Having rescue dogs means vaccinations are something that are very important, however, that does not mean we give our dogs all vaccines as we do have some concerns with a few of the other non core vaccines. Many vets with blindly suggest that you vaccinate your pet with various other non-core vaccines but here are some valid points by our in-house DVM Dr. Kristen for you to consider before saying yes to the Lyme vaccine!

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection which causes local skin reactions, lethargy, fever in humans, which can progress to cardiac, neurological, and musculoskeletal (mainly large-joint arthritis) diseases in humans.

Lyme Disease also exists in our pets. The syndromes attached to Lyme Disease in dogs include lethargy, fever, inappetence, arthritis, and glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidneys, which can be fatal). We believe it can sometimes cause recurrent issues in pets. 

Because of the clinical signs caused by Lyme Disease, vaccination may be recommended by some veterinarians. However, vaccination for Lyme Disease is not without its risks, and is actually a bit controversial. 

Risks to Consider-

In the late 1990s, a Lyme Vaccine for humans was released for use in the general population after passing FDA safety and efficacy trials. This vaccine was pulled from the market 3 years later because of adverse events associated with the vaccine and public perception of these effects. It was discovered that some people were genetically predisposed to developing immune-mediated arthritis, post-vaccination. This immune-mediated arthritis was untreatable and many people were left in chronic, debilitating pain. There was public outcry over it, and eventually, although the FDA still backed the vaccine, SmithKlineBeecham pulled it due to low demand (there were also a few lawsuits brought against them by victims of the vaccine, which they eventually settled). 

There has been no effective vaccine created for humans since then, although currently there is one in the Phase 1 development stage.  

Regarding Lyme vaccine in animals: there are more risks than benefits in my opinion. 

The vaccine has low efficacy: it prevents illness in up to 60-70% of dogs, but the effects are not consistent. Additionally, the duration of immunity is short and therefore requires annual vaccination. 

There are more adverse side effects seen, within 3 days of administration of this vaccine than any other vaccine, even Rabies. The AVMA categorized these adverse events as “moderate” in 2002.

The vaccine uses the same mechanism that was used in the human vaccine, which initiated immune-mediated arthritis in those genetically predisposed individuals. In dogs, we are finding that it initiates immune-mediated kidney disease, which in some cases, can lead to kidney failure and death. We suspect that these dogs are also genetically predisposed (especially Retrievers).

As a side note, the first dog I ever treated for Lyme nephritis, went into kidney failure within a few weeks of his Lyme vaccine. He died within 3 weeks. He was 4 years old. 

How Is Lyme Diagnosed?

Another problem lies in diagnosing Lyme Disease; there is no single definitive test to diagnose it. Bloodwork is generally unremarkable. PCR testing and cultures are considered unreliable. Standard tests for Lyme disease cannot differentiate between vaccination and infection (regular ELISA test), or between active/acute infection vs. previous exposure (4DX). The Western blot can differentiate between vaccination and infection, but not whether the infection is active or previous. There is a Lyme C6 test that measures quantitative antibody levels; the theory is that active infections will see higher antibody response than “older” infections.

But… is the antibody response we see due to active infection, or due to previous exposure and the body has already dealt with the bacteria with a strong immune response? (Remembering that there is a difference between infection and disease – humans and animals may be infected with a pathogen at any given time, but, if our immune systems are healthy, we don’t become ill). 

The concern with diagnosing Lyme Disease is not only for initiating appropriate treatment measures, but also because, recently, there has been discussion as to whether it is even advisable to vaccinate dogs who have tested positive for Lyme. That vaccination in Lyme positive dogs may cause a latent infection to become active.

What To Do If a Dog Gets Lyme?

The majority of dogs contracting Lyme disease respond to treatment with antibiotics. So if a dog is showing clinical signs of disease, and tests positive, with high antibody levels on their C6 test, then it is likely they do in fact have the infection, Lyme Disease. And in all likelihood, they will respond to treatment with antibiotics. So it is mostly a treatable disease.

Conclusion on Why We Skip Lyme Vaccinations-

Because the vaccine is not very effective, because of the risk of adverse effects associated with the vaccine (especially the potential for fatality via induction of Lyme nephritis) and because it is a largely treatable disease, I do not recommend this vaccine to my clients. I have not recommended it even when I have practiced in tick endemic/Lyme Disease prevalent areas. I especially do not recommend it in dogs whose risk for exposure will be small. And I am very careful about administering it to smaller breeds.

What To Do Instead?

I instead recommend adequate tick control to my patients. Preventing ticks prevents the disease. A tick must be attached for 24-48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria. So my clients, who are more holistically oriented, utilize a wholesome, healthy, minimally processed diet (to ensure a healthy immune system), flea/tick prevention in the form of diluted essential oil blends, and routine skin/coat checks – if they go hiking, they comb through their dog’s coat after the hike and remove ticks as needed (with tweezers or a tick-removal device such as the Tick Key… never with their fingertips! We humans can have microabrasions in our fingertips, and if the tick is indeed carrying Borrelia bacteria, we can become infected).

To read how we treat fleas & ticks, visit our other blog here!

So, How About Bordetella?  

When people refer to “Bordetella,” what they are really referring to “CIRDC,” or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (aka Kennel Cough, aka Infectious Laryngotracheitis). Bordetella is a bacterium that causes this upper respiratory tract infection, along with multiple other pathogens: Mycoplasma, Canine Adenovirus-2, Canine Herpesvirus, various Canine Influenza viruses, Canine Parainfluenza Virus, Canine Respiratory Coronavirus, as well as some newly emerging viruses, such as Canine Pneumo virus, Canine Reovirus, etc. 

Is Vaccination Effective? 

There is no single vaccine that covers all of the bacteria and viruses that can cause CIRDC. The Distemper/ Parvo vaccine that your pup gets every 3 years includes Canine Adenovirus-2. The “Bordetella” vaccine your pet gets includes Bordetella +/- Canine Parainfluenza Virus. The ‘flu vaccine “covers” Canine Influenza Virus.  

There is also no single vaccine that helps protect against any of the “new” respiratory viruses, Mycoplasma, Canine Herpesvirus, Canine Respiratory Coronavirus (the Coronavirus vaccine that is in existence but is not recommended because it is ineffective, is the enteric form of the virus, not the respiratory form, and does not offer cross-protection). 

As you can see, because we lack the ability to provide protection, through the form of vaccines, against every pathogen known to be involved in “Kennel Cough,” your dog can still become infected and ill. If you wondered why your dog still got Kennel Cough despite being vaccinated, this is part of the reason why (the other part being…vaccines aren’t 100% protective). 

Botton Line: Does My Dog Need the “Kennel Cough” Vaccine? 

Your veterinarian should perform a lifestyle risk assessment for your pet when it comes to determining which vaccines are necessary, i.e., you should only be vaccinating your pet for diseases that s/he is at risk of contracting. CIRDC was originally called “Kennel Cough” because it spread rapidly between dogs housed in an enclosed environment, such as a kennel. So that would be the greatest risk, as the bacteria and viruses mainly spread via aerosol through coughing and sneezing. 

In general, if a facility such as one for boarding, daycare, or grooming requires the “Bordetella” vaccine, I will administer it. Otherwise, I don’t get too concerned about it. The disease is treatable with antibiotics if the cause is bacterial, and with rest, time, and TLC if there is a viral cause. Just like us! When I was in college, we were told that pneumonia is a huge risk for untreated kennel cough. In all honesty, I have had one patient, in 20+ years of practice, who developed pneumonia, and she was a 16-year-old Standard Poodle who had Cushing’s disease and was diabetic – so a very compromised immune system.  

As with anything, this info is strictly shared so you can have the pros and cons and make the best, most informed choice for your pet!

One Comment

  1. June 28, 2021

    Laurie Schottler

    Thank you Dr. Kristen. Information very helpful. Learning new things is good in this ever changing world.

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