Vaccinations for Senior Dogs
Your older dog has reached old age because of a combination of good genes, good luck and good care. This good care has almost certainly included regular vaccinations to thwart communicable diseases. Does he still need them in his golden years?
Veterinarians disagree about whether senior dogs need the same or fewer vaccinations than they did when they were younger. On one hand, the immune system of an older dog may not be functioning as well as when he was young. On the other hand, most vaccines probably have an even longer period of effectiveness than the three years now considered the standard booster interval. Geriatric dogs also may not be exposed to as many other dogs as they were when they were younger, lessening the possibility they will come in contact with a communicable disease.
Some pet owners address the dilemma by measuring their dog's serum vaccine antibody titers as an indication of immune memory. If the titer is adequate, revaccination should not be necessary until the titer level falls below a certain level. The use of titers is nonetheless controversial because it's not agreed upon whether a certain level of antibody reliably translates to a certain level of protection. In addition, titers are more expensive than vaccinations.
The titers need to be repeated at least yearly to make sure they have not fallen. If they are below adequate levels for a core vaccine (distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis) then the dog should be vaccinated regardless of age. If they are below adequate levels for a non-core vaccine (leptospirosis, bordetella, parainfluenza, and Lyme disease) then you and your veterinarian should make a decision based upon your dog's lifestyle, health, risk factor, and possible exposure to the disease.
Titers are a particularly good alternative to regular boosters in unhealthy or immunocompromised geriatric dogs, and may also be useful in breeds (such as Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and American Pit Bull Terriers) that are more likely to experience vaccine failure.
Your dog should be in good health when vaccines are administered, and should not have any conditions that compromise his immune system. This is one reason your veterinarian should check your dog's health before administering a vaccine.
Although adverse reactions are uncommon, some vaccines are more likely to cause them than others, and such reactions are more common in toy breeds. If reactions do occur, they usually happen within the day or two following administration, and consist of a low-grade fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Less commonly, severe reactions, such as hives, facial swelling, or vomiting may occur within minutes or hours.
It's prudent to have a veterinarian administer vaccinations, if only so that medical attention is available in the event of an adverse reaction. In addition, the veterinarian can check your dog's health status and knows what vaccines are advisable in your area. In addition, not all vaccine is equal; vaccine acquired elsewhere may not have been stored properly. Rabies vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian for legal reasons.
The extremely old dog may no longer need certain vaccinations. But each dog, and each situation, is different. This is why it's essential to discuss the pros and cons of vaccinating your senior dog with your veterinarian.
Keeping your geriatric dog healthy and stress-free can be as important as vaccinations when it comes to making sure his immune system is up to doing its job. Keep him in a comfortable environment, feed him well, and love him often---and take him to his veterinarian at least twice per year to check on his health.