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A vaccine reaction in dogs?

[From Tufts August 2011 Issue]

I was eager to read the article in your March issue by Edie Jarolim concerning vaccination choices [“Vaccinations present an array of choices/The vet can help determine the best course based on health and life stage,” March 2011] but was disappointed that no mention was made of the possibility of auto-immune encephalitis as a reaction to vaccinations.

I got my beautiful little Annie, a Maltese, at 4 months of age in August 2009. In November of that year, about two and a half weeks after her booster shot, she was diagnosed with auto-immune encephalitis. After a month-long battle that included an MRI, hospitalizations, seizures and more, I had to put her to sleep at only 8 months of age. It was a devastating loss and I am immensely concerned that it could happen again.

My new Maltese, Maggie, has been through the full round of vaccinations, but I will do titers [measurements of antibodies to disease] before allowing any additional vaccinations to be done. Of course, there is no way to know exactly what caused Annie’s condition, but the possibility that it was a reaction to the vaccinations is uppermost in my mind.
Linda Tommasulo
Ossining, N.Y.

I am very sorry to hear about the loss of Annie. It is always terrible to lose a pet and especially difficult when the pet is so young. I understand and sympathize with your grief.

I spoke with the neurology department about your concerns. The syndrome of postvaccinal encephalitis is not well described and appears to be very rare. Our hospital has seen one case over the past 10 years. The neurology department and I also discussed Maltese encephalitis, a more commonly diagnosed disease that occurs in dogs of this breed. It remains possible that Annie died from this disease and that vaccination was totally unrelated. Perhaps the veterinarian who managed Annie’s case could supply additional information about this possibility.

My overall view is that no procedure is 100 percent safe, and vaccination is no exception. I consider postvaccinal encephalitis to be a very rare complication of vaccination. Other potential complications include swelling, pain, lameness and allergic reactions after vaccination.

However, there are also significant risks to not vaccinating your pet. For example, parvovirus and leptospirosis remain frequently diagnosed infections, even though they are completely preventable through vaccination. We have almost eliminated rabies and canine distemper virus infection from many areas of the United States, although these diseases remain devastating to dogs where vaccination is uncommon. The incidence of preventable infections is far greater than serious adverse effects from vaccination.

My judgment is that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks and that the incidence of serious reaction after vaccination is very low. I realize saying the loss of Annie was a “one in a million” event is not heartening. However, the health of the dog population has been improved through effective vaccination and individual reactions, although devastating, must not overcome the recognition of those benefits.

Thank you for your question and once again, my sympathies.
Michael Stone, DVM
ACVIM (Small Animal
Internal Medicine)
Cummings School

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