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May 17, 2012

Gourmet Salmon Cakes for Dogs

Health benefits of salmon, such as the goodness of fish oil for dogs, the high amount of protein, vitamin D and the Omega 3 fatty acids.

Salmon Cakes for Dogs

Salmon Cakes
1 14.75 oz can of wild Alaskan salmon
2 egg whites
1/4 cup sour cream, low or fat free
2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 cup carrot, shredded
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried dill weed

Yogurt Tartar Sauce
1/4 cup plain yogurt, low or fat free
1/2 tsp. dried dill weed

Salmon Cakes
Preheat oven to 375° F
Drain liquid from salmon. Remove bones and skin, if any.
In a medium bowl, mix together salmon and next four ingredients (through shredded carrot).
In a separate shallow dish, mix together the plain bread crumbs and dill weed.
Using a cookie scooper, scoop one ball and lightly flatten into a patty form.
Dredge or thoroughly coat the patty in the bread crumb mixture.
Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
Repeat until there is no more salmon mixture.
Bake for 12 minutes. Then flip and bake for 12 more minutes.
Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Yogurt Tartar Sauce
Mix together yogurt and dried dill weed.
Cover and refrigerate until salmon cakes are cool.

Storing & Yield: Any dog treat recipe with meat should be served quickly. We recommend one week in the refrigerator. You can freeze these salmon cakes for 2 months. If you are using a 1" cookie scoop, this recipe should make 2 dozen salmon dog treats.

Tips & Techniques
Be sure to drain the salmon very well. Otherwise the mixture will be too moist and will not hold together. If you have already combined the salmon mixture and it is not holding together, add one tablespoon of plain bread crumbs at a time, until the mixture stays together.

To save time you can use pre-shredded carrots.

If your dog needs or prefers softer treats, you can bake the cakes for 10 minutes on each side.


Gourmet Cheesy Dog Biscuits with Cheese Filling

This dog biscuit recipe is extremely versatile. As long as you have a total of 2 2/3 cup of cheese, you can substitute any number of grated cheeses to this recipe. For example, you could use all cheddar or an Italian blend of Parmesan, Romano & Mozzarella. Or, you can omit the dairy cheeses all together and use almond, soy or tofu cheeses.

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

Cheese & Peanut Butter Filling:
8 ounces of cream cheese, fat free
1/2 cup peanut butter, creamy or chunky

Preheat oven to 400° F
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses.
In a small bowl, whisk the two eggs together.
Stir in the extra virgin olive oil and applesauce.
Make a well in the dry ingredients.
Pour the applesauce mixture into the dry ingredients and stir, using a fork, until a dough forms.
Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
Using a tablespoon sized cookie scooper, pack the cheesy mixture into the scoop.
Place the scoops on the baking sheet close together, as they do not raise in the oven.
Bake for 18 minutes. Leave the dog treats in the oven, once it's turned off, to cool.
If using the cheese dip to create a cheese sandwich, flatten the rounded cookie and bake for 15 minutes.

Filling Instructions:
In a microwave safe bowl, measure out the cream cheese and peanut butter
Microwave the ingredients at 10 second intervals, and stir after each one, until the mixture comes together easily.
Use a butter knife to spread the filling
Or, scoop the cheese mixture into a zip lock bag and seal. Cut off the tip and squeeze mixture out like a thick frosting.

Storing - This dog biscuit recipe will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Freeze them for up to 6 months. The cheese and peanut butter dip is best made fresh and used within a week.

Yield - Using a tablespoon sized cookie scooper, this recipe will make 40 dog cookies.

Tips & Techniques
Lactose Intolerant - Some of our dog friends are lactose intolerant. But, there's good news. Some cheeses do not have lactose. Check the nutritional label on the back of the cheese in question. If there are zero (0) grams of sugar in the cheese, it is lactose free. You can then feel safe in making and offering these treats to those with sensitive tummies.

Grated Cheeses - You can find many different types of cheeses already grated in your local grocery stores. This will safe time when making this and other dog treatrecipes. However, you can grate the cheese yourself. Just be sure to use a fine grater so the pieces will mix well in the dough.

Dark Biscuits - You may have noticed that my little cheese biscuits in the picture above are kinda dark. There was a mishap in the kitchen! The cookies were left in the oven to cool, then another family member preheated the oven for their treats! The poor cookies never had a chance. But all is not lost, the treats are still tasty, just extra crunchy.

Cheese Filling - One of the best things about making your own homemade dog treatsis that you can customize the recipe for you and your dog. For families with one dog, or if you aren't planning on using the filling for all the dog biscuits, you can make a half batch, or even a quarter batch.

Make the biscuits smaller, bake for 7-8 minutes, and use these as dog training treats, or for no special reason other than your dog being your best buddy.


CPR For Your Dog

Learning CPR for Dogs can save your pets life one day.

May 16, 2012

Homemade Weight Loss Dog Biscuits

dog weight lossIngredients:
1 medium ripe banana
1 cup shredded carrots (see note below)
1/4 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/8 cup water (you may need to add an additional 1/8 cup water)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
Additional flour for Rolling

Preheat oven to 350° F
Mash the ripe banana in a small bowl.
Grate the carrots, and mix with the banana.
Then pour in the applesauce and water.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and oats.
Make a well in the center of the dryingredients and pour in the carrot mixture.
Stir until thoroughly combined.
Knead the dough in the bowl with your hands.
Fold out onto a floured surface and continue to knead until a dough has formed.
Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness.
Cut out into 3 inch pieces (I used a carrot shaped cookie cutter).
Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.
Place the cut-outs on the baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.
Let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Storing - These treats will be fresh in the refrigerator for 3 weeks. Keep them in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Yield - Using a 3 inch cookie cutter, you'll get 24 biscuits.

Tips & TechniquesShredded Carrots - You can purchase packaged, pre-shredded carrots for thesehomemade dog treats. However, you will still need to run your knife through them to make them smaller, similar in size to the picture above. The benefit to shredding carrots yourself is that you can leave the skin on the carrots and get a little more nutrients out of the carrots. But for those pressed for time, pre-shredded works well, too.

Crunchy - Leave them in the oven overnight, after it's turned off, and you'll bake up a sweet and crisp homemade dog treat.

If your sweet friend is going through a dog weight loss program, this dog treat recipe will keep him happy and not feeling left out when it comes to the dog treat jar.


Fido Low Fat Italian Spinach Balls

Do you have an extra pudgy dog? It's possible that he's combating dog obesity. If so, there's no need to cut out all of the homemade dog treats. You'll just want to switch to low fat dog treats like this flavorful Italian Spinach balls dog treat recipe.

 1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, reduced fat
1 tsp dried oregano

dog obesity
Savory Italian Spinach Balls
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F
  • Do not squeeze out excess moisture from the spinach.
  • Stir together the chopped spinach and olive oil in a small bowl.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, cheese, and oregano.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the spinach.
  • Stir thoroughly until combined.
  • Begin to knead the dough in the bowl. If needed add 2 tbsp of water to help the dough come together.
  • Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Using a 1 inch cookie scooper, make rounded balls and place them on the baking sheet.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Cool completely on a wire rack.
Storing - These Italian spinach balls will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Keep them in the freezer for 3 months.

Yield - Using a 1 inch cookie scooper will yield approximately 1 1/2 dozen balls.
Tips & Techniques

Spinach - It's a good idea to run your knife through the chopped spinach to make the pieces smaller. This will help when you are forming balls to get them to hold together better.

Fight dog obesity with reduced calories, more exercise, and these yummy spinach balls. There is no need to remove all homemade dog treats. Just supplement with more belly rubs and this delectable dog treat recipe.


Banana & Peanut Butter Dog Cake

Dog cakes make any occasion a special one. But if your next dog party plans are small, or your dog is small in stature, you may want to consider making this dog cake recipe into mini muffins. That's what is pictured below. We like to have several dogs test our homemade dog treats, so we made little treats to pass out to all our taste testers.

Make this dog cake extra rich with the optional cream cheese frosting. See our tips below for more fun ways of decorating the cakes and dog muffins.

Banana & Peanut Butter Dog Cake Recipe 
Mini Muffin Version  

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/4 cup molasses, blackstrap
1/4 cup peanut butter
4 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat oven to 350° F
In a stand mixer bowl, add the canola oil, applesauce and molasses.
On low-medium speed, thoroughly combine.
Add the peanut butter, and mix until combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, until all combined.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and cinnamon.
Using the lowest setting, or the stir setting on your mixer, slowly add the dryingredients.
In a small bowl, mash the bananas.
Take the mixing bowl off the stand. Fold in the mashed bananas, making sure they are well incorporated.
Using a baking spray with flour, generously spray each 8 inch pan.
Divide the batter between both pans.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes clean. Rotate the pans on the racks half way through the baking time.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Dog Treat Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese (low or fat free)
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. plain yogurt (low or fat free)
flour (see note)

Note: You will need approximately 3 Tbsp. of flour. You can use any type of flour for this recipe. Keep in mind that if you use wheat flour (or another type of flour with specs of color) it may affect the end color of the icing.

Mix first three ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
Mix in one tablespoon of flour at a time until you have a good consistency for spreading.Storing - This dog cake recipe will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about 5 days. Freeze the cakes for up to 3 months. If you choose to freeze the cakes, wrap each one individually with plastic wrap. Then wrap each one with heavy duty aluminum foil. Then place each one in a labeled freezer bag. It may seem like a lot of work, but it will keep the dog cakes delicate texture fresh longer.

Yield - Two 8 inch round cakes.

Tips & Techniques
Decorating Ideas - For an all out special dog cake, make enough cream cheese dog frosting to put between the two cakes, on top and the sides of the layered cake. Or, my favorite decorating idea is to cut half inch banana slices and place them as the layer between the two cakes. Then frost the top of the cake with cream cheese frosting. If your dog is watching his calorie intake, you should limit the amount of icing you put on the cake. One idea is to use the frosting to make small polka dots and write a happy note on top of the cake, like "#1 DOG". You can omit the frosting all together and use banana slices as the decoration.

Mini Muffins - Using a mini muffin pan with 24 cups, you will be able to fill your pan twice to get a total of 48 muffins. Bake at the same temperature, but for 10 minutes. Turn the pan half way for even baking. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing the muffins. Cool the muffins on a wire rack. We like this version of creating mini muffins best because it is so versatile. If your dog is small, you can easily break apart one muffin for two servings. Or, for larger dogs, they get their very own muffin. The muffins also travel very well, so you can make extras for dog party favors, or gifts. We used a scant tablespoon cookie scooper to easily measure the right amount of batter into each cup. The muffins rise quite a bit, so don't overfill the muffin cups.

Paper Liners - We used plain paper liners, but it would be adorable to make these muffins with paw print cupcake liners. Or, match the colors of your dog party, or the season, to make your homemade dog treats more festive.

Stand Mixer - If you don't have a stand mixer, you can use a hand held one instead. But, we recommend the stand mixer due to its many speeds and large capacity for heavier dog treat batters.


Fleas Away

Add to your dog's food daily and keep fleas away

1/4 Cup Cottage Cheese
Vitamin E 1001 IU
1/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Bacon Grease

Mix all the ingredients and add to food daily.

Click to see a list of all recipes published to date



Wheat Free Salmon Dog Treats

1 8 oz. can salmon with juice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 eggs, shells included
1/2 cup sesame seeds ground up in coffee grinder
1/2 cup flax seeds ground up in coffee grinder
2-3 cups potato flour

  • Pre-heat oven to 375º.
  • Put all the ingredients into a food processor, and mix thoroughly. 
  • Pour potato flour through the opening while the motor is running. Add slowly until the dough forms and rolls into a ball. 
  • Place dough onto a potato floured counter or board. 
  • Knead more flour into dough until texture is cookie consistency. 
  • Roll out into about 14 inch thick. Use a pizza cutter to cut long strips and then cut crosswise to make small squares . If you want fancy cookies use a cookie cutter. Makes approx. two whole cookie sheets 
  • Spray Cookie sheet with a non-stick spray or line the sheet with parchment paper. 
  • Bake at 375º for 20 min. Turn and rotate the cookie sheets and bake about 10 more minutes.

Click to see a list of all recipes published to date:


Heavenly Health Dog Biscuits

By: kt baldie
"We had an Aussie Mix with terrible skin allergies. They were so bad that we had to put her on shots. Finally, a groomer in Austin, Texas suggested eliminating corn from my dog's diet. Since we have had difficulty finding corn-free treats, I developed this recipe. Both our dogs love them!"

Prep Time:30 Min
Cook Time:45 Min

1 3/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup golden flax seeds
2/3 cup brewers' yeast
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup brown rice flour
2 cups oat flour
2 tablespoons organic raw sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease two cookie sheets.
Combine oats, flax seeds, brewer's yeast, cheese, rice flour, oat bran flour and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk together chicken broth and eggs; mix with oat mixture to make a fairly stiff dough.
Roll dough into 1 inch balls, then flatten into discs. (Or, roll dough out on a floured surface to 1/4 or 3/8 inch thick and cut into 1-inch x 1 1/2-inch rectangles.) Place on cookie sheets 3/4 inch apart.
Bake until dry and the edges turn a light golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool before serving.
Nutritional Information

Amount Per Serving  Calories: 60 | Total Fat: 2.8g | Cholesterol: 9mg


Beef & Bacon Birthday Cake - Dog Treat Recipes

3 Pounds extra lean ground beef
3 Strips lean bacon
2 Eggs
1and1/2 Cups Bread Crumbs (you can substitute with low salt crackers)
1 Cup Shredded Carrots

In a large bowl, combine your ground beef, eggs, bread crumbs, and shredded carrots, mix these ingredients well; if your mixture becomes a bit dry you can add a little water. Fry the bacon, removing excess grease; Crumble, and add to the mixture, or if you prefer you can use the bacon and or carrots as decoration. Mold your meat mixture into a round cake shape making sure to keep the same thickness from middle to edges. Bake in covered baking dish at 350 for an hour and a half.

While your meat cake is baking, you can prepare your frosting. For frosting we will use organic instant mashed potatoes, just prepare per box instructions, and frost your meat cake. A healthy option for frosting, is mashed whipped sweet potatoes. Some dogs can be sensitive to potatoes if you prefer you can easily use blended cottage cheese. A great idea for piping is melted cheese, natural cheese spread, or simply add natural food coloring to your potatoes or cottage cheese.


Homemade Dog Treat Recipe - Bad Breath Busters

2 cups brown rice flour 
1 Tablespoon activated charcoal (find this at drugstores, not the briquets!) 
3 Tablespoons canola oil 
1 egg 
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint 

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley 
2/3 cup low fat milk

Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Combine flour and charcoal. Add all the other ingredients.Drop teaspoon fulls on oiled sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake 15-20 minutes. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

May 15, 2012

Over-Vaccination - Dog Owners Beware

By Lisa Rodier
Educate yourself on canine vaccination practices.
You check your mailbox and there it is: a reminder postcard from your dog’s veterinarian. If you’re like many of us dog owners, you groan and toss the card aside.

If you’ve not yet found an enlightened, up-to-date veterinarian, the postcard is likely to say, “It’s time for your dog’s annual vaccinations! Call us today for an appointment!”

We hope, however, that you’ve done your homework and found a veterinary practice whose postcards say something more like, “It’s time for your dog’s wellness examination! Call us today for an appointment!”

Educate yourself on canine vaccination practices using reputable sources so that you can have an intelligent conversation with your veterinarian on the pros and cons of vaccination for your dog; a good place to start are the AAHA Guidelines.

What’s the difference? In 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) revised its vaccination guidelines, recommending that vets vaccinate adult dogs only every three years – not annually. Many enlightened veterinarians changed their canine healthcare protocols to reflect the guidelines, and now suggest annual wellness examinations with vaccinations only every three years.

In WDJ’s opinion (and that of the experts we consult), annual vaccination for most canine diseases is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Dog owners should avoid employing those old-fashioned veterinarians who recommend annual vaccines. Owners should also avoid those veterinary service providers who provide inexpensive vaccines and other routine care without the benefit of a relationship with you and your dog beyond a brief transaction in a parking lot or pet supply store. While the financial cost of vaccine clinics may be appealing, the fact is, your dog’s health may pay the price of unnecessary or inappropriate vaccines.

Be preparedThat said, don’t think for a minute that you need to take your dog to the vet only every three years. It’s imperative that you take your canine companions in for yearly checkups. Rather than throw that postcard in the trash, pick up the phone and call for an appointment. Yearly wellness examinations help our veterinarian develop a good baseline on our dog’s health, be better able to take notice of subtle changes in his health over time, and develop a relationship with our dog and us.

While these annual trips to the vet might now be called “wellness checks” rather than “vaccine visits,” the odds are good that the topic of vaccines will come up. And despite our good intentions, many of us head in with our dog for his annual exam and feel blindsided as the vet suggests an array of vaccines for our dogs. Often, we nod in agreement, get that “deer in the headlights” look and agree with her recommendations (she is the expert after all), then go home with regrets.

Remember the Scout motto and “Be prepared” as you get ready for your dog’s next veterinary appointment. Being prepared means more than remembering to take your dog’s leash, collar with ID, treats, and showing up on time, on the right day, with the right dog. How to best prepare for your dog’s annual veterinary visit and be ready for a discussion on the most appropriate vaccine strategy for him?
Bring veterinary records and/or a list with you of your dog’s vaccination history; do not assume the veterinary clinic will have all the most recent information, especially if you’ve changed clinics. Other test dates and results to bring include most recent heartworm test, antibody titer test results, and blood and/or urinalysis test results. Ideally, you’ll collect all the data ahead of time and enter into a table so that you have a timeline of the pet’s life.

My dogs’ veterinarian, Susan Wynn, DVM, recommends creating a table with vaccines/yearly wellness test along the vertical axis, with dates along the top. If visiting a new clinic, chances are they’ll want proof that your summary is accurate, so request copies of any previous vet records for your dog’s new file.
Have a clear idea in your mind whether you want/need your dog to receive any vaccinations (and for which diseases), an antibody titer test, or none of the above. If you are unsure, cultivate a good understanding of the vaccines available (see page 7 for a list of past WDJ articles on the topic). And ask your veterinarian if any particular vaccines are warranted due to conditions in the area in which you live.
Educate yourself using reputable sources so that you can have an intelligent conversation with your veterinarian on the pros and cons of vaccination for your dog; a good place to start are the AAHA Guidelines. Writings and research by Ronald Schultz, PhD, DACVIM, and Jean Dodds, DVM, are also excellent references.

Know the status of your dog’s health, and whether he has any health or behavioral issues that your veterinarian should be aware of. Bring a list of your dog’s current medications and supplements, including dose, strength, and frequency.

Have an idea of what the visit will cost, including any tests, to avoid sticker shock or making hasty (bad) decisions based solely on price. Call ahead.
Be prepared to take your dog and go home if you are uncomfortable with your veterinarian’s recommendations. There’s no need to get nasty or defensive. We suggest something along the lines of, “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with those recommendations. I’d like to go home and think about them.”

If you are going to see a veterinarian who is new to you and your dog, consider making an appointment with the veterinarian, without your dog, to discuss her philosophy toward vaccinations and antibody titer tests.

Even a little education goes a long way
Michelle Kitzrow, of Sugar Hill, Georgia, had a change in thinking regarding vaccine protocols after hearing immunology expert Dr. Schultz speak on the topic (see “Vaccinations 101,” WDJ August 2008). Armed with a new understanding of vaccine protocols, Kitzrow took her then-four-year-old Bouvier, Casey, in to see her longtime veterinarian for Casey’s annual exam.

She admits that it “wasn’t very easy” to convince her veterinarian that, in lieu of vaccinations, Casey should receive an antibody titer test to determine whether she had what vaccination experts regard as a “protective level” of circulating antibodies from past vaccinations. But in the end, Kitzrow’s veterinarian relented, and agreed to take and send a blood sample off to a lab for the titer test.

Kitzrow believes that it was the relationship she already had established with Casey’s veterinarian, along with a new and accurate understanding of vaccines, that helped her veterinarian to support her decision. “He knows that I bring in my dogs regularly for veterinary care, and he trusts me to do the right thing. He also appreciated that I had taken the time to educate myself about vaccine protocols and titers.”

An acquaintance of mine, Diane (name changed at her request), had a bit harder time at the annual exam convincing her veterinarian to check her dog’s antibody titers instead of reflexively vaccinating – despite an 18-year relationship with her dogs’ veterinary clinic and the fact that she takes in her dogs twice a year for checkups. Diane’s 16-month-old Bouvier had received a puppy vaccine series, with the final boosters given after she was 16 weeks of age. The series included distemper, hepatitis (adenovirus), parvovirus, parainfluenza (shorthand for this combination of four vaccinations is DHPP), rabies, Leptospirosis, and Bordetella.

"Yeah, hmm, I don't think so." The fact that you receive a postcard from your veterinarian suggesting that your dog is "due" for certain vaccines does NOT mean your dog must have those vaccines!

“At my dog’s most recent vet checkup, I requested that only the rabies vaccine be given. I asked that titers be checked for distemper and parvovirus, and I requested a SNAP® 4Dx® test, which checks for heartworm disease, as well as the most prevalent tick-borne diseases: ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, and anaplasmosis.

“I declined the combo, ‘all-in-one’ vaccine for distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza, as well as the Leptospirosis and Bordetella vaccines. I did not want all of those vaccines given at the same time and hoped that the titer results would show adequate immunity. I was adamant that my dog receive only the rabies vaccine at that time. The vet marked ‘refused’ on my dog’s chart next to the other vaccines she wanted my dog to receive that day.”

Diane understands that Lepto and Bordetella need to be given at least yearly to be effective, but has made the decision not to re-vaccinate her dog for those diseases at this time and understands the risk. Dr. Wynn notes that while we as clients might consider a notation of “refused” on our dog’s chart to be judgmental on the veterinarian’s part, the reason that the vet must note in the file that the client declined vaccination is to limit liability in case the animal is infected with that disease and subsequently blames the vet. (Dr. Wynn assures me that this has happened.)

“In this particular situation, it turns out that my decision to decline all of the ‘recommended’ vaccines, except for the rabies booster, was a good choice as the SNAP 4Dx (checked in-house afterward) indicated that my dog has Lyme disease. A follow-up Lyme Quantitative C6 Antibody Test confirmed an active Lyme disease infection, which means that her immune system was already compromised at the time of the exam. The distemper and parvo vaccine titers showed adequate immunologic response, indicating that my dog was still protected against these diseases, most likely from her previous round of vaccinations.”

In fact, vaccinating a dog who has an active Lyme infection might have been harmful. “It is never wise to vaccinate a dog whose immune system is preoccupied with something else,” asserts internal medicine specialist Nancy Kay, DVM, DACVIM, author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life. “The vaccine might ‘distract’ the immune system from the more important task at hand. Also, in theory and for the same reason, the vaccine might not be as likely to create protective immunity.”

Similar to Kitzrow, Diane finds that “Although my dogs’ veterinarian gets exasperated by the decisions I make that are counter to her recommendations, she knows that I appreciate and respect her knowledge and experience. I always ask for her advice regarding my pets’ well-being and do not hesitate to bring my pets to the hospital whenever I have concerns about their health, above and beyond checkups twice a year. She is also aware that I obtain information from a variety of other sources and that I become concerned and wary when there is a real discrepancy or controversy.

“Although she stresses the importance of following her recommendations, she has come to understand that I feel a strong sense of personal responsibility in the decisions made and their effect on the long-term well-being of my pets. If I have serious doubts about a stand that she takes, I will seek a second opinion, elsewhere. On this day, I guess you could say that we agreed to disagree.”

Antibody titer test results showing that no, Otto does NOT need to be vaccinated yet!

Diane is a little saddened that she and the veterinarian were unable to reach common ground, or at least have a more comfortable dialogue, noting, “It’s important for me to have a good rapport with the vets who care for my beloved pets. It’s important to me that they consider themselves an essential part of a team working for the well-being of the animals. Open communication and teamwork between pet owners and their veterinarians is essential.”

How antibody titer tests may affect your decisions
Antigens are any substance that the immune system identifies as an invader and responds to by producing a chemical defense: antibodies. When everything is working as it should, your dog’s immune system will recognize disease antigens that were introduced to his system via a vaccine (weakened or killed) or by natural exposure to the antigen that causes the disease (viral or bacterial).

A “titer” is a measurement of how much antibody to a certain antigen is circulating in the blood at that moment. The result is usually expressed in a ratio. A positive titer test result is strongly correlated with a good antibody response to either a recent infection or vaccination. A dog who has received “core” vaccines and who displays a positive antibody titer test result should be considered protected from the diseases for which he was vaccinated (meaning, he doesn’t need vaccines at that time).

Your dog must undergo a blood draw in order to have an antibody titer test. Labs such as Antech, IDEXX, and most veterinary college laboratories offer these tests. Antibody titer testing is typically run for parvovirus and distemper, since the dog’s antibody response to these two antigens is highly predictive as to the dog’s immunologic competence in dealing with any other antigen to which he has been exposed.

Rarely, there are exceptions. When an antibody titer test is negative, the owner and veterinarian should consider revaccinating and then testing the titers again. It may turn out that the animal simply needed another exposure to the antigen in order to stimulate a stronger immune response. Or, it may develop that the dog lacks the ability to respond normally to vaccines, that is, by mounting a proper immune response. In this case, the owner and veterinarian have gained very valuable information about the dog’s compromised immune status – information they never would have gained by simply vaccinating and assuming the dog was “protected,” as is usually the case with healthy dogs.

Dr. Kay comments, “There are several reasons I can think of why a vet might be loathe to run titers, but of these, I consider only a couple of them to be ‘honorable.’” Two examples she gives are:
Some veterinarians question the accuracy of titers in terms of accurately assessing immunity.
If a dog is truly at a high risk of infectious disease, revaccination might be a safer bet than relying on the results of an antibody titer test. She adds, “Very few dogs are truly in this situation, such as those who live in the midst of lots of completely unvaccinated dogs and in a lower socioeconomic setting.”

When I pressed Dr. Kay on the first point, asking what information “Dr. Doe” would have that trumps information provided by someone such as Dr. Schultz, she replied, “You will get no argument from me on this. I suppose that if Dr. Doe professes that titer tests are not accurate, one could ask to see the data that leads him (or her) to this conclusion.”

Although Dr. Wynn adds, “If a distemper or parvo titer is positive, we know that the dog is protected. If it is negative, the dog might be protected, but we have no practical further test to know whether or not it is. Hence, some veterinarians have said the titer isn’t accurate to point out that we don’t know what a negative titer means.” In the case of negative titers, Dr. Schultz recommends revaccination, even though the dog could already be protected.

If you choose to vaccinateIf you determine that your dog is in need of vaccination, consider the following:
Ask the veterinarian to perform the health exam and other tests first; you might even wait to vaccinate until those results are in, and schedule a follow-up vaccine visit once you know your dog is in the clear, health-wise.

Avoid a combination vaccine (five-in-one-type vaccinations) that offers multiple vaccines in only one shot. Note: some veterinary clinics only carry this type of vaccine. We recommend that you look elsewhere for care.

Do not vaccinate your adult dog more frequently than every three years (unless local conditions suggest a heightened need for Lepto, Bordetella, or Lyme vaccines; these each last a year or less).
At a minimum, try to schedule the rabies vaccine for a different visit than the other vaccines, if your dog needs them. The rabies vaccine should be administered by itself at a later date, apart from the other three “core” vaccines (distemper, parvo-virus, and adenovirus), and in another part of the dog’s body.

If you’re considering vaccinating simply for financial reasons (because vaccines cost less than running a titer test) a well-planned vaccine/titer strategy might have you coming out ahead in the long run if you scale back on vaccines and run titers on a strategically planned schedule.

Veterinary medicine today has advanced to the point of acknowledging that there is no single “perfect” vaccine program; vaccine programs must be tailored to the specific needs of each animal. Although there is a tendency to want to treat all dogs the same, the program should be designed for the individual, not the masses. The dog’s health, age, environment, activities, lifestyle, and whether he has previously had any adverse vaccine reactions all need to figure in to the equation.

If you encounter a veterinarian who continues to advocate yearly vaccination, schedule a sit-down talk with her, or take your business elsewhere. In Dr. Kay’s book, she notes that a “deal breaker” when choosing a veterinarian is when the clinician “vaccinates dogs for everything, every year.”

It’s up to youDon’t expect your veterinarian to ask you broadly what you want to do when you take your dog in for an annual exam. Most veterinarians, unless prompted by the client, will assume that you’re there for “the usual” and will go ahead and recommend annual vaccinations. It is up to you to educate yourself and advocate for your dog and know what vaccines and tests might benefit him, and to know the laws concerning how frequently the rabies vaccine must be administered.

If you and your veterinarian are not on the same page, try having a rational, objective discussion. Put yourself in her position and try to understand her concerns. Take a step back to be sure that what you propose is reasonable. Keep in mind that taking your dog in regularly for annual checkups will help your veterinarian to develop further trust in you and your intentions. If you’ve got a good relationship and you’re armed with the facts, you just might be able to reach common ground.

Lisa Rodier is a frequent contributor to WDJ. She lives in Alpharetta, Georgia, with her husband and two Bouviers, and volunteers with the American Bouvier Rescue League.

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