Vaccinations - The Arguments For And Against Holistic Preventative Measures

The debate about conventional versus holistic preventative measures has been going on for years, but each year it seems to be attracting more people into the discussion, partly due to organisations such as Canine Health Concern and Pet Welfare Alliance, partly due to pet owners becoming frustrated with the number of health problems their dogs are experiencing and conventional medicines not ‘fixing’ those problems leading to them looking for answers and alternatives, and partly due to the ease with which adverse reactions can be shared with a wider population (due to platforms such as Facebook, and groups on there for Bravecto, Lepto 4 and other products / diseases).  However, for many the move from conventional to preventative is a leap of faith, especially as in many cases this goes against what their (conventional) vet has been advising them for years.

The whole pet care industry in the UK has been set up around conventional preventative treatments – vets are trained in their use, insurance companies request details of vaccine status on their claim forms, local authorities require breeding establishments, boarding kennels and home boarding, and other pet care services to comply with certain preventative treatments (including vaccinations, flea and worm treatments), holiday cottages that accept pets often write into their rules that products such as Frontline need to be used, and even some competitions require dogs to have current vaccinations. Trying to live a ‘normal’ life whilst practicing holistic preventatives measures is not always easy and can sometimes be a constant battle. The fact that these holistic preventative options are not supported (and often not understood) by conventional vets and others in authority means that the individual has little support from professionals when embarking on the holistic journey.

However, holistic preventatives measures have many advantages over more conventional alternatives. For a start, holistic preventative measures work with the body, using its natural healing process and promoting natural health from within. They have very few, if any, side effects, certainly fewer and less dramatic than using more conventional options – they either work or they have no effect unless given in excess. And holistic preventative measures are often cheaper than the more conventional options (as an example, the Canine Nosode Combination from Helios is £7.35 for 120 soft tablet nosodes, and these will last for several years – this compares with the lowest cost of £30 for an annual ‘booster’ injection containing DHPL that I have found on the internet). Holistic preventative treatments also generally do not interfere with any medications prescribed by a vet (but the medications can interfere with holistic treatments).

In defence of the more traditional / conventional preventative measures, these have been around for many years, are understood by vets and supported by the Government and the public in general. Tests have been undertaken to understand the effectiveness of the more conventional measures (double-blind tests for many products), and they are generally immediately effective – certainly with treatments for flea / tick prevention, and within a number of days for vaccinations. With holistic vets not even agreeing on the best recommended approach for preventative measures (for example, Dr Richard Allport recommends puppy vaccinations, Dr Chris Day recommends no vaccinations but instead uses nosodes for preventative measures, and Dr Todd Cooney only recommending nosodes when a dog has been in contact with the disease), it is hard for a dog owner to know what is right if treating holistically – at least with conventional preventative measures all vets agree the approach and they are supported by the WSAVA, BSAVA and the Government.

Delving further into preventative measures for the diseases that can be ‘prevented’ by vaccines (Distemper, Canine Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Leptospirosis), there are two holistic approaches that can be taken to protect dogs (nosodes and gradual exposure to build up the dog’s own immunity), along with the conventional vaccination route.

Nosodes can be given at any age, from 8 weeks of age, and dogs can start to be taken out and gradually socialized from 3 days after the nosodes have first been given. This has the very big advantage that dogs can start to be socialised with human life much earlier than is done with vaccinations (socialisation following vaccinations does not normally start until the dogs are at least 11 weeks old). Nosodes are also not impacted by the Maternally Derived Antibodies (MDA), and in return the MDA is not impacted by the nosodes.

Nosodes can be given equally effectively for viral diseases (Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and Parvovirus) and bacterial diseases (Leptospirosis and Kennel Cough). However, they do not create immunity, instead they alerting the body to the disease in a very gentle way so that the body is ready to fight should the disease itself be encountered. For this reason they need to be given regularly (building up to 6 monthly) for a number of years.

Nosodes work to ‘power-up’ the immune system in the way that it would normally work – the first route of entry for most viruses and bacteria is through either the nasal passage or the mouth. Nosodes are given orally, and start working as soon as they come into contact with the mucus membrane in the mouth. Indeed, the nosodes don’t even need to be swallowed – as long as they remain in the mouth (any part of it, including between the gum and the teeth) for 30 seconds they will do their job.

However, there is no way to prove that a nosode has been effective – they do not show up on titre tests, and there are no other tests that have been designed to show that they have had a positive immunity reaction. Once the dog has built up its own immunity, this will show on a titre test providing the antibodies are circulating in its system (i.e. it’s been in recent contact with the disease), but a titre test will not show T-cell immunity.

Unlike with vaccines, there are no double-blind, scientific tests to prove that nosodes work. Holistic vets are not prepared to subject animals to deliberate suffering to prove that something can then help cure them, instead preferring to refer to real life situations such as Dr Chris Day’s treatment of kennel cough in a boarding kennel (see case studies later).

Many of the other disadvantages of using nosodes have already been mentioned – they are not supported (or understood?) by conventional, mainstream vets. And many insurance companies do not accept nosodes as an alternative to vaccinating, so in their view the dog is not routinely protected. Local authorities that regulate boarding kennels and home boarding, and breeding establishments do not yet readily accept nosodes as an alternative to vaccinating. Whilst some holistic vets will provide a certificate at the same time as dispensing nosodes, whether this will be accepted in time is yet to be tested, especially as nosodes are given by the pet owner / carer, rather than by a vet.

NB if the insurance company does not recognise nosodes as a way of protecting the dog, in most cases this means that they will not insure the dog against the diseases he could have been vaccinated against, but it will not affect the rest of your insurance.  But please check with your own provider.

Gradual exposure to build up the dog’s own immunity works in the same way as with nosodes, just that the dog has not had its immune system ‘primed’ by the nosodes. The dogs should start to be socialised as early as possible, whilst they are still protected by their Maternally Derived Antibodies, and as these start to wain so the dog will then build up his own immunity.

However, this does potentially expose the dog to disease before the body has necessarily built up its own immunity defences (the immune system of a dog is only mature at 6 months of age), and there is the risk that a dog will catch a disease if the exposure to disease is not done gradually enough.

Dr Rosemary Manzanio used to suggest to her puppy owners over a period of 11 years that they visit a pond known for raccoons that were suffering an outbreak of canine distemper. The advice was to let the puppies have a brief period of sniffing around the bushes and maybe drinking the water before being brought home. This was repeated a further two times, a week between each visit, and then the puppies were titred for distemper – and they had very strong distemper readings. And not one puppy ever got sick in over 100 puppies. However after 11 years this process stopped working, so Dr Manzanio assumed that the disease had run its course and natural resistance had been gained by the population. She then suggested short, five minute visits to the most popular dog parks, those with the highest dog traffic. The puppy was let on the ground in the busiest part of the park for 5 minutes and then taken home, and this was repeated a couple more times. Once again titres showed high readings for distemper, and also for Parvo, and not a single puppy ever fell ill.

Vaccinations are given anywhere between 8 weeks (possibly earlier) and 16 weeks of age, and unless the owner holds off until at least 12 weeks for the first vaccinations multiple injections are normally needed. This is because the MDA will work counteract the vaccinations whilst it is still present, and in turn the vaccinations will weaken the MDA that is still present. So by giving multiple injections, the vet is trying to find the magic window where the MDA is sufficiently low for the vaccination to take effect, but the dog has not yet become at risk from a reduced MDA. Vaccines can also suppress the dog’s immune system for up to 10 days after they have been given, and during this time the dog is at even more risk than if he hadn’t received the injection.

Vaccinations for viral diseases, if given at the right time (i.e. MDA sufficiently waned), have been shown to be effective for 7 years and possibly for life. Vaccinations for bacterial diseases do not offer immunity in the same way, instead they have an effective life of 3-9 months and they purely reduce the symptoms should the dog catch the disease. Whilst the owner may fell better that their dog only has a gentle cough when it catches Kennel Cough, reducing the symptoms for Lepto can be fatal as the owner (and possibly the vet) would not then notice the illness until it is much more established. It is much easier to treat Lepto if symptoms show early.

Vaccinations (particularly modified live vaccines – MLV) have been known to cause the disease in the dog that they have been given to, and also shed into the environment. When an occurrence of Parvo is first reported, the first thing a holistic vet or someone treating their dog holistically will want to know is whether that dog had been previously vaccinated for Parvo, or been around other dogs that had recently received the vaccination. In his lecture on Parvo, Dr Todd Cooney shows statistics from his own homeopathic practice in Indiana that vaccinated puppies have less chance of surviving Parvo than those not vaccinated for the disease. Many believe that Parvo is kept live in the environment due to the shedding of the vaccine. And in Italy vaccines are prohibited once the disease is eliminated because of the fear of reversion to virulence of the modified live virus.

Vaccinations are injected straight into the body (into the blood, muscle or fat within the body), and thus bypass the body’s first natural line of defence (the mucus membranes in the mouth and nose). They do not train these mucus membranes to recognize disease, and the body’s natural defence will only be primed for an infection that passes through the mucus membranes and enters the body.

The effectiveness of a vaccine can be measured if a titre test is taken around 2 weeks after the vaccination has been performed. If the body has been primed, then antibodies will be circulating in the body and these can be measured by the titre test. However, the titre test does need to be taken in a timely manner – if left too long and the antibodies have died down then the titre test will be low or negative (immunity will be retained within the T-cells, but this does not show up on a titre test).

However, vaccines are known to have side effects of vomiting, diarrhoea, facial swelling, swelling and lumps at the site of the injection, fever, lethargy, and in more serious cases circulatory shock, loss of consciousness. And some side effects appear days, weeks or months later – for example, allergies, anaemia, chronic digestive problems, autoimmune diseases, skin problems, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, arthritis, lethargy, soreness / stiffness, conjunctivitis, sneezing, oral ulcers, glomerulonephritis, myocarditis, post vaccinal encephalitis, seizures, abortion, aggression, separation anxiety and other behavioural problem. At one time in America, vets resorted to vaccinating cats in their tails or legs so that they could amputate when cancer appeared – Dr Dennis W Macy has estimated that 2220,000 cats develop vaccine-site cancer in America each year. Biological substances entering directly into the bloodstream can become part of the generic structure of that dog – there is evidence that freely circulating foreign DNA can cause malignancy. A holistic vet, Isle Pedler, has indicated that there is a one-in-ten likelihood of a vaccine reaction amongst dogs, based on client records in her own veterinary practice.

Vaccines are produced using animal tissue or serum, so antibodies are formed not just from the pathogen but also to the proteins of the tissue or serum that are too small to be filtered out of the vaccines. These antibodies can cross-react with the dog’s own tissues, causing chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body. Viruses are then able to hide within this inflammation and spread their unwanted effects without being noticed. And if treatment is given to the dog to reduce inflammation (e.g. adrenalin), then this also assists the viruses in being able to hide in the body. Every vaccination injection causes more of these antibodies to be created, which makes autoimmune disease and immune system dysfunction more likely with every vaccination.

Vaccines should only be given to healthy animals (this is stated in the product advice of the vaccine, the advice which most dog owners don’t get to see) – any animal that is unhealthy for whatever reason should not receive a vaccine. However, this instruction is often ignored by conventional vets, and they continue to give vaccines to dogs that have various medical conditions.

Vaccines can ‘specialise’ the immune system, narrowing its ‘general’ capabilities and making it less ready or able to handle novel infections. If the dog encounters a disease that it’s not seen before, the body is less able to mount a defence than if the dog had a more healthy, natural immune system.

Besides the actual disease components themselves, many vaccines have adjuvants included within the mix. These adjuvants can cause problems of their own, including anaphylaxis.

It is widely believed that Parvo was created by man – this disease did not appear until the 1970s, when it suddenly became very common. There is strong evidence to suggest that it was created when scientists cultivated the distemper vaccine on cats’ kidneys that were injected with feline enteritis (FPV).

There are some cases where there are no alternatives to using vaccinations – if you want to bring a dog into the UK (whether returning from a trip overseas or importing a dog) it needs to have a valid Rabies vaccination that was given in the last 3 years, as well as receiving a worming tablet. And in some States in America it is compulsory for all dogs to have the Rabies vaccination. As far as I am aware, there are no alternatives to vaccinations in these situations.

Is it viable to combine both methods, conventional vaccinations and a more holistic approach? In my view, yes it is, but why would you want to? If you believe in vaccinations and have your dog vaccinated then they should be immune for at least 7 years and possibly for life. You can check if they have current antibodies via a titre test, and only if there is a negative reading do you need to worry – and even then a negative reading does not mean no immunity, just that there are no circulating antibodies. And if you give your dogs nosodes then this had been done after understanding how they work and that they are a natural alternative to vaccinations. The only reasons that I can see for using both approaches is in the case of non-responders and also for protecting against Lepto.

If you vaccinate your dogs and then perform a titre test 2-3 weeks later and this shows zero antibodies then the chances are your dog was either vaccinated too young (the MDA was still too strong and cancelled out the vaccination) or the dog is a non-responder. By giving nosodes to your dog you are at least priming the immune system in case the dog comes into contact with the disease.

The Lepto vaccination has received a lot of bad press recently and more people are now opting for vaccination just for DHP, and not having the Lepto. In many cases this has low risk as Lepto is not common in the UK. However, for those that do want to provide some form of protection this can be done by giving the Lepto nosode. The Lepto nosode can be obtained on its own, although it is more commonly found in a combined canine nosode.

Feeding a good (ideally natural, species-appropriate) diet is essential for supporting the immune system, and this can be enhanced by utilising a number of supplements that will help boost the immune system. Different supplements can be used for a general boosting of the immune system, or when a particular issue is being encountered (for example, colds, allergies, infections, colitis, cancer). A good diet should be fed regardless of the approach taken (vaccines, nosodes, or natural exposure) to ensure the immune system is functioning optimally. There is no harm and much benefit to be gained in additionally feeding immunity boosters during the early months of a dog’s life, or when s/he is exposed to potential new diseases.

Dr Rosemary Manzanio’s approach to natural exposure has already been referred to. Other case studies include:

A kennel in Oxfordshire experienced a kennel cough outbreak.  They invited Dr Chris Day in to control the outbreak.

Of 40 dogs in the kennel, 18 had been vaccinated against kennel cough, 22 had not.  All vaccinated dogs had developed a cough, whereas only 19 of the 22 unvaccinated dogs had developed a cough.

The kennel cough nosode was given to all the dogs who subsequently entered the infected boarding premises - one dose on entry and twice daily for three days.  214 dogs entered the kennel during the rest of the summer, all of whom received the nosodes - 64 had been conventionally vaccinated, 150 had received no vaccination prior to entry to the kennel.

Of the 214 dogs, three of the 64 vaccinated dogs contracted kennel cough, 1 of the 150 non-vaccinated dogs contracted kennel cough.  It appeared that the homeopathic nosode had halted the outbreak in its tracks.

Dogs showing just one very transient sign of kennel cough were also recorded - this showed that 51 of the 64 vaccinated dogs showed evidence of slight symptoms, whereas only 40 of the 150 dogs who were not vaccinated showed any symptoms.

John Saxton MRCVS VetMGHom has presented a paper describing the use of the canine distemper nosode in disease control. There was a boarding kennel that dealt solely with stray dogs under contract to the local police authority – obviously the vaccine status of any dog arriving was unknown. All animals not claimed or rehomed were destroyed on the 8th day after arrival.

When the dogs arrived at the kennel they were screened by experienced, but lay, staff. Any with no obvious signs of disease or injury were admitted directly into the kennels; the rest were placed in an isolation block for a vet to later examine. However, a high incidence of canine distemper arose in the kennels, so it was decided to use the canine distemper nosode – this was prepared as a liquid and administered via the dog’s drinking water.

Of the dogs that were kept in the kennels for 8 days, 11.67% showed clinical signs of distemper on the 5th day (prior to the introduction of the nosode. This dropped to 4.36% after the nosode were introduced. If the entire population of the kennel is included, including those dogs that did not stay the full 8 days, the incidence of distemper dropped from 8.05% to 2.81% after the introduction of the nosodes.

The incidence of distemper arose unexpectedly in the 8th and 11th months of the trial. Investigation revealed that one of the kennel staff had left the homeopathic nosodes in direct sunlight for several hours prior to administration – when this was rectified, the number of incidences of distemper dropped once again.

A human trial in 1986 showed that homeopathy is helpful in preventing hay fever. Also, in 1995 a team from Glasgow University succeeded in proving that homeopathic potencies of pollen and house dust mite were more effective than placebos in treating hay fever and asthma.

During 2007, three provinces of the eastern region of Cuba were affected by strong rainfalls. This caused flooding of large areas and damage to sanitary and health systems, and the risk of Lepto rose to dangerous levels with about 2 million people exposed to potentially contaminated water. Four circulating strains of Lepto were used to prepare a nosode, and the administration of this was coordinated with public health system infrastructures – this allowed two doses of the nosode to be given to about 2.4 million people. Coverage was about 95% of the total population of the three provinces at risk. A dramatic decrease of morbidity was shown two weeks after the nosode intervention, and there was a reduction to zero of mortality in hospitalised patients. The number of confirmed Lepto cases remains at low levels and below the expected levels according to the trends and rain regimens.

In summary, using vaccinations is the easy approach for building immunity, supported widely by vets, insurance companies and Governments. It is easy to get a vet to administer a vaccine and then just forget about it for the next 3 years. But at what cost to our dogs? Using an alternative holistic approach involves more effort on the part of the dog owner, whether that’s through supplements, gently building immunity or the use of nosodes, and it also involves a ‘leap of faith’ and going against the society norm. But in return you end up with a much healthier dog.

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