dog's lifetime, much like humans. He says vaccines are vitally important, but questions the need to vaccinate so often.

"It's very disappointing to me to still have distemper, parvo and adno given every year when we know it provides a life of immunity," said Schultz, an immunologist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin.

Schultz says you don't want to vaccinate an immune animal because the vaccine may cause a hypersensitivity reaction. At the very least, he wants veterinarians to think twice about doing certain vaccines every year. Current guidelines recommend three-year intervals for rabies and other core vaccines for common diseases. Others, known as lifestyle vaccines, may need yearly updates.

"It is still a volatile debate because there's so much fear involved and an awful lot of money involved," said Barbara Royal, D.V.M., a veterinarian at Royal Treatment Veterinary Center.

Royal offers a blood test, called a titer, to measure a pet's immunity. She says aside from the rabies vaccine, many of her clients no longer get inoculations past the first year. She claims they're now healthier.

"Someone makes a vaccine and we all have to give it, but the efficacy and the safety of those vaccines is not necessarily that well researched," Royal said.

Not so, says an association representing animal health products, pointing to millions of dollars invested each year in scientific studies and development and USDA regulation. Advocates insist these shots are safe, and say severe reactions are rare, and have more to do with the animals underlying health and genetics.

"Vaccines are very important and they not only enhance the pet's health, but help protect humans, too," Podell said.

Harding says even after spending thousands saving her dog's life, she's not anti-vaccine.

Cat owners are also questioning the use of vaccines following reports of a rare type of cancer in felines that can appear at the injection site.

Only rabies shots are mandated for dogs in Illinois and most states. The I-Team discovered that if a dog has an adverse reaction to a vaccine, veterinarians are not required to report it to the manufacturer or the government, although many do.

Federal regulators require vaccine manufacturers to keep reports and make them available to the USDA.

The American Veterinarian Medical Association said in a statement: "While adverse reactions can occur, they are extremely rare, and the benefits far outweigh the risks. Vaccination is the primary reason why deadly diseases like rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and panleukopenia have become much less common in U.S. pets. Pet owners should talk with their veterinarians about any concerns they have regarding vaccines, and to determine the best vaccination plan for each individual pet."

Additional Information:

American Veterinarian Medical Association:

Anti-vaccination movement a risk to pet health

Vaccination information

American Animal Hospital Association:

Canine Vaccination Guidelines

Fundraising efforts for Dr. Ron Schultz's research:

Rabies Challenge Fund