I wanted to start off by mentioning something I wasn’t aware of, but which I find surprising, and quite honestly a little disturbing. Whereas medication is dosed according to size/weight of your dog, vaccinations are not.
Whatever dose is in the bottle is the one your dog gets, whether he or she is a chihuahua or a Great Dane.
Do Dogs Really Need Annual Vaccinations?
If you’ve done any research into vaccinating your dog, you will have noticed how many conflicting opinions there are. Whether or not your old dog needs regular vaccinations is a decision you will have to make.
This post, in addition to the conversation you will have/already had with your vet should give you all the information you need to make the right decision for your old dog.
According to the AAHA guidelines (American Animal Hospital Association) – “Every dog should receive immunization with core vaccines for rabies virus, canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, and canine adenovirus- 2… Booster vaccinations in adult and senior dogs are indicated per current guidelines and may change based on re-evaluating lifestyle and exposure risks.”
Read this article “AAHA guidelines” for a breakdown of the common vaccinations, along with reasons to vaccinate and not to vaccinate.
Vaccinations are divided into two categories
Core Vaccines and Non-core Vaccines for Dogs
Core vaccines are those that are recommended for every pet, while non-core would be recommended based on lifestyle.
Core vaccines for dogs*
These vaccines are administered every 3 years unless antibody titer test results indicate that the dog possesses antibody levels that have been determined to be protective.
Note: Not everyone will accept a titer test as proof of vaccination. For example, a dog daycare may require an actually record of Parvovirus vaccination with date and veterinarian signature. A titer test may not be acceptable proof.
- Distemper (CDV)
- Parvovirus-2 (CVP-2)
- Adenovirus (CAV-2)
- Parainfluenza virus (CPiV) – frequently included as core vaccine in U.S. and Canadian practices
- Rabies – recommended as core for all dogs
Non-core vaccines for dogs*
These vaccines are administered only to dogs whose geographical location, local environment, or lifestyle place them at risk of contracting each of the speciﬁc infections.
- Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough)
- Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme)
- Canine influenza virus (CIV)
- Crotalus atrox – Western diamondback rattlesnake
*Vaccines listed are licensed by the USDA and may not be available in all countries.
Source: Today’s Veterinary Practice
What Veterinarians Have to Say About Vaccinations
I compiled opinions on vaccinations from 8 different veterinarians.
Vet View #1
In an article written for VCA hospitals, Dr. Krista Williams and Dr. Ernest Ward have this to say about vaccinations and senior dogs:
“Keep vaccinations current. Your veterinarian will determine the proper vaccine schedule for your senior pet’s lifestyle.
Typically, senior pets will receive most vaccines every three years. Some vaccines with shorter duration of immunity such as kennel cough, leptospirosis, or Lyme disease vaccines may be given more frequently (every six to twelve months).”
Vet View #2
Dr. Marty Becker says – “older pets have little risk of developing these infectious diseases if they were effectively vaccinated as puppies… and developed an immune response. But that doesn’t mean there is no risk to an older pet.”
The infectious diseases he’s referring to are parvo and distemper. The reason for the low risk is because they would have already been vaccinated against these diseases several times including boosters.
The article goes on to mention these vaccines are important for senior dogs because they need the extra fighting power due to a weakened immune system.
Vet View #3
Dr. Dunn, a veterinarian with 32 years of experience, shares his views in an article entitled “To Vaccinate or Not: A Vet’s Perspective.”
“Through 38 years of managing pet diseases and seeing tens of thousands of patients live well into their teens that have had numerous vaccines almost yearly throughout their entire lives, I am not convinced by experience that vaccinating has a destructive effect on the overwhelming majority of animals.
I am, however, convinced that vaccinating has saved uncountable lives from the ravages of parvovirus and distemper… not to mention potential rabies cases.”
When it comes to old dogs in particular, he had this to say – “If I see a very old pet that has very little exposure potential to contagious diseases and that has been vaccinated numerous time throughout its life, I intellectually and experientially have less inclination to revaccinate that animal yearly. But I must assume it has some level of immunity because I have no way of really knowing.”
Vet View #4
Watch the video below by Dr. Karen Becker to learn the history of vaccine recommendations.
Spoiler alert: many vets are making recommendations based on outdated information.
She also discusses titer tests and the risk of over-vaccinating your dog.
Vet View #5
“Just like young pets, our older pets are also at risk of catching diseases. As your pet gets older, they might not be quite as strong and find it difficult to get over illnesses. Being older doesn’t mean they are more resistant to disease – if anything, they are more at risk.
It’s important that you continue to get your pet vaccinated regularly to protect them. If you adopt an older pet and you don’t know if they’ve ever had vaccinations, they can start a vaccination program to suit them, just ask your vet.”
“Titer testing is currently only available for dogs. It is a blood test that tells you whether your dog needs a booster vaccination or not. While this can be useful, it doesn’t replace the need for boosters completely and it doesn’t cover all diseases.”
You can read more here.
Vet View #6
“I tell my clients this: rabies vaccine is the only legally required vaccine and should only be given to healthy animals, according to the vaccine label. The others are not useful, necessary or required.”
“Rampant over-vaccination occurs in the name of policy and causes untold damage to our pets. It’s not unusual for me to see several cases each week involving geriatric animals with chronic disease, who were vaccinated anyway at a recent veterinary visit simply because they were overdue or it was clinic policy.”
“This common practice has no scientific merit and causes untold damage to animals in the form of chronic disease of all varieties. Homeopathy refers to this as vaccinosis or the chronic disease state resulting from vaccination.”
You can read more in the article titled Immunity Without the Needle: Is There a Better Way?
Vet View #7
Dr. Ken Tudor, in an article published on the PetMd website had this to say:
“Many diseases in humans and pets are on the rise again due to parents and pet owners opting out of vaccinations against these diseases.
All veterinarians agree that there are occasions when vaccines can be delayed until a pet’s condition is resolved or improved. But absolving an animal from all future vaccinations simply because it is has a chronic condition or is old is questionable.
There is no hard, universal evidence that vaccinations are detrimental to these animals or that they will cause disease or cancer. In fact, unvaccinated infirm or geriatric animals may be at higher risk if exposed to contagious diseases.”
Vet View #8
“The expert telling you to re-vaccinate your already vaccinated senior pet should be told in no uncertain terms that they are out of line.” This quote is by Dr. Will Falconer.
This table by immunologist Dr. RD Schultz, is from Dr. Falconer’s article quoted above. It shows how long lasting these vaccines really are.
|Canine Distemper (MLV)||>7 years||>15 years|
|Parvovirus (MLV)||>7 years||>9 years|
|Adenovirus (MLV)||>7 years||>9 years|
|Rabies (Killed)||>3 years||>7 years|
*Challenge – “blowing the infectious, live, disease-causing distemper virus at a group of vaccinated test dogs and seeing if they survive.”
**Serology – Titer testing – “It’s the blood test that tells how much protective antibody is in your dog’s blood.”
Recommended Vaccination Schedule for Dogs
You may be wondering what the standard recommendation schedule is for your dog.
That’s good because you have to know that in order to make an informed decision about vaccinating your senior dog.
You can view a vaccination schedule chart for dogs (for both Core and Non-core Vaccines) HERE.
Keep in mind this is the standard recommendation but your veterinarian will provide one specifically for your dog.
At What Age Do You Stop Vaccinating Dogs?
According to my research, vets who believe in vaccinating will do it for a dog’s entire life.
If you ask senior dog parents what some of their vets have recommended, or what they’ve decided to do based on their own research, the responses will be different.
I’ve included some of them below.
Do older dogs still need rabies shots?
Rabies is the only vaccination my old dogs get, and that’s because we travel and is a requirement before entering most countries.
Dr. Todd Cooney (quoted in in vet view #6) says – “I tell my clients this: rabies vaccine is the only legally required vaccine and should only be given to healthy animals, according to the vaccine label.”
According to Dr. Tudor (quoted in vet view #7) – “Rabies vaccines are not given to pets to protect the animal, they are given to protect humans.
Public health departments, the agencies that determine rabies vaccine protocols, are only concerned about the welfare of humans, hence all of the regulations regarding rabies vaccines.”
“I have always required that my patients have a current rabies vaccine in order to protect my staff, in case they are bitten by an uncooperative pet… There is no evidence that a rabies vaccine every three years will harm older or chronically ill pets.”
Read this article written by Dr Patricia Jordan – “65 Ways Rabies Vaccination Can Harm Your Dog” for more information.
Is There An Alternative to Vaccinating An Old Dog?
Yes. It’s called titer testing, which was already mentioned above.
Blood tests will determine if your dog has immunity to what they would normally be vaccinated for such as parvo, distemper and adenovirus.
What Happens If an Old Dog is Not Vaccinated? What Are the Risks?
Due to an older dog’s weakened immune system, they are susceptible to any infectious canine disease.
This is what the PDSA has to say about that! –
“Just like young pets, our older pets are also at risk of catching diseases.
As your pet gets older, they might not be quite as strong and find it difficult to get over illnesses. Being older doesn’t mean they are more resistant to disease – if anything, they are more at risk. It’s important that you continue to get your pet vaccinated regularly to protect them.
If you adopt an older pet and you don’t know if they’ve ever had vaccinations, they can start a vaccination program to suit them, just ask your vet.”
What Are Other Senior Dog Parents Doing?
I’ve provided you with as much information as I could, from experts, on the issue of vaccinating dogs.
Having said that, as caregivers to senior dogs we have the biggest part to play in terms of their health and wellbeing, and we make decisions based on the best advice we can find.
Knowing what other senior dog parents are doing not only gives us the support we need, but they are a great resource to learn from.
Here are some opinions other senior dog owners have shared with me over the years.
♦ No do not give them! Vaccines last at least 7 yrs so seniors have been good for a while. Orson is 15 and hasn’t gotten shots in about 8 yrs.
♦ I wouldn’t risk the health of my 3 dogs if I had any doubts. No vaccinations especially for seniors and those who have chronic conditions.
♦ I will now only do the kennel cough vaccine on my senior. It’s the only vaccine given yearly in my country, all the others are given every 3 years. But I don’t think she needs them anymore. I wouldn’t want her to catch kennel cough at her age though, that’s why I’ll continue that one. She’s already susceptible to pneumonia.
♦ My 2 guys got all their puppy shots and have never needed another vaccine since. My 14 yr old has cancer and will never get another rabies shot. The 9 yr old was titer tested for rabies and he is not getting a rabies shot either.
♦ No, I would not vaccinate a senior dog. if they have gotten all core vaccinations by the age of 10 they should be immune. If you’re unsure you can always titer
♦ Never. They are not needed. Not even Rabies. Titer instead
♦ Our veterinarians in Ohio do not make us vaccinate our seniors- period the end
♦ I basically quarantine my senior dogs at some point and only vaccinate if it’s something I’m worried about. Like rattlesnake.
♦ Rabies by law. But I don’t vax my dogs after initial vax.
♦ Andy is 12 and I just did a titer/blood test and he showed high distemper immunity so I did not vaccinate this time. I will always do rabies, almost certainly.
♦ Ours is 14. I’m not getting her shots anymore.
♦ Nope depending on age. My ten year olds are up for their three year vaccines. Those will be their last.
♦ My baby Chazz will be 18 in July and he hasn’t had shots in years. He goes outside to potty and right back in. I just don’t see the need.
♦ I haven’t gotten my 15 and 16 year old poodles their booster shots for years now and I don’t plan to.
♦ My 15 year old Beagle hasn’t had any vaccinations since 2011. In 2018 she had titers done which showed she was still protected. She still goes everywhere including dog parks occasionally. No issues.
♦ Here in NJ, USA, my vet told me that my 13 year old Shih Tzu should NOT have vaccines. She also has adrenal carcinoma. I can get a note from the vet excusing the vaccines due to medical issues and age, which will allow me to still obtain a license for her.
♦ At best they are not necessary, at worse they can do harm.
♦ My oldest is 15 years and 3 months and I spoke with the vet about this and he ensured me that we should still keep up with the vaccinations.
♦ I also stopped vaccinating for anything that isn’t truly necessary and I have an amazing vet that is totally on board with it also and actually told me they don’t need it.
♦ My vet also stated that my 11 year old only needed rabies at this time.
♦ My vets have agreed with me. It’s been proven the puppy shots usually last a lifetime. Vets make money off the shots!
♦ No vaccines for my 17 yr old for a few years now.
♦ Just rabies every 3 years.
♦ I still vaccinate my old dog who goes out with me in public all the time.
♦ Our vet said to no longer vaccinate our 18 year old, they are not necessary after they reach the teens, as they may cause more harm than good.
The Bottom Line – Should You Vaccinate Your Senior Dog or Not?
I hope you have found this post useful and informative enough to help you decide what you’re going to do.
The decision is up to you and your veterinarian – and it’s a discussion you should have with him or her now that you are armed with the information in this article.
If you believe strongly one way or the other and your veterinarian doesn’t support your decision, consider switching to a different one.
As you saw in this article, even educated veterinarians can have vastly different opinions about vaccinating older dogs.
Remember, you are the caretaker of your senior dog, and you make the final call about what you believe is right for him or her.
2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines
I would love to hear what you’ve decided to do, and what made you come to that decision. Sharing helps others so leave your comments below.