In today’s world, one of the most controversial subjects across both human and veterinary medicine is that of vaccinations. Dog vaccinations, and whether or not vaccines can actually CAUSE illness, is one of the subjects on which every single person (veterinary or not) has a different opinion.
And I get asked all the time “What is the right way to vaccinate?”
The problem with this question, as with many other controversial questions, is that there isn’t a simple answer. In the case of vaccinations, not only do we have the scientific medical answer, but we also have the political answer. And on top of that, we have to take into account the fact that every single body is different, dogs are living things, and we cannot always predict how one body will react to something compared to the next body.
But our bodies (and those of our dogs) are miraculous things.
Once upon a time, I had a 1.5 year old black lab come into the clinic for a rabies vaccine. Actually, he wasn’t my case at the time, this was back in the days where I worked at the huge hospital with tons of doctors.
Two weeks after he was vaccinated, his body started destroying all of its own platelets and red blood cells. Classic autoimmune disease, where the immune system gets triggered and then, instead of just destroying whatever invaders are present (bacteria, viruses, etc), it goes overboard and starts attacking itself. Instead of having millions of platelets, we can have as low as zero.
The doctors who saw him at the time did everything we normally do with these dogs- steroids to get the immune system back under control, antibiotics in case it was triggered by one of the tick-borne diseases.
The problem was that his body didn’t respond the way we want them to respond.
Not every dog reads the text book, nor understands how their body is supposed to respond.
By the time I saw him, he’d been on medications for months. Some weeks, he would hold steady. Other weeks he got worse. No one could figure out how to get him better.
He was one of the original cases who helped me learn to be who I am today.
I first saw him for one of his weekly blood checks. He was on 2 different medications at the time, steroids and another heavier immune-suppressing medication. He looked like he was about 10 years old. One of the side effects of heavy steroids is muscle redistribution- he was starting to lose all the musculature around his head and develop a pot-belly.
Yet he still came in wagging his tail, carrying a ball in his mouth everywhere he went.
His bloodwork that week was worse than the week prior. And this was multiple months into trying to keep him under control.
His owner and I had a long conversation that day. This was the first time I’d met either the dog or his owner. This was the first time I’d ever even looked at the case, although everyone knew who he was (if a dog always comes in with a tennis ball, and plays with it the entire time they’re in the clinic, chances are good that everyone is going to remember him!).
I looked at the numbers from the blood machine. I looked at the dosages he was on, and realized I really couldn’t increase them any more without detrimental side effects. I looked at the results that had been seen so far.
And I told the owner that I had an idea.
It was a gamble. I hadn’t treated a case like that before, but what they were doing obviously wasn’t working.
I flat out told him I had no idea if it would work. But the owner understood that we were nearing the end if we couldn’t get him feeling better and turning around soon.
So we took a chance.
We cut all of his meds completely in half. (Please note, I’m NOT telling you to ever cut medications without consulting with your veterinarian!)
We changed his food. He was already on a grain free diet, we changed to one that was even lower in carbohydrates and higher in fats and proteins.
We added in fish oil and probiotics.
We stopped focusing just on the medications, and started looking at how we could help his body recover. How we could help his immune system regain it’s balance and start doing it’s job again (appropriately!).
The next week, his numbers were increasing. They weren’t normal yet, but they were increasing more than we had seen thus far.
Over the course of the next year, his numbers kept improving. We slowly continued to decrease his medications. We kept looking at food and supplements as a way to nourish his body and help it regain health.
And a year and a half later, he was better.
We can’t say the autoimmune disease was healed, but rather that it’s in remission.
But he was healthy again. His musculature had repaired itself, he know looked like a 2 year old dog again instead of a 15 year old dog.
He was wagging his tail, he was bright and active.
He was completely off of medication.
And his numbers were normal.
It took a year and a half to completely discontinue those medications, but that was a year and a half that we were worried he wouldn’t get. He actually got that and longer.
The reality is that our bodies are incredible healing machines.
Sometimes they need medicinal help. Usually they need our help more in the form of removing whatever triggered the problem, and then help providing the correct nutrition and environment so that we can heal. (Yes, I say “we” because this 100% applies to us humans as well as our pets!)
If we provide the right environment and circumstances, our bodies can do amazing things.
(And because I know the question is there- that year he did not receive any more vaccines. In future years, we checked his titers, never gave more than one vaccine at a time, and spread everything out as much as was physically possible. And he did okay for as long as I was able to keep track of him, several years out.)