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Vaccinating Your Senior Dog

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Vaccinations (immunizations, "shots") have saved the lives of millions of dogs. Before the days of effective vaccines, dogs routinely died from distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and complications of upper respiratory infections. Current vaccination programs protect our dogs (and us) from the threat of rabies. As pets age, questions about vaccinations arise. Common questions include which vaccines a senior dog needs and how often should he be vaccinated. Unfortunately, the absolute answers to these questions are not known but there are several recommendations.

Despite the well-known benefits of vaccination, the practice of annual vaccination of senior dogs is controversial. Some veterinarians believe that annual revaccination is an important and critical part of preventative health care. There has been some research that indicates that the immune system of older dogs is not as effective as younger dogs. This suggests that older dogs may be more susceptible to diseases and therefore require annual vaccinations. Other veterinarians feel that many vaccines last in the body longer than one year, and annual vaccination is not worth the risk of allergic reaction or other immune diseases. Of course, some vaccines (rabies) are required by law and must be administered on a regular basis.

The one thing that many veterinarians agree on is that dogs should only be vaccinated against those diseases for which they are susceptible. For example, if you and your dog do not live in an area endemic for Lyme disease, vaccinating for that disease is not recommended.

Rabies should be given based on local laws. In some areas, rabies vaccination must be given every year. In other areas, local law allows vaccination to be given every three years.

Recommendations

The foremost recommendation is to discuss the vaccination program with your veterinarian. Don't hesitate to ask questions about the pros and cons of vaccinations.

For dogs older than 7 to 9 years, annual revaccination (boosters) should be discussed with your veterinarian. In the past, the DHLP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus) vaccine was typically given each year. These recommendations may be changing. The most appropriate vaccination program for your pet should be followed.

If the risk of kennel cough is great, a vaccine against bordetella is recommended. The bordetella vaccine needs to be given at least yearly, and each year you and your veterinarian should assess whether it is required. The rabies vaccine should be given as recommended by local law. Newer vaccines effective against specific forms of the bacteria leptospirosis may be important in some areas. The need for the vaccine should be determined based on the area of the country your dog lives in and his or her life-style.

Other vaccinations that are sometimes given by your veterinarian include coronavirus, Lyme and giardia. These are not routinely given to every animal, and their use should be discussed with your veterinarian.

For more information on caring for your senior pet, please read Geriatric Dog Care.

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