Sep. 22nd, 2008

spiceofbroadway: (Dogmom - eyesthatslay)
Went to Jean Dodds seminar yesterday. Information overload. Head exploding. Oy.

She talked about three main topics: vaccinations, nutrition, and hypothyroidism. The audience asked a LOT of questions, so although I took copious notes, they don't exactly follow a linear progression. I will attempt to summarize them in installments in the next week or so.

There were two main points of interest for me: leptospirosis vaccinations and vaccinosis. I should qualify that--it was all interesting, but those two things were ones that were on my mind going in and coming out.

Regarding lepto, Dr. Dodds said that she would never vaccinate for it unless there was a huge local outbreak that had been shown to be caused by one of the serovars included in the vaccine. She thinks that the risk of an adverse reaction is just too high and the benefits too low. She acknowledged that lepto is a very serious disease that can be passed from dogs to humans. She said there were two strategies for dealing with it in areas (such as Peterborough) where it is endemic: vaccinate and hope for the best, or don't vaccinate and whisk your dog into the vet's at the first sign that something's off. If symptoms suggest that it might be lepto, then the dog should be started on a course of doxycillin or amoxicillin immediately, and a test for lepto should be performed. There's no way to confirm a lepto diagnosis quickly, so you have to treat in the absence of a diagnosis. That pretty much sums up what happened when Bella got sick this summer: I had her at the vet's within an hour of coming home and finding her acting "not right," and the vet started her on amoxicillin the next morning after Bella's fever had risen overnight. As it turned out, Bella didn't have lepto, but it's comforting to know that the vet and I both responded appropriately.

During lunch, I told the people at my table about Jilly's terrible reaction to Fort Dodge's lepto vaccine a number of years ago. A couple of people mentioned that Fort Dodge had admitted to batches of contaminated lepto vaccines that made a lot of dogs sick. After they'd mentioned that, I remembered that Jilly's vet bills were paid for by Fort Dodge, so she was almost certainly one of the dogs who got the bad vaccines. I'm pretty sure Linus got the lepto vaccine that year too (but never again)--I guess it was either stunning hybrid vigour or luck of the draw that he didn't get sick.

Regarding vaccinosis, Dr. Dodds wasn't entirely clear on whether individual vaccines were preferable to multiple vaccines. At one point, she did say that individual vaccines should be given several weeks apart, but she also referred to parvo/distemper/adenovirus vaccine combos without saying anything negative about them. (On a side note, I'm not even sure what adenovirus is. It's one of the four "core" vaccines that she thinks every dog should get, but I've never actually heard of it before. Linus got annual "combo-wombo" vaccinations (except for lepto, except that one year), so presumably it was in his mix, but Bella's never had it as far as I know.)

One way or the other, several things can increase the risk of vaccinosis: genetics, stress, sex hormones, poor nutrition, and existing health problems. Breeds with dilute coat colours are more prone to adverse vaccine reactions. Dr. Dodds didn't mention Tollers specifically here, but she did say that dogs with lighter coat colours and pink noses were in this group. Females shouldn't be vaccinated when they're in heat, in the 30-day period before estrus, while pregnant, or while lactating. Males shouldn't be vaccinated around times of breeding or if they're housed with females who are in heat. Adverse vaccine reactions typically happen within 3-10 days following vaccination, although they can show up as late as 45-60 days. (I would have liked to have seen a list of possible reactions, but there were so many questions being asked by the audience that she wasn't showing her slides methodically here.) Additionally, parvovirus and retroviruses are immunosuppressive viruses. Therefore, parvo vaccinations will suppress the immune system for several days. Thus, if you vaccinate puppies for parvo and there is "street parvo" in their environment, they may come down with parvo. They don't get parvo from the vaccination, but the street parvo can move in and make them sick during the period of immune suppression before immunity kicks in. Finally, if a dog has a vaccine reaction, that dog should not receive any more vaccinations, ever, including rabies.

Speaking of rabies, and I did not know this, the current protocol for dogs is to get their first rabies shot sometime in their first year, to get a booster one year later (regardless of the fact that current vaccines are three-year vaccines), and then to get rabies shots as required by law (generally, every three years) thereafter. Dr. Dodds has begun a rabies challenge study to determine how long rabies immunity really lasts, but she said at least twice that rabies should be given at < 1 year and again one year later. (The one-year booster is the part I didn't know about.)

So.

Bella was vaccinated against rabies a couple of days before she flew from Minneapolis to Toronto. She didn't have any adverse reactions to this shot, as far as I know. She was very shy for the first couple of months in Peterborough, but I think that was far more likely to have been the result of the huge change in her lifestyle and environment, not to mention the flight itself, than an adverse vaccine reaction. That was her first rabies vaccination; according to Jean Dodds, she should have another in December 2008.

Bella was given a parvo/distemper (only) vaccination on July 4 (it was specially ordered in for her). We also discovered that day that she was having a false pregnancy. On July 10, I came home and discovered that she was getting sick. She was running a low fever and was lethargic, but she didn't have any other symptoms at first. Her fever was higher on July 11, as was her white blood cell count, and she was stiff, sore, and having problems getting to her feet after lying down. She also had difficulty going up stairs or even getting into the car. She was started on a course of amoxicillin and showed significant improvement within 24 hours, as is often the case when an infection is treated with antibiotics.

Tollers are one of the breeds that are predisposed to vaccinosis, so Bella had genetics working against her. She shouldn't have been vaccinated during a false pregnancy, but I didn't think of that until a day or two later, so she had that working against her too. She wasn't particularly stressed--all dogs get a little edgy when they go to the vet's, but Bella was pretty relaxed about it all. She has a high-quality raw diet and is generally in great health.

So why did she get sick? Was it vaccinosis? It could have been--it was in the right time frame. She was vaccinated during a false pregnancy, which is a no-no, and that increased her risk of reaction. All the tests they ran came back negative, and her final diagnosis was "fever of unknown origin," which isn't a diagnosis at all. And, in fact, vaccinosis is usually a diagnosis of exclusion.

Did she get sick because there was something in the environment that took advantage of the period when her immune system was suppressed? That's possible too--the time frame was also right for that, and she seemed to respond to the antibiotics in the way that infections typically do. Amoxicillin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic, so even though an infection was never found, Bella could have had something starting somewhere that was quickly knocked out by the drug.

But what if it was vaccinosis? If that's the case, then she shouldn't be vaccinated ever again for anything, including rabies. Which, because Cathy and I agreed to follow Jean Dodds' protocol, is the only vaccination she has left, and she's due for another one in December. And rabies happens to be the strongest vaccination out there--it's known to cause a lot of vaccinosis.

Except for bat-strain rabies (and the incidence of rabies in bats is very low), there is no rabies in the Peterborough area. An aggressive anti-rabies initiative by the provincial government has wiped it out in this part of Ontario and limited its entry from New York state to small areas around Wolfe Island and Niagara Falls. Rabies vaccinations are required by law in Ontario, but you can get a waiver from a vet if your pet has had an adverse vaccine reaction in the past (this is what Jilly has).

I discussed all this with the people at my table at lunch, and they agreed it was a tough call. There's really no way to know why Bella got sick in July. If it was an opportunistic infection, then it's okay to vaccinate her for rabies. If it was vaccinosis, then she shouldn't be vaccinated anymore, period. I was sitting next to a Golden Retriever breeder who believes in minimal vaccinations, and her opinion was that Bella shouldn't get any more rabies shots. I don't know if I could convince my vet to write a waiver for me or not. She might do it if I agreed to annual rabies titres.

I think I need to email Dr. Dodds.

~*~

I met and talked briefly with Shannon Viljasoo and Mairon Bennett before the seminar started (they were sitting two tables away from me), and then met up with them and Chris Choi in the parking lot afterwards. Chris looked quite delighted to see me and gave me a hug :-). For the most part, I've found Toller people to be friendly and helpful, but sometimes I detect an undercurrent of bias against newbies to the breed, so it meant a lot to me to have Chris do that. I've emailed Shannon a fair bit (and Mairon, but much less), so it was great to meet them in person. The four of us made for an odd kind of symmetry: Shannon, Chris, and I have the only three Maverick pups in Ontario, while Shannon, Chris, and Mairon are owners of dogs from the near-legendary Onepenny Pipercub litter (Mairon was the breeder, of course). I need a Onepenny Toller and Mairon needs a Maverick pup, and the circle will be complete. :-) There's a specialty fundraiser in Bowmanville in October, so I'll go to that and get to hang out with them some more. We'll all also be at the the Toller booster/AGM in Orangeville in December, so I'm looking forward to that too.

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