Does your pet suffer from an immune system problem? As our bodies require the continual protection afforded by the complex interaction of white blood cells, antibodies, microorganisms (bacteria, etc.), hormonal signals, and more, I really feel as though the immune system is the most important body system we mammals have.
As the immune system can actually be quite fragile, it's important that we owners take measures to ensure our pets’ ability to continually thrive by not overtaxing their immune health. This means eating a toxin-free and nutritionally complete whole food diet, participating in daily exercise, getting sufficient sleep, keeping inflammation and infection minimized, and pursuing alternatives to traditional vaccination protocols. This is the means by which I approach my Los Angeles-based integrative veterinary practice and apply to all of my canine and feline patients (and my own health).
You've certainly heard me preach this philosophy before, as I have personal ties to the topic in the form of my canine companion Cardiff, who has suffered immune system problems multiple times during his nine years of life. Cardiff has endured and recovered from three bouts of typically fatal immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) and T-cell lymphoma.
As a result of his complicated immune system illnesses, I no longer provide him with vaccinations. Doing so could trigger a Vaccine Associated Adverse Event (VAAE) or vaccinosis, including another episode of IMHA. Instead, I perform antibody titers to evaluate his previous response to distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and rabies vaccinations.
Health problems correlating with the administration of single or multiple vaccinations may be considered vaccinosis. Any Vaccine Associated Adverse Event (VAAE) or vaccinosis seriously impacts a pet’s quality of life and negatively affects the relationship between client and owner.
Among medical practitioners on both the human and veterinary side, there exists the perspective that vaccinations can actually create health problems instead of making us healthier. I hold this perspective, yet I am not anti-vaccination. I practice judicious and appropriate use of immunizations for myself and for my canine and feline patients.
The remainder of this two-part article will focus on the differentiation between VAAEs and vaccinosis, how vaccinosis manifests in our pets, and the means by which vaccinosis and VAAEs can be prevented.
What is Vaccinosis?
Vaccinosis is the term applied to the state of energetic imbalance and mild to life-threatening illness occurring after an animal or person receives an administration of an immune system stimulating substance (i.e., a vaccination).
Vaccinosis is not a true diagnosis, nor does it have an official definition that’s currently accepted among conventional human or veterinary medical communities. The term is known by the general public and doctors working in the realm of holistic practice, homeopathy, and other complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).
What Are Vaccine Associated Adverse Events (VAAE), and Are They Considered Vaccinosis?
Vaccine Associated Adverse Events (VAAE) include post-vaccine hypersensitivity and non-hypersensitivity reactions, both of which are not considered vaccinosis.
Hypersensitivity reactions occur as a result of a complex interaction between IgE antibodies and a substance that produces an immune response (antigen, allergen, etc.) to which the body has previously been exposed. Hypersensitivity reactions are commonly known as allergic reactions and can occur in response to:
- vaccine administration
- insect envenomation — bee sting, spider bite, etc.
- venomous snake bites
- drug or toxin exposure — sulfa-based antibiotics, iodinated contrast-enhancing dyes, insulin, etc.
Clinical signs of hypersensitivity reactions occur within minutes and can include:
- urticaria (hives)
- angioedema (tissue swelling)
- emesis (vomit)
- hypotension (low blood pressure)
- ataxia (stumbling)
More serious signs beyond urticaria and angioedema are collectively termed anaphylaxis. All the above hypersensitivity signs merit immediate evaluation and treatment with a veterinarian.
Clinical signs of post-vaccine non-hypersensitivity reactions may include:
- anorexia (decreased appetite)
- pyrexia (fever)
- whole-body soreness (muscle or joint aches)
- swelling (including cancer) or soreness at the vaccination site
Post-vaccine non-hypersensitivity reactions are to be expected but don’t always occur, and they commonly resolve with minimal to no supportive care (fluid therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, nutraceuticals, etc.).
Are Vaccine Associated Adverse Events (VAAE) and Vaccinosis Common in Pets?
In general, adverse responses to vaccinations are rare. A 2005 study by Moore et al published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) reviewed over 1 million medical records for dogs in more than 350 animal hospitals found:
- one in 250 canine patients had some form of post-vaccination reaction (13 reactions per 10,000 vaccinations given)
- the dogs most at risk are small breed, young (1-3 years of age), and neutered male dogs
- multiple vaccinations administered in one setting correlated with higher risk of adverse response
- the majority of reactions occurred the same day of vaccination
- multivalent vaccinations (distemper-parvovirus combinations, some bordetella vaccinations, etc.) did not correlate with more reactions.
I experienced my own VAAE as a post-vaccine non-hypersensitivity reaction back in 1995 when I developed flu-like symptoms during the series of rabies vaccinations I received at the start of my first year as a veterinary student. As a result, I am extremely cautious about getting further immunized for an infectious agent, including influenza and rabies.
I’ve only received influenza vaccination one time since then, which was before traveling to Peru to volunteer with Amazon CARES in 2011 when swine flu (H1N1) was running rampant in third world countries. I get my rabies antibody titers checked annually and my levels have always been sufficient, even though it’s now been nearly 20 years since I was first immunized.
The frequency of vaccinosis development in pets is challenging to quantify. Yet, health care practitioners with a discerning eye that are involved in caring for patients suffering from clinical signs consistent with vaccinosis can certainly site cases where the link between vaccine administration and development of chronic health problems exists.
Check back to my petMD Daily Vet column next week to learn more specific details about vaccinosis in pets, including clinical signs, treatment, and prevention.
In the meantime, check out this YouTube webinar I created on behalf of Spectrum Labs, makers of VacciCheck (distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus rapid antibody titer): Vaccinosis: Etiology, Illness, and Prevention
For full disclosure, I work as a paid veterinary consultant for Spectrum Labs because I’m a believer in preventing VAAEs and vaccinosis in my patients.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney