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What Does It Mean When Your Dog Bows to You?

Dog Playing

Pet parents often ask me, “Why does my dog bow?” The answer is more complicated than you might think, as it often is with our wonderfully complex canine companions. Dog bows serve as building blocks of dog communication and also have a physiological function in the stretching referred to as pandiculation. The reason behind each bow depends on when the dog engages in the behavior. Let’s talk about this unique form of stretching first.

Pandiculation is a brain-reflex-action pattern in which many animals engage. The word originates from the Latin ‘pandere’, which means "to spread out" or "stretch oneself". Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does. Most often, he’ll put his front paws out and lengthen his back as he relaxes his belly. Then he may pandiculate in reverse, by contracting the anterior muscles into a flexed posture. This “wakes up” the muscular system, particularly the rear extensor muscles responsible for running. In a very real sense, this motion activates the connection between the brain and the muscles.

Stretching and yawning upon awakening is one healthy habit that we could relearn from our companion animals. As children, we instinctively do this, but many of us lose the habit.

Remember when you used to stretch? You'd wake up, gently tighten your arms and legs, feel a yawn coming on. Then, you’d reach your arms above your head, then reach down to one leg and then the other. You would first contract your muscles, then lengthen them, followed by complete relaxation. Try it some morning … you might be surprised at how good it’ll make you feel!

Dog bowing is most commonly expressed with what we refer to as the ‘play bow’. This common posture serves as a cornerstone of dog communication. Most often, it functions as an expression of ‘let's play!” Or, it can signal an apologetic tone, such as, "Oops, I didn't mean to bite so hard. I wasn't trying to hurt you. Let's keep playing!”

With a play bow, social hierarchy is not a factor. Dominant dogs can offer play bows to lower-ranked dogs and vice versa. When two dogs meet for the first time, they may initiate interaction with play bows as a way of making friends. Sometimes as part of the mating ritual, canines will initially assume the play-bow position to communicate amorous intent. Even if you don’t know exactly what your dog is attempting to communicate, the context of the behavior can help clue you in.

Want to try something fun? Try doing your own version of the play bow to your dog, and watch your pup go from serious to goofball in a heartbeat. Use a silly voice, plop down and invite your dog to play - you will likely be delighted at your dog’s response!

If dogs are not properly socialized, they may not know how to respond to another dog’s play-bow invitation. Rather than responding in-kind, they may feel threatened and growl fearfully. If you witness any fearful or aggressive reactions, I recommend working with a professional dog trainer.

If your dog invites you to play with a bow, accept the invitation! Chances are that you’ll boost her well-being, as well as yours, by simply engaging in purposeful play for only five minutes. It’s a great way to take a break from the day and begin a game of tug of war, tag or fetch.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks

Why Does My Pet Eat Grass?

Tempted to Graze

It’s a question pet parents routinely ponder. While there are competing theories regarding why dogs and cats consume grass, a conclusive answer has yet to be supported by scientific study. Here’s a brief overview of the current speculation behind your companion animal’s impulse to graze …

1. It’s an ancestral thing. The prey of wild dogs and cats frequently have grasses in their intestinal system, so domesticated dogs and cats still retain a yearning for a spot of grass in their diet.

2. Our companion animals know of some nutritional value in grasses that we have yet to uncover (such as antioxidants).

3. They do it to provoke vomiting if they’ve eaten something that has upset their stomachs.

4. They are augmenting their keen sense of smell with taste to discover more about their environment.

5. They simply like the taste and texture of grass, so it’s just for the sake of satisfaction!

Although we may never know the exact reason why, we do know that this is one of the most commonly asked questions that veterinarians hear from their clients. If you notice excessive grass-eating with either your dog or cat, please consult your vet.

What Should I Feed My Senior Dog?

Aging Dog

A lot of folks don’t realize it, but as companion animals grow older, their nutritional needs often change. As their caretakers, we owe it to them to provide the best we can, based on their current nutritional requirements. The truth is, when it comes to senior dogs, appropriate, targeted nourishment can make a real difference in terms of longevity and long-term happiness. More...

How Do I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

Repeated head shaking. Foul-smelling, waxy build-up. Red, painfully inflamed ears. What do all these things have in common? All are symptoms of otitis externa, or what is commonly referred to as ear infections. If you have ever groaned inwardly and felt dismay the moment your dog starts shaking his head or rubbing his ears along the nearest available surface, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, too many pet parents are more than familiar with this recurring medical problem. Often, it is accompanied by an offensive odor and one can only imagine how overwhelming the smell is to the suffering pup!

Canine ear infections result from an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria in the ear canal, causing redness, irritation and a heavy accumulation of wax. Likely triggers of these maladies are skin reactions to inhaled allergens – like pollen, mold or dust mites – or food allergies and sensitivities. Be aware that both large ears and swimming predispose dogs to ear infections.

Humans tend to develop ear infections as a result of viral infections, typically in infancy or early youth. As youngsters, our Eustachian tubes are very small. Respiratory congestion can lead to blockage of these canals, resulting in otitis media (a middle ear infection). Because the infection is internal, they frequently require oral antibiotics. In contrast, pets usually develop ear infections as adults, and the infection is almost always localized in the external portion of the ear. In most cases, the application of prescription drops or ointments directly into the ear canal usually resolves the illness. If you suspect your companion animal may be suffering from an ear infection, please seek veterinarian assistance for diagnosis and treatment. If necessary, your vet may prescribe a topical medicine and advise routine cleaning.

In this episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah reveals the steps to safe and effective ear cleaning to promote overall ear health.

Amazing Study on Fighting Canine Cancer with Mushrooms

longer-life-mushroom-therapy

When I was a kid, I hated mushrooms. HATED them! My mother, determined to get me to partake, would chop them up into bits and mix them in with ground beef stirred into spaghetti sauce. When she went to put the dinner plates away, she’d find a tiny pile of minced up mushrooms on the edge of my plate. Yes, I was stubborn. But Mom had the right idea ... mushrooms are potent little powerhouses of nutrition.

In terms of how humans use mushrooms, they can be broadly divided into three categories: those we eat, those that might kill you, and those with medicinal properties. It's this last category that we're most interested in today. Civilizations going back thousands of years recognized the power of mushrooms in certain disease processes, and veterinarians are also looking for ways these compounds can help our canine companions suffering from cancer. 

Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer found almost exclusively in dogs, and one we see far too often in the clinic. One of the most insidious cancers due to its rapid growth, this sarcoma (connective tissue tumors) is found in the lining of blood vessels. While surgery and chemotherapy may delay the spread of the disease, it very rarely cures the cancer. Even with proactive treatment, fewer than 10% of dogs with this cancer are alive one year after the initial diagnosis. These therapies are invasive, expensive, and cause significant discomfort in and of themselves, so many pet parents do not pursue them.

A group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine investigated the effects of Coriolus versicolor, often referred to as turkey tail. It’s a mushroom commonly used in Chinese medicine, where it's regarded to have anti-tumor properties. Rather than using the whole mushroom, they used an extract of the bioactive agent and administered it to dogs with hemangiosarcoma ... and the effects surprised everyone.

In this study, 15 dogs with naturally occurring hemangiosarcoma were given standardized extracts of the turkey tail mushroom rather than the traditional US medical treatment (surgery plus chemotherapy). To the amazement and delight of the researchers, all 15 dogs showed significant improvement: it took longer for the cancer to spread, and overall survival time was increased. Dogs treated with surgery have a median survival of 19-86 days. However, in this study, dogs receiving the highest dose of mushroom extract had a median survival of 199 days! No, it wasn’t a cure, but more than doubling the time you have left without the need for surgery or chemotherapy, that is definitely worth celebrating!

treating-canine-cancer

While researchers have a general idea of how mushroom extracts work, the exact mechanisms have yet to be identified. The active agent in turkey tail, PSP, boosts the body’s own cancer-fighting abilities by improving the function of the immune system. Compare this to a traditional chemotherapy treatment, where a toxic agent kills both cancer cells and normal cells. As you might imagine, treatment with the mushroom extract is much better tolerated in patients than chemotherapy. In fact, in the Pennsylvania study, researchers found no evidence of adverse side effects!

In Japan, turkey tail has been used extensively as a treatment for many types of cancers, including gastric, breast, lung and colorectal cancer. And it’s not just this mushroom! Over 100 species of mushroom are used as adjunct cancer treatments in Japan and China.

There’s a reason you haven’t heard of it as much in the States. Here, mushroom extracts are classified as a supplement and not a drug, thus they are not regulated or approved by the FDA. It is, however, still available and the research is popping up all over the place. It’s on the radar of established treatment institutes such as Memorial Sloan Kettering. Keep in mind that all of this is a brand new avenue of research with much left to learn about why mushrooms might have a positive effect. Bottom line, don't rush out to buy something you don't understand, but rather have a conversation with your doctor before trying anything new.

While the veterinary studies are few and far between, mushroom extracts are promising enough that many veterinary oncologists are already starting to incorporate them into their treatment regimens. Although they are considered fairly safe, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian before starting any new supplement. In addition to making sure it won’t interact with other treatments your dog is receiving, your veterinarian will be able to recommend a brand she trusts to provide a reliable, active dose of the extract. Not all supplements are produced with the same quality control standards.

The bottom line is that this is definitely an avenue that warrants further investigation. In fact, the study was so successful, the manufacturer of the PSP supplement plans to study its effects on human cancers, too! 

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM


Sources

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/mushrooms-pdq

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/384301/

https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/compound-derived-mushroom-lengthens-survival-time-dogs-cancer-penn-vet-study-finds

Fun Ways to Exercise with Your Pet

fun-exercise-with-pets

Spring has a way of breathing energy back into your life. So why not take some of that kinetic potential and pour it into a fun activity? Perhaps even something you can do with your companion animal that could actually improve your health? 

Sure, you could go to the park and play fetch. Or play Frisbee. But if you're looking for something different but still a healthy activity, check out our fun ways to exercise with your pet below!

Pup Pilates

In the last 20 years, millions of Americans have tried pilates, the art of controlled movements. As an exercise regimen, pilates can help improve balance, tone muscles and bring practitioners a sense of peace. For a new twist, try doing exercises while holding your pets! While cradling your puppy or small dog (sorry Newfoundland moms and dads) while doing squats, lunges, lunges with side to side twists and bridge pulses with your little buddy on your belly. Of course, this is only something you should do if your dog (or cat) is calm enough. A wriggly pupper might throw off your sense of balance, so exercise some caution.

Agility Training

The great thing about agility training is that it not only provides exercise for both you and your dog, it can forge a closer connection between you, too! And it doesn't have to take place in a pre-approved or professional facility. As long as there's plenty of room to move around, you can set up your own little endurance challenges. If you have a small dog, a long hallway can afford sufficient space to set up an obstacle course (think plastic cups rather than pylons and wooden dowels on stacks of books as hurdles). The only limits are your imagination!

yoga-with-your-cat

Yoga with Your Cat

We know what you're going to say after reading this headline ... "yoga to be kitten me!" But, no, we're completely serious. Just like with Pup Pilates, only docile cats should join you for resistance training. After the customary warm-up, some compatible moves you can do with your cat are the prayer position, the Lion King pose (remember when Simba was held aloft for the admiration of the Animal Kingdom? it's based on that), the Crescent Warrior (or in this case, Purrier) and Vinyasa to downward dog (yes, we do admit the irony of doing that pose with your cat). Even if you don't hold your cat, their close proximity can add both peaceful and playful moments to your practice. Some people just enjoy the happy purring of their kitties while working through their yoga routine. Who knows, that constant sound might even help you reach a higher state of peace!

Low-Resistance Strength Training

If you're more old school and would prefer to rekindle a weight-training routine, but you can't lift the same amounts you used to, strength training with your pets is an option! Before you laugh, just recall that it did wonders for Milo of Croton, a 6th Century Greek wrestler who lifted a calf every day until it was a fully grown bull (or so they say). But we're not shooting for anything remotely that superhuman. Try push ups with your cat on your back, the kitty press, puppy squats, lateral raises (again, think Lion King) and cat curls. And, of course, in between reps, be sure to take time for scritches, boops and copious pets.

So Many More Options ...

If none of these sound appealing because you're looking for something a little more strenuous or you just want to get away from your house, check out our video tutorials on all sorts of outdoorsy activities and exercising you can do with your dog, including jogging, biking, swimming, hiking and camping.

Do you have a special activity you like to do with your companion animals? Share your exercise tips in the comments section below!

Angel Food Cake Recipe

Angel-Food-Cake-Recipe

Nothing says “Spring has sprung” like a joyfully light angel food cake topped with freshly harvested berries. It’s the perfect excuse to go out and find a farmer’s market and relish in the springtime air and take in the sights of nature’s wonder ... maybe even meet some new people from your town!

Our culinary team has whipped this smashing spring dessert that might just be your new favorite healthy treat! What’s so amazing is that it’s packed with nutrients, thanks to our incredibly nourishing Minerals & Antioxidants Drink Mix.

Best of all, this cake recipe is easy as pie. Perhaps even easier!

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg. (16 oz.) angel food cake mix
  • 2 scoops Minerals & Antioxidants (Cherry or Tropical Fruit Flavor)
  • Whipped cream to top (optional)
  • 2 cups raspberries & sliced strawberries to garnish (optional)

Directions

Add dry Minerals & Antioxidants mix to water called for in cake mix directions. Using this water mixture, prepare cake batter as directed on package, and bake. Once out of the oven, invert pan, cool cake completely and gently remove cake from pan.

Top cake with whipped topping. Garnish with berries.

Drinking Wine For Your Health

Wine-for-Your-Health

You know how it goes. Your doctor tells you that overall, you’re pretty healthy, but your bad cholesterol is creeping up and your good cholesterol isn’t where it should be. You already live a heart-healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising and minimizing stress. What more can you do? If you’re anything like us, you look for answers anywhere you can ...

The Discovery

… like the internet. Wine is good for the heart! It says so right there on Instagram, next to that photo of a smiling, fit, bikini-clad influencer hoisting a glass of pinot noir. She looks healthy AND happy. Clearly this is something you must investigate further.

The Deep Dive

You Google “why is wine good for your heart,” and you are not disappointed in the results. “Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart,” says the Mayo Clinic. “Resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and prevents blood clots. Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a lower risk of inflammation and blood clotting, which can lead to heart disease. But other studies found no benefits from resveratrol in preventing heart disease.”

You choose to ignore that last sentence and create a game plan. Better health starts now.

The Field Test

A friend agrees to meet you at a local wine bar. It’s happy hour, and you’ve never been happier to embark on a new wellness regime. Two glasses of cabernet in, you’re feeling awfully good about your commitment to yourself. “Polyphenols are red compound modifiers that help your blood vessels,” you offer knowingly between sips. “Reservanoid fights blood clotting in flamingoes.”

You settle your tab, leave a generous tip and call a cab. You are warm. Content. Your body is thanking you already.

The Letdown

It’s 6 a.m., and you’ve woken up with a splitting headache. Your mouth feels like the sticky side of masking tape. And it dawns on you ... perhaps I've made an unfortunate mistake.

The Lesson

You remember the old advice: “Know your limits.” You acknowledge that perhaps three (okay, four) glasses of red wine falls well outside your limit. After you’ve guzzled two cups of strong coffee and a giant glass of water, you settle back in front of your computer. This time, you actually finish the article you glossed over before and read, “Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease.” Furthermore, they advise, “If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation."

So what does that mean exactly for healthy adults? We're so glad you asked.

  • Up to one drink a day for women of all ages.
  • Up to one drink a day for men older than age 65.
  • Up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do.

Fine. FINE. You realize that as fun as a glass of pinot can be, you really might be better off finding a hangover-free source of antioxidants. And maybe on the way home from work, you'll also buy some grapes.

Reference:

www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/red-wine/art-20048281

A Realistic Proposal to Fight Climate Change

planting-trees-for-the-future

As far as problems go, they don't come much larger than the threats posed by global climate change. And yet, instead of engaging in a meaningful debate about the best solution to the problem, we seem to be stuck in a cycle where many remain resistant to the mere idea of tackling the issues we face. Why is it that? Sociologists have an answer to this conundrum that makes perfect sense. Because the problem is so monumental, and the potential devastation too frightening, it almost seems inevitable, as something impossible to fix. But, what if the solution is much simpler than we're expecting? Not only simple but completely doable? And, icing on the cake, what if the fix was something that pretty much everyone views as positive?

In mid-February, a Swiss researcher named Thomas Crowther presented his research findings at the Science Transcending Boundaries Conference, this year's Annual Meeting of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). Until very recently, the prevailing wisdom was that a widescale adoption of wind turbines and a mass conversion of diets from meat-eating to vegetarian would have the greatest impacts on the planet's environment. But after Dr. Crowther presented the results of his amazing research project, we now know that a worldwide tree-planting "spree" would have the greatest impact on our planet's environment. That's right, simply by increasing the number of trees worldwide from three trillion to four trillion, we could cancel out more than a decade of greenhouse emissions right away! According to Crowther, trees should now be viewed as “our most powerful weapon in the fight against climate change."

Could restoring the health of our planet be as simple as planting one trillion trees? The longer answer is that a combination of ending destructive farming practices and replenishing our planet's biodiversity through forestation really could be the turning point in our ecological crisis. In a very real sense, planting seedling trees is the first step in a proactive solution to most of our climate problems. On the micro-level, we can help lift people out of poverty, while on the macro-level, we could make great strides towards reversing the proliferation of carbon in the atmosphere.

As part of our Evergreen commitment (Life’s Abundance has been certified as an Evergreen company by the Tugboat Institute), we make decisions based not just on profit, but on long-term sustainability and on being a good steward of the environment. When we launched our line of premium skin-care products, we wanted to do something above and beyond our typical commitment to creating a better world. A reflection of our natural philosophy, we entered into a partnership with Trees for the Future. Every time a customer purchases one of our skin-care products, we make a corresponding commitment to further fund this green initiative by planting a tree.

Trees-for-the-Future

Trees for the Future (TREES) is an international development non-profit that meets a triple bottom line through their tree-planting mission: poverty alleviation, hunger eradication and healing the environment. In addition to planting trees, they train farmers to manage "forest gardens" in order to sustainably feed their families and raise their incomes by as much as four times! And because they utilize sophisticated algorithms and tracking software, our trees are planted are used in areas where they can have the greatest impact. At present, they have trained at-risk peoples in six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Cameroon, Guinea, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda. Since they were founded in 1989, TREES has planted over 150 million trees!

According to John Leary, executive director of TREES, "Our planet loses 50 soccer fields worth of trees every minute, and much of this deforestation is occurring in the developing tropics where hundreds of millions of families depend on trees for their survival. Once the trees are cleared, most subsistence farmers in the developing world use destructive farming techniques – including both slash-and-burn and modern agriculture – that inhibit the growth of anything but one or a few temporary crops." Leary's belief is that restoring agricultural lands with a diverse combination of trees and crops is the answer to a whole host of pressing global problems, including: desertification; diminishing access to potable water; hunger and poverty; forced migrations; and, of course, climate change itself.

As a corporate sponsor, you can visit our very own TREES web page to view our current count of tree seedlings planted to date. So far, we've planted an amazing 46,000 trees! To put our participation in perspective, if every registered business in the US were to plant the same number of trees, the trillion number goal would be met with an extra 288 billion on top of it!

The thing that stands out for most people is the idea of planting trees is appealing. Pretty much everyone who has ever planted a tree thinks of it as a positive experience. Anyone can do it. They improve urban environments. They absorb carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. As far as ecosystems go, planting more trees is always a good thing.

Best of all, it would appear people are enthusiastic about Crowther's bold proposal. The UN has already changed the name of their tree-planting initiative to the Trillion Tree Campaign!

So, if you've ever felt like you can't make a difference, now you know you can! We encourage all our readers to visit trees.org and trilliontreecampaign.org and find out more about these initiatives. And, if you're looking for something a little more local, make planting tree seedlings into a regular fun family outing.


For more on the science and the solution, check out these informative links!

https://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2019/meetingapp.cgi/Paper/23744

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/forests-climate-change-co2-greenhouse-gases-trillion-trees-global-warming-a8782071.html

https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-02/ez-pcc021119.php

https://www.wearesalt.org/stopping-the-sixth-extinction-habitat-creation/

https://futurism.com/planting-trillions-trees-cancel-co2-emissions/

http://trees.org/app/uploads/2018/03/One-Shot-Meltwater-Email-PR.pdf

What Pet Parents Need to Know About Vaccines

Loving-couple-and-lab

“Vaccines are good!” “No, they’re bad!” “Do a half dose of the vaccine!” “Titer instead!”

There sure is a lot of noise surrounding vaccines for our pets, isn’t there? I don’t blame you if you think it’s confusing. Heck, I think it’s confusing and I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. How, when, and what vaccines to use in pets is one of the most common questions I get both in person and online. When it comes to the truth about vaccines, here’s the real life, not-so-neat reality: there is no one size fits all answer. But the more we understand the principles behind the recommendations, the better equipped we are to make good decisions on behalf of our loved ones.

The immune system is complex, as is the science behind how we optimize it using various vaccinations. Here’s the basic information every pet person needs to understand.

How the Body Fights Disease

As we all know, a well-functioning body fights disease using white blood cells. However, not all white blood cells are the same! They come in three general categories:

1. Macrophages: These cells are the first line of defense. They engulf infected and dying cells, and save pieces of it to present to the other immune cells. Think of them as first responders. They save little pieces of the invader, known as antigens, as evidence from the crime scene!
2. B cells: These cells produce antibodies in response to the antigen. An antibody is a substance that helps the body fight disease in a variety of ways. For example, it can neutralize the invader, or act like a homing beacon for other types of cells to identify the invaders quickly. B cells are like Dr. Nefario from "Despicable Me" ... they don’t take part in the fight directly, but they produce all the gadgets that help the good guy win the battle.
3. T cells: These cells directly attack infected cells. They’re trained to identify a specific antigen, so it can react quickly to destroy the invader. T cells are the trained assassins of the body, honed in on their target.

After an infection is overcome, the body retains some T and B cells specific to that antigen, just in case it encounters it again. In order for those B cells and T cells to react quickly, they must have already been exposed to antigens from the infecting agent. That’s where vaccines come in.

How Vaccines Help

Vaccines imitate infection without causing the actual disease. This allows the body the benefit of those B and T cells carrying around a blueprint for how to respond to the disease, without actually having to survive the infection first. Here’s the important thing to note ... not all vaccines work the same way. Here are the most common types of vaccines we use in veterinary medicine:

1. Attenuated vaccines: These are live infective agents that have been weakened or altered in some way so they do not cause the actual disease. Distemper, parvo, and adenovirus-2 are this type.
2. Inactivated vaccines: These are whole bacteria or viruses that have been killed so they cannot replicate. The most common vaccines in this category are rabies, Leptospirosis, Lyme, influzena, FeLV, and injectable Bordetella. Because these organisms are dead, they are often combined with a substance to “draw” the immune system’s attention: like sending a flare into the sky. These substances are called adjuvants. Vaccines in this category are, according to some, the most likely to cause an adverse reaction.
3. Toxoid vaccines: These are a detoxified toxin - these are not actually in response to an infectious agent at all! Rattlesnake vaccine is the most common example.
4. Recombinant vaccines: These vaccines represent a new generation of vaccine technology. They take a piece of DNA or RNA from the infectious agent and insert it into a benign live virus that will not cause infection. Because the organism is live, it triggers a nice strong immune response without the need for adjuvant. If your cat has been vaccinated with adjuvant-free Purevax, then you’re familiar with this type of vaccine.

dog-mom-kissing-shepherd

How often do we need to re-vaccinate?

Well, here’s where it gets tricky. Some vaccines last longer than others because of the nature of the infection itself. Or, the exact same vaccine may last longer in one individual than in another. I have a colleague who needs a rabies vaccine every three years; mine lasted 20! There is no guaranteed answer.

So, what do we do? We make recommendations based on minimizing the number of vaccines while maximizing the level of protection for animals taking into account the wide variability in response. The American Animal Hospital Association assembled a gold star panel of the world experts in immunology who make, in my opinion, the most informed recommendations for dogs. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has done the same for cats. These are guidelines that are tailored to your pet with help from your veterinarian.

When you talk to your vet about what your pet needs, you balance risk versus benefit for the individual. You look at lifestyle, likelihood of exposure to diseases, severity of those diseases, current health, and vaccine history. The two most important factors are risk and health history.

Risk: Not all pets are at equal risk for disease. A pug who lives in a skyscraper in San Francisco is not at the same risk for certain diseases as a hunting dog in Louisiana.

Health History: A healthy one year old who is just finishing up their initial vaccine series has different needs than a sixteen-year-old diabetic who has been vaccinated on time her whole life. A sick pet, one with a history of reactions to vaccines, or one with a history of immune mediated disease will have different recommendations.

The exception is rabies, a disease that kills both pets and people. Most jurisdictions have mandated rabies vaccination guidelines written into law.

Can’t I just titer?

Titers are, for those willing to pay for them, a decent (but not foolproof) way of feeling out a pet’s immune status. Titers check for circulating antibodies to a specific disease. Remember when we were talking about B cells and T cells? Titers only tell you about long term B cell response. A pet with a high antibody titer may still be bottomed out on T cells, and vice versa. It’s only part of the picture. It’s not a guarantee that a pet is protected, but it gives you more information to make an informed decision particularly when it comes to how often to boost vaccines in an adult animal who already has several boosters.

What about half doses for smaller pets?

It’s tempting to think of vaccines the same way that we do drugs, whose efficacy is dependent on the concentration in the blood. Not so with vaccines. Vaccines work more on an all-or-nothing proposition: either they get the body’s attention, or they don’t. The degree of the response is determined by the body’s production of those T and B cells. This is the same as in human medicine: my kiddos get the same volume of flu vaccine as my husband. It’s not worth the risk to gamble with a vaccine not working, with no proven benefit.

It’s challenging to dilute a textbook’s worth of information into a single blog post, but hopefully this gives you a little background for your discussions with your vet. Vaccines, nutrition, weight control, exercise ... lots of moving parts come together to help ensure the best health outcomes for your pets. The best decisions are those you make with your trusted health care providers as a team!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

References:
“Understanding How Vaccines Work” from CDC.gov
AAHA canine vaccination guidelines
AAFP feline vaccination guidelines