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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Vaccinating Dogs with Cancer

Updated: November 14th, 2018


For some dog lovers, this word is a general part of health care for a canine companion.  For others, it is the root of a syndrome called “vaccinosis”.  Vaccinosis is a made-up term is a term used by alternative vets to describe the cluster of side effects from vaccinations.

Like most issues in medicine, those surrounding vaccinations are not black and white.  People who strongly believe that vaccines are evil and do not vaccinate their dogs at all should come watch the horror of a death due to parvovirus.  Believe me, you will reconsider.

However, vaccination needs to be revisited in veterinary medicine in a big way.  There are many reasons. One reason is that there is some evidence that, at least on a cellular level, vaccines may alter immunity in a direction that could favor cancer cell proliferation.   For example, a study came out in November, 2008 that showed an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was seen in people who had received an influenza vaccine.  The increase was by a pretty large margin (53%) too.  In all fairness though, negative associations were seen as well, with other vaccine types.

I was recently doing some investigation about a new chemotherapy protocol, and called a highly regarded oncology center.  I was sent the protocols, and on the bottom of the lymphosacoma protocol was the phrase, “No vaccinations ever again!”  Hm.  That caught my interest.  Here was an allopathic center making sweeping recommendations to avoid vaccinations in dogs with lymphoma.

Another piece to the puzzle is that there is currently intense research to create vaccines that actually help the body fight cancer.   For example, the canine melanoma vaccine was shown to increase median survival time in dogs with malignant melanoma by about three fold.  That’s a large margin!  (The canine melanoma vaccine is available only through oncologists.)

Routine vaccinations to boost immunity against common diseases such as parvovirus and distemper virus are, in my opinion, administered excessively.  The main way in veterinary medicine to measure protection against an infectious disease is by doing a blood test called a titer test.  If you do blood titer tests for the core  infections in most dogs who have received regular vaccinations, even if given every 3 years after the first year, you find that almost all have protection later in life.  This would imply the vaccine is not needed.

Putting all these pieces together, it makes a lot of sense to avoid vaccinating dogs with cancer for the common infections.  It also makes a lot of sense to do blood titer tests for these dogs routinely, and adult healthy dogs at annual visits.  If a treatment or other intervention is not needed, why do it?

All my best

Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Judith Chase on January 7, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Does this include rabies vaccine too?

  2. Jill Morris on July 3, 2019 at 8:28 am

    My 12 year old IG had a hemangiosarcoma excised with clear margins 1 year ago. Do you recommend rabies booster at this point? She’s doing very well without further s sx. Thank you.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on July 3, 2019 at 11:52 am

      Hey Jill,

      Thanks for writing. As we’re not veterinarians here, we can’t offer you medical advice. As Dr. D writes in the article above, “it makes a lot of sense to avoid vaccinating dogs with cancer for the common infections.” Unfortunately, we can’t find anything in his writings specifically related to the rabies vaccine. That’s a really good question though, and one you should probably ask your veterinarian as they know your dog and your dog’s current treatment plan 🙂

  3. Izzy on November 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    When I moved to Mexico with my dog the vets over there asked me why I was so insisting on vaccinating my dogs every year? Frankly, like most people, I did not know any better. I was from a country where every responsible and caring pet owner vaccinates, without questioning why. They had to special order the vaccines I thought I needed. lol.
    After a few years I caught on, no more vaccines only rabies every 3 years just like everyone else over there. After all, ticks were the monsters that killed in Mexico not Parvo, Distemper or Leptospirosis. When we moved back to the U.S. 5 years ago, the State required me to have a fancier permit and proof of vaccinations if I wanted to keep 4 dogs (the law only allows 2 pets per household unless you have that permit) so I was shoved back on the vaccination wagon and that’s when in my opinion, all hell broke loose. The first one to leave us was our 8-year-old Golden. A day after her yearly assault: 5 way vaccine + rabies + intra nasal Bordetella, her nose started bleeding. 2 days later her lymph node grew the size of a tennis ball, 4 days and a million tests later, she was diagnosed with nasal lymphoma. 5 weeks later, she was dead. Coincidence? Let see. That same year, my 2 boxers were diagnosed with mast cell. It never occurred to me to think that vaccination could again be a factor. I thought, Boxers, both 8 at the time, high incidence of cancers especially mast cell in the breed… We removed 6 lumps between both dogs, mostly grade 1 but a suspected grade 2 on a hind leg forced us to go a little bit more aggressively at it. Prednisone helped. A lot! Especially with the very small ones that were in area deemed impossible to resect with acceptable margins i.e. lower eye lid, upper ear flap, under tail, the Pred shrunk them all to barely there. Everything seemed under control, then came the second year of mandatory vaccines. (Minus the Bordetella this time) Within a week of vaccination most of the small inoperable mast cells exploded!! I read everything I could on Mast Cell. I bought the Dog Cancer book, we changed diets, started cooking, gave supplements, read some more… moved out of state, stopped vaccinating. Everyone thrived! We lost two more last year (not from cancer) One had a stroke the other kidney disease. The only one remaining of the four we brought back from Mexico is now 13. We call him the miracle boy. For a Boxer to live that long is special. With mast cells it’s truly miraculous. He now has a few melanomas as well. They started to appear a few months ago. We know he is living on borrowed time, we enjoy him everyday as if it were his last. It’s all about quality of life now. He is spoiled rotten.
    But our journey back to unvaccinated health was not without consequences. I was refused care, heartworm medicine and yearly health exams in many clinics because my dogs were not current on their vaccines. One Vet told me to get off the internet and get smart about my dogs health! I rolled with the punches and truly felt victorious… until today.
    We rescued a stray 4 months ago and although we gave her a de-worming treatment when we got her, she was still shedding and infected my old bug. No big deal except the vet refused to give me the meds without seeing him first which meant he had to go IN the clinic which I did not want to do because I knew I was 3 months overdue for his rabies vaccines. I tired to explained to the vet about my worries and past experience not to mentioned the fact that vaccine are supposed to be given to “healthy” dogs. Not cancer ridden geriatrics who never go anywhere! She basically threaten to report me to the authorities if I left the clinic without a rabies vaccine. Regardless of the fact that he is 13, has a history of mast cell, AND active melanomas, she deemed him healthy enough to have it so I was forced to vaccinate him BECAUSE IT’S THE LAW.

    My question to you Dr. Dressler is how can I be my dogs advocate, get them the basic care they need, stick to what I believe to be best for them when the system makes it nearly impossible for me to do so?

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on November 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Dear Izzy,
      vaccinations and preventative care as you know are GOOD overall. The question is how frequently or how much we need. You need a physical examination to get prescription medications. This is a rational practice in veterinary medicine. As to the rabies vaccination issue, many times health policy is there to protect people first (i.e. control rabies in the animal population) and when this law is applied to an individual animal it is not rational nor in the best interest of the pet. But then again, when was blanket administrative policy a sophisticated tool for more decisions that are slightly more complex? This is the world we live in, and I have no direct solution to this issue, I am sorry. Some states have a certificate that can be obtained from the vet that excludes them from the rabies vaccination requirement for medical reasons.
      Dr D

  4. Deana on April 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    My baby girl died of lymphoma recently, she got sick after rabies shot. I think rabies shot requirements are ridiculous & unnecessary. I feel so guilty that I took her in… Maybe I should start getting more vaccines & see how sick I get & die of cancer. There’s enough crap out there that ruins health & nothing should be mandated for anyone to have to get a vaccine not dogs not children not military!!!
    If you wanna be sick & die vaccines will do it!

  5. Patty Martin on September 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    On September 17, 2011 the day my dog was vaccinated for his 3 year rabies, he also had enlarged lymphnodes in his neck and legs, possible absessed tooth and a temperature of 103. Three day later, the results of the asperations indicated lymphoma. How will this vaccination impact his ability to fight lymphoma?

  6. Emily on January 15, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Having read your article, and the comments afterwards, I am hoping for some advice.
    I live in the UK & have 2 dogs aged 9 & 10. Stella (10) has Cushings disease and Jade (9) had has a malignant tumour removed within the last 18 months. I requested a blood test for them both & was told Stella was fine except for Adinovirus (level was 14). Jade was OK for Parvo but not Distemper or Adinovirus (levels both less than 5). However, my vet doesn’t split the vaccine & is pressuring me to just get them both done completely. I am really worried about doing that.
    Do you have any opinion on what I could do?
    Thank you

    • Dr. Dressler on January 22, 2010 at 11:15 pm

      Dear Emily,
      Do your dogs have cancer?
      Let us know,
      Dr D

  7. Maggie on December 5, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Good for you both. I think we do have to stand up for our pets, because not all vets either know or believe in “too many vaccines” can hurt the immune system. My dog may or may not have cancer, she has had Cushings Disease for at least 6 1/2 years (I’ve only had her that long), and has been very sick. Hopi is about 16 years old, and I have stopped all of her vaccines except for rablies every 3 years. She had been taking the medicine, Lysodren, for two years, when the side effects were worse than the disease. I thought she was dying and I took her off of Lysodren, and then she went into remission for a year. I was so relieved and surprised! But it came back about a year later, and we are dealing with the effects of Cushings, but I am not going to put her back on that medication. She really isn’t doing bad, I have to watch for infections and get right on them. I have her on a natural diet that I do myself, and she gets vitamins, minerals and a heart pill. I would love to find a vet that does alternative medicine.

  8. Karen on December 5, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Has anyone had any experience with titer testing instead of vaccines in states that require proof of vaccines in connection with getting or renewing their dog’s license?

  9. Dawn on December 4, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Good for you Nance, standing up for what you believe! I also lost a dog to lymphoma, which started, in my opinion, after a bad vaccine reaction my dog after a round of yearly booster shots. I can’t prove it, but after my dogs’ vaccine reaction, we had to administer prednisone in such a high dose to shut his immune system down, which made him the equivalent of an aids patient. Cancer cells sneak in and what do you think happens? Full blown cancer!! I will NEVER EVER just allow any vet to think I’m okay with these yearly booster shots. My 2-1/2 y.o. dog has been titer tested for the past 2 years and he hasn’t needed any other shots (except the 3 year rabies shot) and after the rabies shot, we gave him a dose of detox given to us by our wonderful holistic vet. If your vet refuses to do titers when asked, tell them you are going elsewhere! You must stand up and insist on it. Best to you!

  10. Nance on December 4, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I would love to do titer tests on my dogs instead of the routine vaccinations however the vets seem to be against it telling us the titer test costs too much and the vaccinations are safe. I don’t go along with that. I lost one of best buddies due to complications from the rabies vaccine. I have more or less convinced my vet that we do not need nor will we yearly booster my dogs and have more or less settled on every three years. I guess it’s a start.

    • Dr. Dressler on December 6, 2009 at 2:46 pm

      Nance, way to go. You are helping your dog, and the entire community, by helping to facilitate change, including the minds of animal doctors. Good work in being your dog’s number one health care advocate. It takes guts to be an example of this!
      Dr D

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