Dogs, Cats Vaccines, Hyper-immunization And Autoimmune Disease – Too Much Of A Good Thing

Everything In Excess Is In Opposition To Nature”  (Hippocrates – about 300 BC)

Ron Hines DVM PhD

Other Entrées That Make The Same Point


  A Science-Based Pet Vaccination Program

  One Size Fits All?  

 Vaccination Reactions 



The Take Home Point:

Autoimmunity is a case of mistaken identity. It occurs when the body mistakes the proteins of  “self” for “foreign”. Vaccines are composed of “foreign” proteins. Every time you needlessly vaccinate your pet, you give its immune system another chance to make that mistake – another opportunity to get things wrong.  When it comes to vaccination against the major disease organisms, the first round of vaccinations “primes” and organizes your pet’s immune system with a strategy for later real life encounters with that same organism. Further vaccinations are, at best, a distraction (a mock battle) and at their worst, an insult, a shock to the organization plan your pet’s body had already put into place.  Many believe that those sort of insults can be one of the many underlying causes of autoimmune disease.  Those risks go up when your pet has had a prior vaccine reaction or when its parents or siblings have had them. Bad events are also likely to increase or become more severe with the number of vaccine stimulations your pet’s pre-primed immune system receives. You might want to consider that before you set your adult dog or cat’s next date with needles. (see here)

Triggers are dramatic events. Things that change the course of your life or your pet’s life.  Some are psychological, others are physical. Some change life for the better, others for the worse. Few, if any, are reversible. This particular article explores possible links between over-vaccination and autoimmune disease.
Your dog or cat needs its essential puppyhood or kittenhood vaccinations to prevent it from becoming ill later in life. But once it has those 2 or 3 vaccinations, that threat is behind it. This article is not about those early essential vaccinations. As in humans, the risk of side effects is quite low. (read here) This article is about needless and sometimes dangerous over-vaccination that tempts fate.  

Exposure to natural living disease organisms triggers your pet’s immune system to spring into action – engulf those organisms or neutralize them with antibodies. The presences of those organisms sound an alarm that the animal’s body is under attack. Vaccines do much the same thing. They consist of weakened disease organisms or portions those organisms that simulate an attack – one that is not really happening. Your pet’s immune system does not know the difference. Vaccines are very powerful immune system triggers.

Your kitten or puppy’s first immunizing series of vaccinations is not a threat to its long-term health. The chances of those initial shots causing any problems are extremely small and most certainly worth the risk. It is latter vaccination insults and hyper-immunization that can be dangerous. As in human medicine, veterinarians cannot, as yet, predict which pets might suffer them. (read here) That is because bad reactions in dogs and cats are due to an interplay of genes, environment and vaccine ingredients. Even your pet’s fear and anxiety anticipating or experiencing an injection could come into play. (read here,   here,   here  &  here)
When unnecessary vaccinations are given to your pet, things can go wrong in two or three different ways. The vaccine can trigger an immediate, dramatic life-threatening body change called anaphylaxis in which a fire alarm is pulled that unleashes all your pet’s immune system’s defenses in an attempt to rescue it from a phantom invader (anaphylaxis,   mast cell activation,   cytokine storms and related events.). But that is just the tip of the iceberg. In other instances, the effects of a needless vaccine trigger can be considerably more subtle – more stealthy. Those shots can silently and irreversibly switch a pet’s immune system onto the wrong railroad track (loss of self-tolerance to its own tissue aka autoimmunity). A third result is sometimes the triggering of autoinflammation.  (read here,   here  & here)  When either of the last two occur, the results can be a serious collision much farther down the road. Those mistaken immune system decisions occur at the molecular level, so they take time to develop. Veterinarians like me cannot tell you which cat or dog will experience them. But I can tell you that multiple, unnecessary vaccinations can be one of those triggers and that individual pets vary in how many of those superfluous vaccinations they can safely tolerate.

Is Every Bad Event That Occurs Subsequent To A Booster Vaccination Due To The Vaccine?


We are all going to experience sickness in our lives – so are our pets. It’s basic human nature for you and I to search for causes. Sometimes our conclusions as to their causes are right; but sometimes they are dead wrong or over the top. (see here) But when your veterinarian, some vaccine company or some “panel of experts” tells you that there was absolutely no relationship between an unnecessary booster vaccination your pet received and a bad health event that occurred shortly thereafter or down the road, he/she might be quite wrong about that.

I don’t want to be an alarmist or make you one. I just want you to understand the risks and benefits of vaccines. I want you to understand that what is an essential and protective procedure for a puppy or kitten can be quite destructive when it is repeated again and again throughout life.   I don’t believe that veterinary vaccines are bad, and I do not want you to either. I don’t believe that they are an evil plot, hatched by malevolent veterinarians. It’s much more mundane than that. It’s about money and whose pocket it goes – or doesn’t go into. It’s about an honest debate over risk and benefit. It’s about keeping up to date on advances in science and about understanding how the immune system works. 

Why Is There So Little Research On The Effects of Over-vaccination In Dogs And Cats?

The first reason is that the days when veterinary colleges had the resources to self-fund studies are over. Nowadays, it is private manufacturers of veterinary goods that underwrite those studies. Veterinary vaccine makers will fund studies that are likely to indicate that your pets need more of the products they sell. They are not going to fund studies that are likely to indicate that your pet needs less of their products. 

The second reason is that the dangers are multifactorial – highly complex – like the weather.  The large genetic differences (diversity) in our dog and cat populations interplay with events (e.g. unnecessary vaccines) that only show symptoms later in life – and in a great variety of ways.

The third is that these later symptoms can relate to problems in many different organs. In some instances, it might be the liver. (read here)  In others, perhaps the kidney. (read here) There are vets who are suspicious that over-vaccination and overly high antibody levels might even play a part in later kidney failure. (read here) In humans at least, even the thyroid or pancreas are not immune to these problems, (read here)  These events can occur in other unexpected locations and ways as well. (read here) It is also plausible that repeated, unnecessary, life-long stimulating of your dog or cat’s immune system of pets with vaccines could make pre-existing inflammatory issues worse.

After My Puppy Or Kitten Finishes Its Shot Series, How Long Will Its Immunity Last?

Veterinarians really do not know that either. It might seem like a simple question, but no vaccine manufacturer or government agency has ever attempted to run the studies that would be required to answer that question. The only thing they have done is confirm that antibodies are still present 3 years later. Only one veterinarian that I know of has attempted to measure how long, immunity lasts after your pet receives its core vaccines. (read here) Because acknowledgement would negatively affect veterinary incomes, his results are generally ignored or played down by the veterinary establishment, vaccine manufacturers, the AVMA and the USDA.  Another brave vet’s challenge met the same fate. (see here)

We know that 7 years after those initial shots were given, those dogs were still immune to canine distemper and parvovirus. I have personally never seen a case of distemper or parvovirus in a dog that was properly vaccinated as a puppy, nor a case of feline distemper in a cat that was properly vaccinated as a kitten. It is quite likely that immunity to those diseases persists for the life of your pet – long after antibodies can no longer be detected in its blood. That is because of immune system memory – a defense plan that persists long after antibodies are gone. You will read about that farther along.

Does Every Vaccine Give Life-long Immunity To My Pet?


Some infections, due to organisms like the Lyme disease bacteria (a spirochaete), the bordetella bacteria that causes kennel cough or cat chlamydia, your pet can catch again and again. Leptospirosis is another of these, vaccines might decrease symptoms – but current ones do not reliably cleanse the kidneys of the leptospirosis organism. (read here) These organisms just do not impart lifelong immunity – so vaccines against them do not either.  They are often referred to as “non-core” vaccines.

 Dr. H., You Are Shifting Your Examples Between Humans, Dogs, Cats, Laboratory Mice, Etc. Isn’t That Comparing Apples To Say Donuts?

The immune system of all mammals is a very efficient, highly complex protective mechanism. Nature perfected it long before us humans and what later became our pets walked this planet. Because it has had so long to get it right, and because it faces the same sort of disease threats across all species, there is not a dime’s difference between its basic workings – be it you, a mouse or your dog or cat (an evolutionary conserved mechanism).  When it comes to vaccination decisions that rely on the workings of the immune system, there is no difference between what your doctor must decide and what your veterinarian must decide. The glaring difference is that physicians only give you vaccinations when it has been shown that they are required and in your best interests. Veterinarians are much more likely to give vaccines frequently and without any research that backs that decision up. Because there has been next to nothing published on the relationship of veterinary vaccines to autoimmune/autoinflammatory disease, I must rely on experiments in laboratory animals such as mice and the experiences of humans. (read here)

What Is Immune System “Self” And Why Is It Important?

For your pet’s immune system to battle disease invaders, it has to know the difference between all the proteins that normally make up its body and those that don’t belong there. That inventory list of what proteins constitute its body is called Self. In charge of keeping that list are the T cells (CD4+ T, CD8+ T). When they recognize a protein as being a normal part of the body, they tolerate its presence (immune tolerance) These cells not only recognize the proteins of invading bacteria and virus; when they are functioning normally, they also recognize cancer and defective cells and destroy them (autophagy). (read here) When T cells mistakenly believe a normal cell protein does not belong in the body, they launch processes to destroy it. That is autoimmunity – self mistakenly identified as non-self. The T Cell police attacking innocent bystanders. Certain combinations of genes your pet inherited make those mistaken decisions more or less likely.  (read here) Non-self proteins are also called foreign proteins. No two individuals have exactly the same normal protein list (their genotype) other than identical twins. That is why T cells need to be suppressed in organ transplants to prevent organ rejection. All veterinary vaccines contain foreign/non-self proteins meant to be delivered to T cells – that is what makes vaccines work. Dog and cat vaccine virus are often produced in dog and cat cells grown in the laboratory. In cats, it is known that those vaccines have the potential to trigger the animal to attack its own cells (produce autoantibodies) subsequent to repeated vaccinations. 

What Is Immunological Memory?

The antibodies that your pet’s immune system produce in response to vaccines normally decline over time. They have to or the number of these antibody compounds – produced by every foreign protein exposure – would become too great (hyperviscosity). There are immune system malfunctions where that occurs. Abnormally high antibody levels can be particularly hard on the kidneys. But the plans for making each prior antibody your pet has been exposed to are retained within its immune system in certain cells (memory B cells and memory T cells). As I mentioned earlier, no one has adequately determined how long that memory remains in dogs and cats. But after a human childhood hepatitis B series, immunity was still present in 96.5% of the children 13 years later (things are never 100% in medicine). In other studies, immunity was still present 15 years later. In one study, rabies resistance was present 32 years after a single series of post-bite vaccinations. (read here) Most studies support the concept of lifelong immunity after vaccination against the diseases that one can only catch once. (read here)

What Is Loss Of Tolerance?

Loss of tolerance is a term that describes an event when your pet’s immune system re-evaluates a particular protein it once thought was a normal and necessary component of its body and decides that it really does not belong there. Like a jury, a number of different immune system cells take part in this decision. Their deliberations are called “Crosstalk”, the chatter and joint decision-making conversations between cells.  (read here & here) The more similar a “foreign” protein is to a “self” protein, the more likely an autoimmune mistake is to occur. That situation is called molecular mimicry.  (read here,   here  &  here)   Vaccines have been known to occasionally cause it. (read here & here)  Some antibodies also have the ability to have multiple targets (promiscuous antibodies) – not always just against the foreign disease organism as was intended. (read here) Once a mistaken decision regarding self for foreign occurs, it cannot be revoked; although folks are looking for ways around that. (read here)

Well, The Things My Pet And I Eat Have Proteins Too. Why Don’t They Cause Problems?

As food is digested, the proteins in them are broken into segments too small for a normal immune system to recognize as foreign. In a few people and pets, with a defective intestinal lining, larger food proteins do pass through the lining of the intestine (breach the intestinal barrier). (read here) That is thought to be one of the causes of food allergies and IBD.  Your veterinarian sells special diets that sometimes help those pets. In those diets, the proteins have been “predigested” or broken down (hydrolyzed) into protein units too small for the immune system to recognize (e.g.  Hills z/d™, Purina HA™, Royal Canin Ultamino™, etc.)

What Are Adjuvants?

In a quest for vaccines that produce high antibody titers, compounds called adjuvants (immunological irritants) are often added to vaccines. However, adjuvants are indiscriminate irritants – they are basically trumpets blown to wake up the full potential of the pet’s immune system. Live attenuated (weakened) vaccines don’t ‘need’ adjuvants. Killed vaccines and subunit vaccines often need them. Adjuvants have been associated with autoimmune disease. (read here) But please remember that they are only one of a number of potential triggers of autoimmunity. Many triggers exist naturally or have polluted our environment. 

Is One Brand Of Vaccine Likely To Be Safer Than Another?

There are vaccine companies that will tell your veterinarian that. They either base that on the fact that their brand contains no adjuvants or on the types of purification techniques that they use. Those techniques are designed to remove as much of the unnecessary proteins as they can from their product. Proteins that are not required to produce a strong antibody response. But even non-adjuvanted highly purified vaccines are recognized by the immune system, cause it to activate and make decisions. They have to to work. I do not know of any veterinary vaccine manufacturer who has submitted evidence that their vaccine is less likely to cause reactions than another. The USDA/CVB in charge of monitoring the safety of veterinary vaccines, does not analyze vaccine reaction reports to determine individual brand risk. (read here) The CVB became a captive of the veterinary vaccine industry long ago. (read here)

Is A High Antibody Titer Really The Best Indication Of My Pet’s Immunity?

It is only one of many factors that prevent disease. But it is the easiest to measure. The others (immunological memory & innate immunity) are complex interactions that are hard, expensive and time-consuming to quantify. Pharmaceutical companies and government agencies like the USDA and the FDA prefer simpler, less expensive solutions. Providing a post-vaccination titer is simple.

Well, A Lot Of Veterinarians That Advocate 1-3 Year Booster Vaccinations Quote Respected Guidelines Don’t They?

Yes, they do. And pharmaceutical companies, the AVMA and other veterinary dynasties that put income first encourage them to do so. But before you consider the value of those vaccination “guidelines”, think about who wrote them, and who directly or indirectly paid to have them written. Were pet owners like you asked to help finance those guideline decisions through say, crowdfunding?  How about the USDA, the   EMA, the SPCA, charitable endowments or a philanthropic angel without a financial interest in tilting study outcomes? Sadly, if you peel the onion off of these recommendations, you will find that they all ignore the last 35 years of gained knowledge on how the immune system works. You will find a buddy system of folks with the same common narrow interests, the same chummy clique winking at each other now and then, revolving career doors and lots of greenbacks churning between the hands of the vaccine industry, academia and regulatory bureaucrats. (read here) It doesn’t take Hippocrates to recognize a self-serving conga line.

You are on the Vetspace animal health website

Visiting the products that you see displayed on this website help pay the cost of keeping these articles on the Internet.