Note: I have split the original post into two parts for clarity as I am covering to important subjects here: 1) Rescue dogs and vaccinations and 2) Symptoms of rabies vaccinosis.


A few days ago I received an urgent request to evaluate a dog in the local animal shelter.  This shelter is a kill-shelter and keeps dogs for only a very short period of time before euthanizing all but the most ‘perfect’ ones, which are put up for adoption.  The particular dog in question, Hap, was to be killed because he was pooping in his run, and they figured it would be too hard to find a home that would work with such “behaviour issues” (which turned out to be an intolerance to kibble, especially grain based kibble).

Hap is a lovely, big 10 month old BC puppy with a bomb proof temperament.  I mean he’s just as friendly as can be, and very, very stable.  I’ve introduced him to many environments now: little kids, many other dogs, strange men and women, cars, bikes, joggers, an agility trial and so on.  So far he has shown absolutely no reactivity at all, and has been friendly and happy to meet every other living creature.  But not obsessively friendly – he wants to say hi, but if he can’t, he gets over it right away and carries on.  Within 3 days I had him off-leash in public parks no problem. 

So far this puppy is showing me very little vaccine damage.  In fact the only thing I’ve seen so far is that he has water issues: he drinks A LOT, is afraid to swim, and when I had to hose him down after pooping in his crate, he almost panicked and attacked the water (a clear sign, in my opinion, of rabies vaccinosis).  

Nevertheless, he is otherwise showing very little vaccine damage.  I’m not sure why this is – perhaps he came from minimally vaccinated parents, or maybe he did not get the multiple rounds of puppy vaccines that most vets convince people are necessary.  Or maybe he just comes from hardy stock that has a strong life-force that has been able to resist vaccine damage.  Again, I have no idea.  All I know is that this is one stable, happy border collie and you just don’t see too  many of them around these days.  Especially in rescue.

Why in rescue?  Well, for one thing, it is the ones with behaviour problems that wind up in rescue in the first place.  They are the ones who get dumped or given up, and wind up in shelters or whatnot.  Many of these – like Hap – come in with no known medical history.  So what is the first thing that people do?  In a mad panic to “protect” them, they vaccinate.  The only thing most rescues I’ve encountered do faster than vaccinate is rip out reproductive organs.  And most of the time, these are done simultaneously.  Unfortunately, this practice does a tremendous amount of damage to the animal, leading to considerable health and behaviour problems down the road, if not immediately.

There are several reasons for this.  First, how many people get puppies and don’t give them ANY vaccines?  Other than a few careful natural rearing handlers, I know of no-one.  Even the most negligent of owners, in their enthusiasm over a new puppy will bring it in for at least one round of shots.  And most vets do everything they can to get the animal in several times during that new-puppy honeymoon phase.  So chances are most dogs have been vaccinated prior to coming into the shelter.  And if that dog is, say, 8-10 months old (like Hap), likely he’s been vaccinated recently.  But most rescues and shelters wish to ‘err on the side of caution’ and will revaccinate.  That means the average dog coming into rescue under the age of 12 months (which is when most of them come in) will be getting a double round of vaccines.

This is damaging enough in and of itself.  Now add to that the fact that when you are stressed – which is what happens with most dogs in shelters environments – the body produces cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.  In other words, the dogs are pumped full of deadly viruses (usually 5-7 simultaneously, something that would never happen in nature) at the very moment that their immune systems are shut off.

When I was more actively involved in rescue I did my best to convince people not to vaccinate dogs as soon as they came into rescue.  Instead, I encouraged them to wait a few weeks and let the dogs get settled in.  This also ensures that the dog isn’t already incubating something as vaccinating a sick dog will make it much sicker.  If the dog has been exposed to a virus, vaccinating after the fact will only increase the likelihood that the dog will fall ill.  Furthermore, many dogs are spayed and neutered if intact (again, I advocate waiting until the dog is in good health prior to surgery) waiting a good 30 days between surgery and vaccinations is very important to the dog’s overall health.  Finally, if the dog’s vaccine history is unknown, titers should be performed rather than possibly unnecessary vaccines administered.  

The problem of course is that most rescue groups don’t have the time and space to keep each dog for a couple of months, or the finances to do titers instead of vaccines.  This is very unfortunate, but it is a reality.  I had to stop working with such groups, however, as to me there’s no point in saving a dog if you are going to cause it a life-time of health and or behaviour problems in the process.  

Very fortunately, the rescue group I work with (and several others that I know of) have moved to this more conscious approach to the health of the dogs.  I foster for a small rescue group that keeps each dog until it is ready to be adopted, meaning working through both health and behaviour problems, and then waiting until the perfect home comes along. That means that while most dogs are adopted within 2-3 months, some stay in foster care for much, much longer.  I know not every group has the ability to do this, but this is what is important to me and why I continue to foster for the rescue I do.

Getting back to Hap… here is a lovely, stable puppy who is not going to be compromised because of a shortage of time, space or funds.  The trick now, however, will be to find a home who will continue to care for his health in the same way.  Sadly most people think that taking care of your dog’s health means pumping them full of drugs and chemicals.  It will be hard to pass this puppy on to a new home if that home doesn’t understand these concerns.  But I do my best to educate each adoptive home, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how receptive people have been to these ideas.