The use of vaccines in veterinary medicine is a controversial and often-emotional subject. Ask a group of veterinarians whether vaccines are safe and/or effective, ask them which vaccines to use, how often to use them and when, or ask them which vaccines they use for their own pets, and you’ll get a whole spectrum of answers.
On the one side are the practitioners who feel that vaccines are totally safe to use and that they are extremely effective in preventing disease. Typically, these are the practitioners who recommend the use of annual vaccinations for every disease that has an available vaccine. At the other extreme are those who feel vaccines are evil incarnate, and will try to convince their clients to use as few vaccines as possible.
Then, there are the veterinarians who have studied both sides of the vaccine question and have come to several realizations. First, vaccines are grossly overused in veterinary medicine. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the annual use of vaccines, and over-vaccination has been cited as the culprit for many vaccine-induced problems. Also, the overall efficacy of vaccines is overrated. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and even the best will only protect a percentage of the population truly at risk. Third, animals experience far more vaccine-related problems than are reported, meaning that vaccines are not as safe as most people believe. And last, some practitioners believe that the overuse of vaccines is related to an increased incidence of chronic diseases such as thyroid imbalances, arthritis, and cancers. The collection of these diseases is often referred to as vaccinosis—the most controversial of all vaccine-related topics.
My position on vaccines
When it comes to vaccines, for once in my life I am not an extremist; I am more of a “compassionately conservative” vaccinator. I think the safety and efficacy of giving appropriate vaccines to puppies and kittens outweighs their potential for harm. After the “kids” get their vaccines, however, all good science points to a re-vaccination regime of every third to fifth year, depending on the vaccine, or possibly no further vaccines for the animal (again, depending on the vaccine and the animal’s risk of exposure). Note that rabies is the exception here: Dogs (and in some states, cats) will need a rabies vaccine annually or every third year, depending on where you live. This legal requirement is to protect the human population.
Finally, after studying both sides of the vaccine question and observing my patients, I am personally convinced that overzealous vaccinating predisposes our pets to many of the chronic diseases that are so prevalent today. I am one who believes that vaccinosis is a very real problem, and thus I try to minimize vaccines as much as possible.
Help your pet through vaccinations
Whichever side of the vaccine controversy you are on, it just makes sense to me to help your pet along during vaccination periods. This help should be a three-pronged approach: first, assisting the immune system and helping it to rebalance after the vaccine; second, helping your pet eliminate any possible toxins that may be contained in the vaccines; and third, helping to prevent vaccinosis.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is one of my favorite herbs for balancing the immune system. Try to find a certified organic source of echinacea—this is perhaps the single best thing you can do to assure a high-quality, health-enhancing product. Use either the whole herb or the roots.
If at all possible, use the herb as a “sprinkle-on”—adding a pinch or two of the whole herb to your pet’s dinner. The next best alternative is to use a nonalcoholic tincture—a few drops in your pet’s food (or directly into his or her mouth) once or twice a day. Or you can pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of herbal tea over your pet’s food daily.
For the herb-shy animal, you can often camouflage the taste by hiding the herb in a favorite treat or in a small amount of meat. But puppies and kittens are usually still in the “I’ll eat anything you feed me” mode, and this is the perfect age to get them accustomed to small amounts of herbs in their diet.
Two other immune herbs to use during a pet’s vaccinal period are licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Some scientists believe that the adrenal is the major organ responsible for modulating an animal’s immune response. Because licorice root supports the adrenal system, I add it to my routine herbal mix during vaccinations. If the adrenal is the pilot gland for directing the immune system, I’m convinced that vaccinations affect many, if not all, of the animal’s organ systems. Siberian ginseng simply can’t be beat as an herb that helps maintain all organ systems in balance.
Herbs for eliminating toxins
Vaccines can contain a whole litany of toxins, including antibiotics, aluminum gels, formaldehyde, monosodium glutamate (MSG), other preservatives, egg proteins (or other animal proteins), and sulfites—each of which has the potential to elicit an immediate and/or delayed allergic response.
Because the liver is the primary organ of detoxification, I like to help a pet process and eliminate potential vaccinal toxins by using the liver-supportive herb milk thistle (Silybum marianum). A liver herb that also has a diuretic effect (which helps the body eliminate toxins through the urine) is dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale). However, dandelion’s diuretic effect may make you think twice before using it during those initial housebreaking weeks.
The thyroid gland is an organ that can be under especially severe attack during vaccination. Furthermore, some veterinarians are convinced that the thyroid is the body’s “master gland” and that it is the one organ most affected by over-vaccination. Heavy metals, especially mercury, can be toxic to the thyroid. Interestingly, many of our vaccines are preserved with thimerosal, a combination of ethyl mercuric chloride, thiosalicylic acid, sodium hydroxide, and ethanol.
With all of this in mind, I like to add another class of detox herbs: thyroid- supporting seaweeds such as bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), kelp (Laminaria spp.), Irish moss (Chondrus crispus), and others such as nori, hijiki, dulse, wakame, and arame. To dose the toxin-fighting herbs, I prefer to grind up the milk thistle seeds and dandelion roots, use the seaweeds as a powder, and add them as a pinch of top dressing to a pet’s food. All of these herbs are safe enough to use for extended periods.
The herbal schedule
For puppies and kittens, use the above herbs daily for the duration of your veterinarian’s initial vaccine protocol, and then extend the herbal use for two to three weeks after the last vaccine is administered. Because this may be as long as two to three months (some veterinarians recommend a starter series of vaccines beginning at six to eight weeks of age and ending at sixteen weeks), you may want to give the youngster a few days off two or three times during the protocol.
For re-vaccinations (rabies, for example), use the above herbs for two to three weeks previous to the vaccine administration and then for two to three weeks afterward.
The classic homeopathic remedy to combat adverse reactions to vaccines (vaccinosis) is thuja. Some homeopaths use the remedy whenever vaccines are required, using it at about a 30c (or lower) potency. Others use thuja only when an animal has had a negative reaction to a vaccine, in a dose of 30c (or higher) every few hours for a total of four or six doses. Still other practitioners (I count myself in this camp) use thuja whenever there is an apparent reaction to the vaccine, and they’ll use it prophylactically if an animal has a history of reaction to vaccines.
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for ten years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri.
Information provided in “Pet corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.