Monday, July 28, 2014

Vaccinating Your Dog at Home-Is it Safe and Effective?

Walk into any Tractor Supply, Rural King, farm store or coOp and you are bound to see the ubiquitous little refrigerator that houses dog, cat, and livestock vaccines.  Many people, including several I know, purchase vaccines (except rabies, which is required by law to be administered by a vet) at these places and inject their animals themselves at home.

Supposedly it saves time and money.  Cheaper than going to a vet, and one does not have to make a special appointment.

I recently heard of a six month old, otherwise healthy female dog being euthanized because of Parvovirus.  The kicker is that she had been vaccinated for it.  At home.  With vaccines purchased at a local feed store.  As this sad story was discussed, many people chimed in with anecdotal tales, stating that their vets had told them they had seen many cases of parvo in dogs vaccinated at home with feed store vaccines.  How and why does this occur?

About Canine Parvovirus
Parvo is a highly contagious disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract of infected dogs.  The diarrhea and vomiting cause severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which is typically what proves fatal in dogs which do not receive treatment.  

Parvo can survive in the soil for up to one year, so it is recommended that a home with a confirmed parvo case not get another dog or allow other dogs on their property for a minimum of six months.  

Lactating females that have been vaccinated against Parvo (or survived having it) will pass on some antibodies to puppies through their milk.  It is recommended that puppies get their initial vaccine sometime between five and eight weeks of age, depending on the literature read.
 The Appeal of At Home Vaccines
Faolan just went to vet a couple of weeks ago.  The cost of his DHPP (distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza) was $27.50.  Office visit fees can range anywhere from $25-$50 or more, depending on the veterinarian used.  A nine way booster vaccine is available at Tractor Supply for $11.99.  From a financial standpoint, $11.99 is much better than $50 or more.

Time wise, it is easy to spend two or more hours driving to the vet, waiting at the vet, being seen by the vet, and driving home from the vet.  Or, one can swing by a feed store on their way home, spend 5-10 minutes inside purchasing the vaccine, drive home, and inject their dog.

It is easy to see the appeal of giving a dog a vaccine at home.  $10-$15 spent vs $50 (or easily more), and 10-20 minutes of extra time spent vs two hours.

Temperature Control
Most canine vaccines have a narrow window of temperature exposure in order to remain effective, typically 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is likely the base problem of many of the examples I read of dogs vaccinated at home with feed store vaccines developing Parvo.  

The vaccine is made by the manufacturer, and shipped by refrigerated truck, or in coolers to the store.  Upon arrival at the store, it should be put in a locked refrigerator that is frequently and well monitored for appropriate temperature control.  The owner then purchases the vaccine, and takes it immediately home and administers it to the dog.  

Unfortunately there is a large amount of room for human or equipment error in the above situation.  What if the vaccine sits on the loading dock or store room for a couple of hours prior to be placed in the refrigerator?  What if said refrigerator does not have an accurate thermostat?  What if the person purchasing the vaccine decides to run a couple of other errands prior to taking it home, or takes it home and leaves it on the counter for a few hours prior to administering it?  All of these scenarios can cause the temperature of the vaccine to be out of the acceptable range, thus rendering it ineffective.  Administering an inappropriately stored or inappropriately handled vaccine is useless.

My Thoughts
Whether one chooses to vaccinate their dog or not, I believe every dog should see a vet yearly for a wellness exam.  While cost is a factor for many, I feel safe knowing that vaccines received at a vet's office are handled and administered by professionals, as opposed to employees of a chain or private feed store or coOp.  While no vaccine is 100 percent effective, I would much rather a dog receive a vaccine that has been properly handled and stored appropriately, as opposed to a vaccine that is not effective at all once it has been exposed to a temperature that is higher or lower than the narrow window.  I think spending an extra $40 or more is well worth it to avoid heartbreak that can potentially be prevented.

What say you?  Would you or do you give your dog vaccinations at home?


  1. Great post! I agree that temperature probably plays a big role in why those vaccines may not be working for some people. Of course, the same mistakes could be made by a veterinary office although we were always good about putting our vaccines away as soon as they arrived. They are shipped to the vet the same way.

    I used an at home vaccine at home once before I was a vet tech. I was in college to become one, but didn't have any experience doing vaccines yet. The vaccine comes with 2 vials - a powder and a diluent and one needle with syringe. Here's where I had my trouble with the vaccine. You have to poke the needle into the diluent, suck it up into the syringe and then poke the needle into the powder to mix it all up. That's 2 pokes with your needle, making it more blunt. And if you mess up, you might poke the jars more than twice like I did. By the time I got to Shiner, I had a really rough time getting that needle through her skin. It was like trying to stab someone with a butter knife :( At the vet clinic, we always replaced the dull needles with fresh ones so they would be easier to give.

  2. Sorry only the vet for us as we have no experience and would not know what we were doing and so would never take the risk. I don't think it is common here and have actually never heard of the such but maybe it happens in more rural communities. Interesting post. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. No, its off to the vet we go. We don't even let our momma cut our nails. Maggie did haf a bad reaction to her last set of shots so from now on we will need to make sure she does not get so many at one time. Really good post.
    stella rose

  4. I would not vaccinate at home, for a couple reasons. I know nothing about it, and have no clue what to give, where to give it, etc.... also I trust a vet much much more!
    The cost of Vets here in Canada are absolutely crazy! To take your pet in to get an exam and vaccinated costs around $200.
    Crazy, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  5. I don't give any of my pets vaccines. I have a GSD and two horses, and they are all seen by the vet. So many of my friends do their own vaccines and give me guff about paying all that money to have my vet administer them. I worry about exactly what you mentioned... improperly handled vaccines that could cost my animal its life.

    My horse had a reaction to one of her vaccines a couple years ago and my vet filed a complaint with the manufacturer. Luckily her reaction was mild, but what if it had been severe? Would I have been able to get a vet out to the barn in time?

    Too many risks for me. I just fork over the $$ instead.

  6. I wouldn't. Not only for the reasons you listed, but because I don't know how to correctly do it and would probably wind up giving it wrong and doing horrid damage. Vet vaccines are horribly expensive (Pike just finished his puppy vaccines as well as his rabies this month. Ow.), but worth it.

  7. I wouldn't do vaccines at home. Heck, I'm already terrified of the things in general (after having several pets experience averse reactions) - so I don't need the extra anxiety of wondering if I did it correctly. We titer test (way more expensive than vaccines already), and vaccinate only when effective and necessary. Someone who has been taught how to do it correctly (say, a very responsible rescue who could save more pets as a result of the financials)? Sure, and only if it's coming from a very trusted resource that houses the vaccines properly.

  8. Besides he fact that I'm skittish about needles, I worry about the age of the vaccine and if it's been stored properly. My SIL vaccinates her pets, but she worked as a vet tech for years and knows what to look for and how to administer them.

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