More isn’t always better, and in the case of vaccines, we are learning that sometimes less is more. Weimaraners are considered an at-risk breed for hyperinflammatory diseases. IBD and diarrhea problems, skin issues, HOD, fever, allergies and vaccine reactions are all part of this syndrome. In short, it means that Weims have a tendency for their immune system to be out of whack!
The immune system is intricate and interconnected, and we don’t really know why one Weimaraner may have a vaccine reaction and another may not. We only know that as a whole the breed is known to have a tendency towards problems. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help protect your Weim’s immune system, and taking the time to choose a vaccine protocol wisely is one of the best things you can do to keep him healthy.
But how do you determine what vaccines they need and what is overkill and might trigger a bad reaction?
Core vs Non-Core Vaccines
Core vaccines (rabies, distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus-2)
- Protect against serious health threats
- Highly effective
- Protect for years, and most likely for life
Vaccines that protect against the most deadly diseases are called core vaccines. These are considered required.
Non-core vaccines (parainfluenza, bordetella, leptospirosis, lyme, corona)
- Variable protection
- Duration of protection is short
- High chance of vaccine reaction
Non-core vaccines are the rest of the vaccines and may be necessary for some dogs, but in general, they are vaccines that don’t work well, and/or are for diseases that are insignificant. Ever heard of a dog with Corona? Why? Because an infection rarely turns into the disease. and if it does, it’s mild and just goes away. (See other examples of why non-core vaccines may be unnecessary in this article: Considerations In Designing Effective And Safe Vaccination Programs For Dogs” – PDF – In: Recent Advances in Canine Infectious Diseases, Carmichael L.E. (Ed.) by R.D. Schultz, University of Wisconsin.)
The Weimaraner Club of America does not recommend non-core vaccines other than in areas where the diseases are prevalent.
Why Non-Core Vaccines Can Be More Dangerous
Non-core vaccines such as Leptospirosis, Lyme and Bordetella (kennel cough), Corona and the rattlesnake vaccines are killed vaccines. They are called “non-infectious” vaccines because they cannot revert back to virulence, so theoretically are safer in this sense.
The problem with killed vaccines is that they require more frequent vaccination for them to work, and they are also more likely to cause reactions, especially the ones with adjuvants (a substance added to vaccines to increase immune response).
Core vaccines such as Parvovirus, Distemper and Adenovirus-2 are modified-live vaccines or “infectious” vaccines. We are actually infecting the dog to get an immune response. And this is the reason that they are far more effective. Given at the proper time, these vaccines have been proven to last at least 7 years and they probably last a lifetime.
The Puppy Series and Re-Vaccination or Titering
The scariest time to vaccinate is when you are going through the puppy series because of their immature immune systems. They are initially protected by taking in colostrum from mother’s milk which passes on mother’s antibodies, but by 16 weeks old, mom’s antibodies fade away, and the puppy has to develop its own immunity. We don’t know exactly when this happens in any individual puppy, so we vaccinate puppies in a series of shots. The risk here is that you are dealing with a young animal that is having its immature immune system challenged multiple times over a short period of time, usually something like 8, 12 and 16 weeks old.
And if you’ve been conservative with vaccination, you may be wondering if your puppy is protected as he grows into adulthood. Do you re-vaccinate?
Luckily antibodies are easily measured and this is something you can do at your vet’s office. Ask for a titer test. Your vet will just draw some blood and check to see if there are adequate antibodies to warrant re-vaccination or not.
The other option is to just vaccinate again and some may opt to do this since vaccination is less expensive than the titer test. A booster at around a year old with core (and non-core if necessary) may be a good idea because the immune system is mature and should provide a better immune response and immunity than when he was a puppy. After boostering, some people choose never to vaccinate again (other than rabies per local ordinances) because Parvo and Distemper vaccines have been proven to last at least 7 years (J Am Vet Med Assoc 1995; 207(4):421-425). Or you can continue to titer through your Weim’s lifetime.
Never Vaccinate When…
There are times when you don’t have to think, just don’t do it.
- Sick dogs should not be vaccinated. Allergic reaction, diarrhea, itching and other “minor” illnesses are still illnesses. Do not vaccinate until your dog is completely healthy.
- If your dog is stressed, his immune system is also stressed. Consider a stressed dog an unhealthy dog and do not vaccinate. (Stress can include things like your dog having been shipped, moving or a big change in routine.)
- Boarding can be stressful for your Weimaraner and boarding kennels require vaccinated dogs. Core vaccines should be give at least a month prior to boarding and Bordatella is usually required a week prior.
- If your bitch is in heat, you should wait until she is not under such strong influence of her hormones. The best time would be right in between seasons.
- Geriatric dogs do not need to be vaccinated. They have benefited from a lifetime of vaccines!
You Need to be Your Weim’s Advocate
Since Weimaraners are known to be more prone to vaccine reactions, it is important to know which shots your Weimaraner is getting. Talk about your Weimaraner’s vaccination protocol with your vet or breeder before simply administering a bunch of shots!
Photo of Trax Dixie Flyer, Dr. Jean Lavalley and Denee Kelley at William’s Animal Hospital, Murfreesboro TN courtesy of Angela Still.