Six Strong Arguments Against The Lyme Vaccine For Dogs
In working to update this article about Lyme vaccine side effects in small dogs 2022, I again scanned veterinary journals and university research sites.
In my search for the latest research on the safety and effectiveness of the Lyme vaccine for dogs, I found a very strongly worded opinion piece from two respected researchers published in the August 2021 journal Frontiers In Veterinary Science. These researchers arguments have cemented my decision for this year: I will not give my small dogs the Lyme vaccine in 2022.
Nadine A. Vogt of the Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, and Christine Stevens, Department of Philosophy, Kings College London, present the many reasons Lyme vaccines are inadvisable. Ive summarized their reasons below:
1. Lyme is a disease of low clinical significance
In other words, most dogs do not exhibit symptoms and, according to Vogt and Stevens, the vast majority of dogs appear to exhibit a kind of natural immunity to Lyme borreliosis.
The small percentage of dogs who do suffer symptoms usually only face a type of Lyme arthritis, which eases after the first several days of antibiotic treatment. More serious complications involving the kidneys and heart have been reported, but they are rare. We recommend reading the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Small Animal Consensus Statement on Lyme Disease in Dogs for an in-depth understanding of Lyme disease in dogs.
It certainly did us.
The Vaccine Was Pulled From The Market Despite Evidence Finding It Was Safe
But it was too late. Already, there was significant media coverage, sensationalism, the development of anti-Lyme vaccine groups … who urged withdrawal of the vaccine from the market, Poland explained in his 2011 article. A class-action lawsuit targeted SmithKline Beecham, claiming the company did not do enough to warn people of potential autoimmune side effects.
The FDA continued to follow up with an additional drug safety trial to try to settle the matter for the public. The trial was supposed to last four years. But sales of LYMErix had plummeted from about 1.5 million doses in 1999 to a projected 10,000 doses in 2002, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explains on its website.
Falling sales, combined with the mounting lawsuits from patients, led the manufacturer to pull it from the market, although early data from the additional safety trial found no differences in any significant adverse reactions noted between control subjects and vaccinated persons, Poland writes.
Concerning side effects sometimes do emerge after a drug comes on the market. But you need hard data to establish them. And the FDAs investigations into LYMErix never found any evidence of autoimmune side effects.
In the 2000s, Lyme still didnt infect that many people, and the public was more concerned about the Lyme vaccine than the disease itself. But now infections rates are rising and were left without a crucial tool to stop its spread.
Do Vaccines Provide 100% Protection
Vaccines have been highly successful in protecting the majority of dogs against disease. As a direct result of vaccination, previously common diseases such as distemper are now rare. But there are situations in which the dogs immunity may be overcome and a vaccinated dog may still develop disease. In such cases the disease is generally milder than it would have been had the dog not been vaccinated.
Some causes for apparent vaccine failure are:
Maternally derived antibodies. As mentioned above, when a puppy is born and after it suckles its mother, it acquires a proportion of antibodies from the mother. A well-vaccinated female will transfer antibodies to her puppies for the diseases she has been vaccinated against, as well as any others she has acquired naturally. Such antibodies protect the pup against those diseases for the first two or three months of its life, the most critical time. However, during this same period, the maternally derived antibodies can block the pup’s ability to respond to vaccination.
“Maternal antibody interference has been a particular problem with canine parvovirus vaccination.”
Incomplete immune response. There is variation between dogs’ immune systems. Some respond less well to vaccination, so immunity may be incomplete or shorter-lived than normal. Certain breeds and genetic lines have a tendency for such problems.
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Lyme Disease Fast Facts
- Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease have expanded their geographic range and are now being found in places they werent seen 20 years ago82
- Counties with high risk for Lyme increased 320% since the 1990s82
- CAPC data shows Nationwide, dogs are being exposed to Lyme disease outside of traditionally endemic areas54
- Approximately 75% of unvaccinated dogs in endemic areas will eventually test positive for Lyme disease55
- The best way to protect dogs is year-round flea and tick control and vaccinating those dogs that visit or live in endemic areas56
U.S. Canine Lyme Disease Prevalence83
Effective Tick Preventives And Good Response To Antimicrobial Treatment
As many researchers and veterinarians in clinical practice have noted over the years, prompt treatment of clinically affected dogs with antibiotics is reported to be highly successful . It would appear, then, that Lyme borreliosis is not only a disease of low clinical significance, but it also responds readily to treatment, as per the latter part of the first criterion of AAHA. Leaving dogs susceptible to tick exposures, however, is undesirable, since ticks can harbor a number of pathogenic infectious agents other than B. burgdorferi, such as Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia spp. Tick preventives, which are shown to be highly effective in preventing the attachment and subsequent feeding of ticks , are arguably the gold standard of prevention against Borrelia infection and other tick-borne diseases.
If a tick prevention regimen is properly adhered to, there should be no need for vaccination. It is occasionally argued that B. burgdorferi vaccines are still to be recommended in cases where owner compliance with tick preventive regimens may be an issue. A plausible rationale for recommending a vaccine, however, requires good evidence of safety and efficacy. Concerns about the safety and efficacy of B. burgdorferi vaccines have previously been raised, and these topics remain controversial .
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How Likely Is It That Your Dog Will Get Lyme Disease
The Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria found in ticks causes flu-like symptoms. Dr Raus research shows that about a third of ticks carry this bacteria species meaning that if a tick bites your dog, its only 33% likely to carry the B burgdorferi bacteria.
If the bite is from an infected tick, then your dog may develop flu-like symptoms. He may also develop a rash at the site of infection.
This is the first stage of Lyme disease.
Dr Rau and other researchers estimate that only 10% to 20% of tick bites will lead to Stage 1 Lyme Disease. But if left untreated, 30% of Stage 1 cases will lead to Stage 2. This is where bacteria can infect the skin, joints, kidneys and sometimes the heart.
So that means your dog has about a 1% to 2% chance of Stage 2 Lyme Disease the kind of Lyme disease that can make him very sick.
Stage 3 Lyme is the chronic stage. This stage can begin months or even years after infection.
The most common symptoms are joint and muscle pain. Only 1% of stage 2 cases of Lyme progress to Stage 3. This mirrors research done in dogs.
Lyme Disease Vaccine For Dogs
Lyme disease is one of a number of frustratingly common tick-borne diseases that are regarded by both veterinarians and human physicians as stubborn, insidious, and just plain problematic. In dogs, the disease causes tiredness, fever, joint pain, and loss of appetite. And though antibiotics often relieve the symptoms, once a dog has been infected, relapses can occur. Fortunately, a vaccine is available and recommended for dogs who live and play in high-risk areas.
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When To Contact Your Vet
If your pet is showing any of the signs of Lyme disease, book an appointment with your vet ASAP, especially if you have found a tick on them recently. You know your dog best. If they dont have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned, its always best to contact your vet.
Find out whether you are eligible for free or low cost PDSA veterinary treatment by using our online checker.
Dogs That Stay Mostly Indoors Can Get Ticks And Lyme Disease
Dont brush off flea and tick prevention just because your dog sticks around the house, either. Many of us have diagnosed clinical infection of Lyme disease in dogs that only go outside to potty and spend the rest of the time indoors. Ticks can hitch a ride into the house on humans and other pets, says Dr. Mengel.
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Can We Test Fluids Other Than Serum
Yes, CSF samples can be submitted from horses with neurological signs. The CSF sample needs to be submitted together with a serum sample from the same animal and taken at the same time. The relative increase of antibodies in CSF can indicate local production of antibodies in the CNS. Typically, one or two antibody values are increased more than 2-fold if B. burgdorferi contributes to the neurologic condition.
For other samples, contact the lab first .
Why Does My Dog Need To Be Revaccinated
In most properly vaccinated dogs, the immunity should last more than a year, and often several years. However, immunity does decline with time and this decline rate varies with individuals. To maintain the best protection against infectious diseases, revaccinations have proven very successful.
“Immunity does decline with time and this decline rate varies with individuals.”
As vaccines are improved over time, some do not need to be given as often, depending on individual circumstances. Most dogs with low-risk lifestyles can be vaccinated every three years with the core vaccines and as needed for any non-core vaccines . Your veterinarian will discuss the need and frequency of booster vaccinations for your dog based on your dogs needs and lifestyle.
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Lyme Disease Vaccine For Dogs Good For Your Pet But Not For Humans
If you go to your veterinarian to get the Lyme disease vaccine for dogs, just make an appointment and your family pooch will be vaccinated against this serious disease. If you go to your pediatrician to get the Lyme disease vaccine for your children, give up now. Its simply not available.
Is it because Lyme disease is more serious to your dog than your children? Nope. Is it because Big Pharma makes more money from dogs than humans? No. Is it because the Lyme disease vaccine is safer for a dog than in a human? Again, no.
Enough with the guessing game!
The blame for why there is a Lyme disease vaccine for dogs but not one for children can be placed right where some of you expect it to be anti-vaccine activists. This was in the mid-1990s, and the internet was barely usable without Google to help us, but there were people pushing the same narrative that we hear about the cancer preventing HPV vaccine the Lyme vaccine was worse than the disease. Lets take time to look at this story.
The Bottom Line On Lyme Vaccine
After slogging through some pretty dense veterinary sites and medical journals, our family has decided our pups will never again receive the Lyme vaccine. The vaccines controversy among experts persuades us to skip this vaccine. In addition, our deeply negative, scary experience with the Lyme vaccine makes that decision easy. We provide this information here so you can come prepared to talk with your vet. In addition, download The Checklists: Tick Prevention and Lyme Vaccine Precautions. These one-page reference sheets will help you avoid the ticks that spread Lyme. Theyll prepare you if you do decide to vaccinate your pup against the disease.
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How Are Dogs Tested For Lyme Disease
Diagnosis is made by a combination of history, physical signs, and diagnostics. For dogs, the two blood tests for diagnosing Lyme disease are called the C6 Test and Quant C6 test. Veterinarians perform both.
The C6 test detects antibodies against a protein called C6. Presence of the antibodies suggests an active Lyme infection. The C6 antibodies can be detected three to five weeks after an infected tick bites a dog and may be found in the bloodstream even before the dog shows signs of illness.
The next step is to do a Quant C6 test. This, along with urinalysis will help determine if antibiotic treatment is necessary.
Leptospirosis Fact: Potential Carriers Are Everywhere
The number of places where leptospirosis infections can occur is in the billions.
In our county, there were several cases of leptospirosis. So, our vet made the lepto vaccine a requirement for all dogs. Also, many facilities like dog boarding and dog grooming made it mandatory for their dog clients to be vaccinated.
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Lyme Vaccine Vs Tick Prevention
Lyme disease is becoming a larger and more important topic in the veterinary community. Not only because of its risk towards our pets, but also for the rick it poses towards humans. Lyme disease is a bacterial disease that is transmitted by the Deer Tick . Most doctors will tell you that if an infected Deer Tick bites a human, the vast majority of people will become infected. However, the majority of dogs who get bitten by an infected tick will not become infected. This being said, we need to do our part to stop this disease from spreading. This disease can be prevented in a few different ways.
The first way Lyme Disease can be prevented is by vaccinating your animal. This vaccination is done initially with one injection followed by a booster vaccine in 3-4 weeks. After that, an injection that is given every year to protect your animal. However, it only protects against Lyme Disease, and not any other tick-borne diseases.
The second prevention method is to protect your pet against ticks all together. Our gold-standard and most recommended option is using a product called Bravecto. This is a tick and flea prevention that comes in a chew, meaning it is basically a treat! Bravecto lasts 12 weeks, and if you are making sure you give Bravecto every 12 weeks without missing any doses, you are ensuring that your pet is protected against all types of ticks . That means Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, and a few others.
Disease Of Low Clinical Significance
The vast majority of dogs appear to exhibit a kind of natural immunity to Lyme borreliosis roughly 95% of dogs remain asymptomatic following exposure to a tick infected with B. burgdorferi . Although there are reports of potentially fatal cardiac and renal sequelae associated with B. burgdorferi in the literature , these syndromes appear to be exceedingly rare. Furthermore, these purported syndromes are challenging to conclusively link with Lyme borreliosis for that same reason , as well as a lack of disease model, with no gold standard test to differentiate between clinical and incidental infections . It seems fair to say, then, that Lyme borreliosis meets the first criterion of AAHA of being a disease of low clinical significance.
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Vaccinating Dogs Against Lyme Disease: Two Points Of View
Meryl P. Littman
Dr. Littman is a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Her research includes canine tick-borne diseases. She received her VMD from University of Pennsylvania.
Richard E. Goldstein
DVM, DACVIM, DECVIM
Dr. Goldstein is chief medical officer at The Animal Medical Center in NYC. His research includes canine Lyme disease and leptospirosis. He received his DVM from Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.
Despite availability of a consensus statement and up-to-date canine vaccination guidelines , the decision whether or not to vaccinate dogs against Lyme disease remains an ongoing debate among many veterinary professionals.
2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines.JAAHA.
ACVIM Small Animal Consensus Statement on Lyme Disease in Dogs: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention. Littman MP, Goldstein RE, Labato MA, et al. J Vet Intern Med. 2006 20:422-434. Available at cvm.ncsu.edu/vhc/documents/LymeconsstmtACVIM.pdf.
Todays Veterinary Practice has gathered 3 experts to discuss this topicDr. Meryl Littman and Dr. Richard Goldstein evaluate the benefits and risks of vaccination, while Dr. Richard Ford outlines the current vaccination recommendations.
Dogs With Lyme Disease Are Not Protected Against Future Lyme Disease
This is sometimes a hard concept for clients to understand because its unlike diseases which play by traditional rulesonce youve had it, you are immune. Think chickenpox.On the contrary, infection with Lyme does not create protective immunity, so a dog can contract Lyme disease more than once. This is called superinfection.
Therefore, if your dog has tested positive for Lyme disease in the past, you are not off the hook. Talk with your vet about protecting your dog against another Lyme infection.
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Treatment For Lyme Disease
Treatment with antibiotics is indicated for dogs with a positive ELISA result and clinical signs of Lyme disease. The drug of choice is doxycycline. Although no optimal dose or duration of treatment has been determined,1 the Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends a doxycycline dose of 10 mg/kg PO q24h for 30 days,3 and the recommended course of treatment is usually 4 weeks.1,4 If doxycycline is unavailable or is contraindicated for a given patient, amoxicillin or azithromycin can be prescribed.1,4 For dogs exhibiting substantial joint pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or opioids can be used. Glucocorticoids are not recommended.1,2 Doxycycline is recommended for dogs with Lyme diseaseassociated nephritis, but these dogs must also receive symptomatic treatment, based on the degree of renal changes.
Because of the low incidence of clinical Lyme disease, prophylactic treatment when a tick has been found attached to a dog is not recommended.2,3 Antibody titers are not a helpful guide to treatment because they can remain elevated for years.1
More specific information about treatment for Lyme disease can be found in the ACVIM Consensus 2018 update.4