What I’ve Learned from Pukka’s Promise

by Jason Smith

Pukka’s Promise: The Search for Longer-Lived Dogs is a must-read for veterinary professionals and dog enthusiasts. As a former veterinary technician, the information in this book is valuable and offers insight to new ways of thinking about providing care to man’s best friend. This book has expanded my thinking and I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about how to give your companion animals the longest and best life possible.

Ted Kerasote has covered a lot of material in this book. The topics that stood out to me as worthwhile were vaccination, nutrition, chemicals in the environment, the advantages and disadvantages of spaying or neutering dogs, cancer in dogs, and cognitive and behavioral training.

In 2003, I was stationed in Korea. I worked at the Osan Air Base Veterinary Clinic. Regarding vaccinations, the protocol was to vaccinate dogs for rabies and distemper once per year. The distemper vaccine is a cocktail of distemper, adenovirus-2, Parainfluenza, and parvovirus. It could also include corona virus or leptospirosis.

In 2004, I was stationed at Fort Knox, where we had both a 1-year and 3-year rabies vaccine. At the time, our practice was to vaccinate 16-week old puppies with the 1-year rabies vaccine and then on the subsequent vaccine a year later, we would “booster” with a 3-year vaccine.

In his book, Kerasote points out that after Merle’s death, he reviewed Merle’s medical record and discovered that he had been vaccinated 90 times by age 12. By comparison, humans are vaccinated about 35 times by age 12. He sought out literature and expert opinions about vaccination and discovered that as a society we are over-vaccinating our pets.

His research revealed that a rabies vaccine may be effective up to seven years and a distemper vaccine may be effective for the life of our dogs. In recent years, vaccine companies have developed a 3-year distemper vaccine.

Although 3-year vaccines now exist, Kerasote found that “boostering” a dog does not necessarily equate to increased immunity. In fact, it may not be necessary to vaccinate a dog against certain viruses (leptospirosis, corona virus, adenovirus-1, Lyme, etc.) except in certain regions of the country where they are prevalent. Furthermore, titering, the practice of drawing a blood sample to analyze it for immunity, could save pet owners from spending unnecessary dollars to booster vaccines annually or tri-annually.

I recently had a titer drawn to test my immunity to rabies. I was vaccinated to rabies as part of a “pre-exposure” provision as required by the Army in order to be a veterinary technician. I received a series of three vaccines in 2003. In 2004, a feral cat had bitten me and I received a post-exposure series. Now, nine years later, I am still immune to rabies. The same can be done on your dogs to test their immunity to distemper. If the results indicate your dog is immune, there is no need to revaccinate for distemper again. Law in most states, on the other hand, requires rabies; therefore, you will continue to have to vaccinate your dogs for rabies as required by law even if a titer shows your dog to be immune.

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