If you’ve been in Weimaraners for any length of time, or even as a newcomer to the breed, you’ve probably heard that Weimaraners can be predisposed to vaccine reactions.
Depending on where you have heard this information, you may be in a panic as to what vaccination protocol to follow, and I really can’t blame you! Your vet tells you one thing, your breeder another, your dog park friends recommend yet something else.
Unfortunately there is no one right answer, only what is right for you and your Weim. Being confident in your decision on a vaccine protocol is not always easy, but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
How Puppy Vaccines Work
First, it’s important to understand how vaccines work. After a puppy is born, he is automatically protected by maternal antibodies after he nurses from mom. These antibodies against diseases are in the mother’s first milk called the colostrum.
These maternal antibodies that protect baby puppies “wear off” some time between 6 and 16 weeks of age, with the average from 10-14 weeks of age. If you vaccinate a puppy that still has maternal antibodies for that virus, the maternal antibodies will “block” the vaccine by fighting it, thereby not giving the vaccine a chance to work.
Because we don’t know at what age any individual puppy loses his maternal antibodies, we give puppy vaccines on a schedule, repeating the vaccine several times between 6 and 18 weeks of age. We are trying to “catch” the earliest moment the maternal antibodies wear off.
Timing is Everything!
The number of times you vaccinate your puppy is not important. It is the timing that is important! Further, the pup’s last vaccine is the most critical because about 95% of puppies at 12 weeks old have lost their maternal antibodies.
If socialization weren’t an issue (and it is a BIG issue) and a puppy were never exposed to any diseases, the most effective way to vaccinate our dogs would be to give one parvo and distemper vaccine at 16-18 weeks or later. Of course it’s completely impractical to wait this long, but in theory, this could give your Weimaraner lifetime protection, since it’s been demonstrated that vaccines can protect our dogs for 3-7 years if given at the correct time (Schultz). It’s also probable that the vaccines last a lifetime (Kirk’s Current Veterinary Therapy).
Because this is an imprecise science, there can be gaps in your puppy’s protection. This is the reason some puppies that have been vaccinated can still contract the very diseases you thought you protected him from.
For example, if a puppy’s maternal antibodies wear off at 9 weeks, and the pup was given a shot at 8 weeks and 12 weeks, the puppy’s 8 week shot was ineffective because his maternal antibodies were still in his system, so they did their job and fought the foreign invader, the vaccine. Had it been the actual disease, the maternal antibodies would have protected him as well.
The scary part is that, while it’s great that he still has his maternal antibodies at 8 weeks old, the fact that they fought the vaccine means that he was potentially in danger from 9 (when the maternal antibodies wore off in our example) to 12 weeks.
Immune Response to Puppy Vaccinations
After giving your puppy a shot, there will be an immune response to the vaccine, and especially 2 weeks after administration.
This is why it’s important to space out vaccines by 3 to 4 weeks. Never give vaccines in 2 week (or more frequent) intervals. An immune system that is busy “doing its thing” after administration will have a difficult time handling yet another pathogen to fight.
Remember, a vaccine is actually introducing a “watered down” version of the disease itself. This is put into your dog’s system to stimulate the creation of antibodies and memory of the disease so that it can fight it off the next time your Weim is exposed – to the real thing.
Weimaraner Puppy Vaccine Protocol
So with all this in mind, what should you do? I cannot answer that question for you, but you might want to consider the following:
- Your breeder’s guidelines. Your breeder may have specific guidelines, and in some cases not abiding by these guidelines may void your health guarantee.
- Weimaraner Club of America Protocol
- Jean Dodd’s Recommended Canine Vaccination Protocol and Commentary on AAHA Protocol – 2017
- American Animal Health Association Protocol – PDF
- “Considerations In Designing Effective And Safe Vaccination Programs For Dogs” – In: Recent Advances in Canine Infectious Diseases, Carmichael L.E. (Ed.) by R.D. Schultz, University of Wisconsin
- Your veterinarian’s guidelines. Please understand that veterinarians are generalists and usually not specialists in any one breed, and you cannot expect them to know every nuance of every breed, including the fact that Weimaraners can be predisposed to vaccine reactions. (In other words, you may need to educate them.)
Testing Your Weimaraner’s Antibodies
I highly recommend titer testing. Titer testing measures antibodies in your Weimaraner and will tell you for certain if your dog has antibodies to protect himself against parvo and distemper. (There are also rabies titer tests, but due to the timing of rabies vaccine administration, it is almost certain that the first shot after 16-18 weeks old would be effective.)
Titer testing may be something you need to specifically ask your vet about, since many still just follow a puppy vaccine series. Why? It is easier and cheaper to do! If your vet is completely unfamiliar with titer testing (don’t be surprised), just ask the vet to draw the blood and send it out for analysis.
The cost for this test can vary tremendously from vet clinic to vet clinic! Depending on the lab they use, and depending on their pricing practices, I have heard of titer testing running about $800 (Los Angeles prices, checked July 2021)!!
It is far less expensive to ask your vet to draw blood, and send the sample in yourself. The blood sample can be stored unrefrigerated for a couple days so packing it up for overnight delivery yourself is easy and cheap.
The cost to run the actual test is less than $100 for all three places below:
- Dr. Jean Dodd’s Hemopet
- University of Wisconsin Companion Animal Vaccine and Immuno Diagnostic Service Laboratory
- Kansas State University via Dr. John Robb’s Protect the Pets
I have started nomograph testing my dams. This means that I test my pregnant bitches’ antibodies to parvo and distemper. With the information obtained from the nomograph, and by calculating the half lives of the maternal antibody breakdown in the puppies’ passive immunity, we can get a better estimate of when the best time to vaccinate a litter is. (Isn’t science cool?)
Because I nomograph my dams with CAVID at University of Wisconsin, I ask my puppy owners to titer test their puppies for parvo and distemper at the same lab since their vaccine schedule is uniquely tailored to the litter based on their dam’s nomograph. The titer test follow up is reviewed along with the dam’s nomograph’s results.
Once you have completed your Weimaraner puppy’s vaccine series and titer testing confirming adequate protection, you have peace of mind to go socialize your puppy!
Frequency of Titer Testing and Boosters
You may repeat the titer test for parvo and distemper at a year old, and then every three years thereafter.
Titer tests mean that boosters are no longer needed based on an arbitrary schedule (such as annually or every three years). Booster should only be given only when needed, meaning when antibodies fall below protection levels. Don’t be surprised if you never have to vaccinate again!
A Quick Word about Rabies Vaccines
Because there are legal ordinances governing rabies vaccines, and because they are needed to license your dog, I do not titer test for rabies, but rather administer the shot in a safe manner.
Rabies vaccines should be given at the latest possible time in order to license your Weimaraner puppy and then every three years thereafter per local ordinances.
Never give a rabies vaccine at the same time as other vaccines, flea or tick treatments or during times of stress (when your girl is in heat, before or during boarding, etc.)
If your Weimaraner has vaccine reactions, you can get a rabies titer at the titer testing labs mentioned above, and find a vet that will write you an exemption.