Vaccine schedule, pet size and titer tests (VacciCheck).

I recently read a new blog about vaccines that was written by Dr. Ana Falk and shared by Dr. Jean Dodds on her website: Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog | Vaccinations: A Global Perspective.

We at IVC (Integrative Veterinary Care) are sharing the link with our clients, as it provides a different point of view on vaccinations. In this article, Dr. Ana Falk discusses homeopathic vaccines (nosodes) and also introduces a different perspective regarding vaccinating versus treating parvovirus and distemper in pets. I share the same point of view as Dr. Falk, and I find this article well-written, providing another supporting opinion. Most veterinarians advocate use of vaccines, following proper protocol and schedules. Although Integrative Veterinary Care promotes fewer vaccines, we still do support them because we feel that they are important in preventing diseases that may cause death from fatal illness and disease. It is easier for us to prevent these diseases then to treat them.

Rabies and titer testing

A question by Marie Gallant on our Facebook page asks about the usage of vaccines versus natural options. This prompted us to look into relevant links and supportive information for our clients. In regards to rabies vaccines for our clients, this is our opinion: By law, for rabies in New Brunswick, we follow the manufacturer’s recommendation. Dogs and outdoor cats older than 12 weeks of age need Rabies vaccines once, then again a year later, followed by vaccination every three years. 

In the past, we have sent all our blood tests and titers to Kansas State University for lab testing. However, we are happy to announce that we now have access to in-house blood testing for core dog vaccines titers (Distemper, Parvovirus, and Hepatitis) through one of our affiliate hospitals in Moncton (Elmwood Veterinary Hospital). The cost is the same as the core vaccine fee, making this option more affordable for our clients! Although ideally Rabies titers would be performed, the cost of a Rabies vaccination is cheaper than the actual Titer test, so many owners choose to vaccinate instead of the test.

What vaccinations are recommended? 

Before giving any and all vaccinations, I will evaluate your dog on an individual basis. For all vaccines, I try to minimize its use and will only vaccinate when I believe it’s necessary for the individual dog. I typically don’t recommend the Lyme vaccine and only use it for dogs that are getting ticks weekly. I also try to avoid giving Leptospirosis when I can, and if I do, then it is only given to dogs at risk (hunting dogs and dogs that spend time off-leash). Leptospirosis should not be given to dogs under twelve weeks of age, although I have seen it done by some vets.

More vaccines equal more chances of allergic reactions and other side effects. When giving vaccinations, we are injecting something foreign into the animal’s body. This can sometimes hyper-stimulate the immune system into doing things it should not! In the past few years, new studies have shown how long vaccines last in our pet’s bodies — because of the lack of this information just a few years ago, I believe that we have been over-vaccinating our pets.

Depending on the exposure, I will do vaccines for some diseases every three years (or  titer testing) instead of yearly. I do support the puppy booster series (two-three shots in one month intervals). Having experience treating Parvovirus in unvaccinated puppies, knowing that a vaccine could have saved the animal is sad. Personally, I do not vaccinate my pets anymore since they have no contact with other dogs as well as one of my dogs having an immune disease.

Indoor adult cats are vaccinated every three years or more depending on their risk of exposure to other cats. Cats that go outside will get some vaccines every 3 years (herpesvirus, panleukopenia and calicivirus) and leukemia yearly. Kitten vaccines follow the puppy vaccines booster series schedule then they are vaccinated a year later. After this we  do the adult cat schedule mentioned above.

 What is the importance of size? 

Let’s talk about size when it comes to vaccines! Does size really matter? Do we need to give less then the usual 1ml vaccine per dog no matter what size they are? In most veterinary schools, students are taught that it is necessary to give 1ml per dog because this amount was required to stimulate an immune response. Unlike drugs (like antibiotics) that are dose-by-weight in kg, vaccines are dosed per pet. This means that a 5lbs Yorkshire is receiving the same amount as a 100 lbs Great Dane is.

size for vaccines

Because drugs are metabolized by the organs like the kidney and the liver, we need to dose them per weight in order to get an effective level in the blood and tissue so that they can do their job to fight infections and such. The bigger the animal, the more area to cover. But, since vaccines are designed to boost the immune response, it involves the immune system which is not measured by weight and so vaccines are not processed by the body as a drug would.

So, in theory, size should not matter since it is all the same immune system. I decided to personally investigate this a bit, as I struggled to understand how this worked.

Recently, I did titer testing on a 16 lbs Papillon. Although she was now about nine years old, she had only received her puppy vaccinations. Despite nine years of not receiving any vaccinations, it was very interesting to find that both her Parvovirus and Adenovirus titers were still up to date, while her Distemper was a bit lower than the recommendation. ( Technically, this required her to receive a booster shot for Distemper virus, while Parvovirus and Adenovirus was unnecessary.

The time that vaccinations stay in the body depends on the individual. Not every dog will have such a strong immune response to a puppy vaccine that it supports them for nine years. However, we always recommend titer testing every three years, as suggested by Dr. Dodds’.

Now, let’s jump back to the question about the amount of vaccine in relation to the size of the animal. Although in veterinary school I was taught that size did not matter, I read that horses and other large animals actually did differ in the amount of vaccines. For dogs and cats, 1ml is recommended, while horses and cattle receive 2ml and extremely large animals, such as elephants, receive 2-4ml.

So, if size really does not matter, why are horses receiving a higher quantity of vaccines than dogs, for instance? I decided to email Dr. Dodds’ and ask her opinion on the subject.

Dr. Dodds said that her nearly five decades of veterinary experience have shown that the dose of Distemper and Parvovirus can be reduced by 50%, but not more, for small breed dogs (based on their body weight), yet still convey full duration of immunity and protection. This rule applies to both puppies and older small dogs weighing less than twelve pounds. In Dr. Dodds’ studies, she found that greater than 95% of the dogs given a half dose amounted to what is considered to be protective antibody titers for both Distemper and Parvovirus.

She also noted that by reducing the volume of a vaccine, we are decreasing the likelihood of an adverse reaction to the vaccine. Common adverse symptoms often occur within three days of vaccination and can more intensely affect dogs of a young age, small size, neutered dogs, as well as the amount of vaccines given at one time.

Dr. Dodds’ research did not include Adenovirus, so it is unknown if this virus applies to the same idea that dogs under twelve pounds can receive 50% of the typical vaccination amount. Dr. Dodd mentioned that she may be possibly starting a pilot study in regards to small-breed dogs, like the Maltese. Hopefully we will soon have more data that safely recommends giving smaller breeds less vaccines.

As medicine evolves, so do our beliefs and opinions on it. As veterinarians, we can only recommend what we know, what we have learned, and what is supported by scientific data. But as veterinarians, it is also our responsibility to continue learning, question things, and learn from our mistakes.

Giving multiple vaccinations at once

In my personal experience, I have found that giving more than one type of vaccine at one time often leads to more adverse reactions, particularly in small-breed dogs. Although I have seen adverse reactions in large-breed animals, they are typically mild. Unfortunately, severe vaccine reactions in small dogs are more common.

In my practice, I have began splitting up vaccinations for small dogs, and thus far, have not seen a severe reaction in over three years. Now, whether this is because of the amount of the vaccine dose or because the dog only received one vaccine at a time, I don’t know for sure.

As far as splitting off vaccinations, I like to give a Rabies vaccination separate from other core vaccines in smaller dogs. I have also stopped vaccinating my clients yearly and now evaluate the dog’s individual case to determine the frequency of vaccinations needed, as well as titer testing.

In a nutshell… 

The moral of the story is if the dog is under twelve pounds, we should consider reducing the dose of the vaccines for them. To be safe, We can recommend a titer test a couple of weeks later to see if the dose was effective. According to Dr. Dodds’ research, if we give more than 50% of the standard dose, 95% of these dogs will respond well.

However, reducing the dose is going against the manufacturer’s label, and this can put veterinarians in a risky place if the animal acquires Distemper or Parvovirus at a later date. This is a common dilemma in the veterinary profession — every time a veterinarian recommends something “off-label,” such as giving less than a 1ml vaccine for a small dog, they are putting their veterinarian’s license directly at risk. The only way we can reduce this risk is to ask the owner to write a client consent form, acknowledging that their pet is being vaccinated against the manufacturer’s label. Unfortunately, until manufacturers modify their labels to allow for different doses, changing dosages will remain scary territory for veterinarians. This constant legal threat explains why it is difficult for veterinarians to modify dosages and alter their standard practice and routines.

Recommended links and resources

We at IVC (Integrative Veterinary Care) agree with what Dr. Dodds’ opinion on vaccines. You can visit her page: (

Here is the link to Dr. Dodds’ vaccine schedule for those who are interested:
( Although we use a different vaccine company, it is still the same principle. There are many websites discussing vaccines and it can be hard to know what to believe or agree with. Dr. Dodds’ beliefs on vaccines are similar to mine and I trust her knowledge on the subject.

 Dr. Dodds’ blog also talks about vaccine titters and vaccines: (

Dr. Dodd’ recommended vaccine schedule: (

Our Facebook page, Integrative Veterinary Care: (

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)

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