NEWSFLASH….your dog isn’t dominant!

Dominance theory is out of date thinking. It was based on observations of captive wolf packs whose behaviour bears no resemblance to the dog in your home, and little to wild wolves!



Door rushing: Your dog wants to be the first to get out to the good stuff!

Lead pulling: Your dog wants you to hurry to the park to let him off for a run!

Sofas and beds: Your dog likes to be up high so he can see better, and the sofa smells of you!


1) Accept your dog isn’t trying to take over your home, or the world. Dogs are pretty happy being dogs and letting us earn the money for food and balls and stuff. They might want to compete with you, or other dogs, for things like food, balls, the sofa, getting to the park first….but they don’t want to be boss. 

2) Learn how dogs really see the world. They like food, other dogs, people, sniffing, fetching, digging, chewing, ripping stuff up (in varying amounts depending on the dog!). They do what makes them happy, they avoid what makes them unhappy.

3) Understand why your dog is doing things you don’t like. Have you taught him self control, to walk on a loose lead, to wait when you open the door? If you don’t teach your dog the rules of living in your house then….he’ll just be a dog!

4) If your dog starts doing things which are against your house rules, ask why. Are you, or another family member bending the rules? This can be very confusing for dogs! Is you dog hitting puberty/ getting old/ been ill/ had a bad experience?


If you want to play wolves….put on a fur suit and pee up the trees in your garden. Your dog still won’t know you’re an alpha wolf!

Instead of seeing dog ownership as a constant battle for supremacy, work on becoming a better team. Make sure you have clear rules about acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Teach your dog the rules through fair methods of training where he can earn rewards (food, play, cuddles) for making the right choices.

If you are having bigger training or behaviour issues get in touch!

Extra Reading:

We don’t often suggest extra reading but there are a few great books if this has piqued your interest…

‘The Culture Clash’ Jean Donaldson

‘Dominance in Dogs; Fact or Fiction” Barry Eaton

‘How Dogs Learn’ Birch and Bailey


Brain Food



If you spend any time on the internet, reading dog magazines, or in pet shops, you will be aware of the huge range of foods out there promising your dog a longer, happier life. But could a change of diet really help change your dog’s behaviour?


Some behaviour problems may actually be related to a dog’s diet. Take the case of a collie who was attacking his owners when they tried to sit on the sofa. Initially it was thought that the dog was guarding the sofa, but when the behaviourist visited in the daytime there was no attack… careful questioning revealed that his behaviour was more related to the time of day, than the sofa. His owners were very active people and only tried to sit on the sofa in the evening. They were only feeding their dog in the mornings and then he was having long, exciting walks. By the evening the collie was tired and had low blood sugar which made him extremely grumpy. He would curl up to sleep on the sofa and when woken by his owners he was so confused he would snap at them. This dog didn’t need retraining….just food at tea time as well as at breakfast!

Another case involved a rescue springer spaniel who suffered badly with shadow chasing which meant he could only be exercised at certain times of day. Being a springer this meant he had lots of pent up energy and could be destructive in the house. To help, a trainer recommended a very low protein diet…which made the poor dog worse. Reducing the protein in his diet meant that he wasn’t getting the raw materials to make the brain chemicals that make dogs (and people!) happy. Against his owners expectation switching him onto a diet of raw meat, vegetables, and bones didn’t send him crazy, it improved his behaviour a lot. And chewing on large, meaty bones not only provided essential amino acids, it gave him a very satisfying activity to do when it was too sunny to take him out for walks.

One of the advantages of a behaviour consultation with our holistic vet is that she will consider your dog’s diet, health, and exercise when assessing problem behaviours. Key areas she will consider are the quality and quantity or protein, and how often the dogs is fed. Not all protein sources are the same; muscle meat is important in a dog’s diet to supply essential amino acids. These can’t be manufactured in the body and are vital building blocks for proteins, hormones, and messenger chemicals in the body and brain. Some diets seem to have sufficient protein, but it comes from vegetable sources, or from feet and feathers which don’t have the right levels of essential amino acids. Some dogs cope well when fed once a day, but the very active dog, young dogs, and toy breeds can suffer from low blood sugar on once a day feeding. Low blood sugar can cause confusion, grumpiness, and in severe cases collapse or fits.


For some dogs low serotonin is the cause of their problem behaviours, or makes it difficult for them to learn new behaviours. Serotonin levels in the brain can be raised through the use of drugs usually used for depression in people. Unfortunately these drugs can have side effects and getting the right drug for the dog (or human!) can be a case of trial and error. In many dogs, switching from a diet with low protein quantity or quality (like the springer we discussed above) to a diet with higher muscle meat levels, or a raw meat based diet can lead to improved behaviour. In others behaviour does not improve enough. Various supplements are sold containing tryptophan, the essential amino acid which is needed to produce serotonin. These have a limited effect on brain serotonin levels however, as tryptophan is often broken down before enough of it can enter the brain as it competes with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that our clever colleagues have designed a diet that allows plenty of tryptophan to enter the brain, which in turn means higher serotonin levels, and a happier dog!

We have been recommending this serotonin raising diet to our clients for several years and we have used it with owners who are raw feeding, as well as those who prefer prepared wet or dry foods, Sadly the DIY version we recommend has proved difficult for some owners as it involves feeding four times a day. For owners who raw feed, or who have very fussy dogs we will still recommend the DIY serotonin raising diet (please book as consultation for details!). However, for those owners who would prefer to feed a kibble food twice a day we will recommend Breakthrough ™.

If you think your dog might benefit from either the DIY serotonin boosting diet, or from Breakthrough™, we would strongly advise you to book a behavioural assessment. If you decide to try Breakthrough™ before a consultation, please thank us for making you aware of it by choosing 02301 Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care as your referring behaviour practice.


We don’t judge our clients. We aim to help as many pet owners as possible improve the physical and mental health of their pets through a truly holistic combination of conventional diagnostics, conventional medicines, acupuncture, physical therapy, behavioural assessment and treatment, herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, and dietary changes, as appropriate for each client and pet.

We do love raw feeding as it allows owners to feed high quality protein, and to know exactly what their pet is eating. Some dogs don’t do well on grain based diets, and others become intolerant of processed meat proteins so raw feeding can be ideal for these pets. It can be a cost effective way to feed, and when whole meaty bones are fed there is ample opportunity for chewing and food play. However, raw feeding isn’t for everyone! It may not be safe for those who are immunocompromised, and may not be practical for those without room to store meat and bones. It is also unsuitable for dogs with food guarding issues until these have been addressed. If our clients want to feed raw we will help them every step of the way, even adapting the serotonin raising diet to suit raw feeding. However, for those who can’t or won’t raw feed, we will work with our client to find the best alternative.


Hugging Dogs


Really? Well, that’s the headline…but you know us, we like to get behind the headlines.


Researchers studied 250 photographs of dogs being hugged and concluded that 80% of them showed signs of being unhappy which has lead to hysterical headlines in the papers, online, on TV and radio, yet every post we’ve seen has pet owners fighting back, “but my dog loves cuddles”!

Most dogs do enjoy physical contact with humans. Many come to us for stroking and tummy rubs, push their heads under our hands, and try to climb up on our laps for cuddles. Stroking or grooming a dog can have positive effects on both parties, with both getting a hit of oxytocin – a hormone normally associated with bonding between mums and babies, or between lovers. The problem comes when a dog is restrained for cuddles against his wishes. A dog who has come to his owner for affection will be feeling quite different from one who has been unwillingly grabbed for a dog hug selfie! In this circumstance the dog may feel afraid and trapped and may show signs of distress. The same can happen if a dog is approached by strangers or children who try to stroke or cuddle. Dogs are not so different to humans…think how good a hug from a friend makes you feel, then think about how uncomfortable a hug from a total stranger in the street might feel!

How can you tell if your dog is comfortable with a hug? Your dogs has many subtle ways of telling you how he feels but they can be quite subtle. If he’s struggling and trying to get away that’s a pretty clear sign he doesn’t want a cuddle! If he is licking his lips, you can see the whites of his eyes, his mouth is closed with tight lips, and he seems to be looking away from you, he also doesn’t want a cuddle. Ignore these signs as your dog might feel he has to warn you with a growl, and if he’s still ignored he might snap at you. He won’t mean to bite first time, but humans are so slow…. Be especially careful to watch for these warning signs when children or friends are petting your dog, and never be afraid to step in and protect him from unwanted physical attention.

We don’t often post links tat take you away from our page, but this one has a nice slideshow about dog body language:


The ‘take home’ message is don’t stop touching your dog! But do learn to ‘listen’ to his body language and respect him when he doesn’t want a cuddle.



Barking at the postman is one of the most common behaviour ‘problems’ we’re asked about. So why is the Postie such a problem and what can you do about it?

(I’m going to use ‘Postman/Postmen’ throughout to make for easier reading, but please accept I’m writing about all postal and parcel delivery people).



Most dogs are at least a little bit protective, especially of their homes. We’ve bred them for this trait since the dawn of domestication. Guarding the den is a juvenile wolf behaviour, and domestic dogs share many of their behaviours with juvenile wolves…including guarding. Many dog breeds have been specifically bred to enhance the guarding tendency… both obvious ‘guard dog’ breeds like German Shepherds and Rottweilers, but also the livestock guarding breeds like Maremmas, Dalmatians which guarded carriages, and small breeds like Shih Tzus which, according to the breed lore, guarded temples.

Dogs can learn to be calm when visitors come. With patience it is possible to train them to run to their bed when the doorbell goes, and wait for you to invite the guest in. But often this approach fails with the Postie…why?

Think like a dog for a minute. The Postie usually comes when the owner is out. The Postie approaches the door…and rattles the letterbox. Is he trying to get in? The dog feels that his territory is under threat, and the human isn’t here to deal with it…so… the dog runs to the door barking. The Postie turns and leaves. RESULT! The dog has got rid of the ‘threat’ and feels very relieved. Relief feels very good and makes it more likely that the next time the threatening Postie approaches the door the dog will go through his run and bark routine.

WE known that Postmen approach out front door, put the letters in the postbox, and then leave no matter what the ‘guard dog’ does…but the dog doesn’t.

Barking dogs can be a nuisance to neighbours, and there have been cases of Postmen’s fingers being bitten through the letter box so the Postman Problem needs to be solved…


In theory we can treat the Postie like any other visitor…asking the dog to go to bed, and giving a high value reward there. Over time the approach of the Postie should become a trigger for going to bed. But…you will need a Postie with some spare time, or friends willing to be pretend Postmen until the new behaviour is learned. This training often falls apart because the owner isn’t around enough to reward for the correct behaviour.

My usual recommendation then is to avoid the problem! If it is possible to leave the dog in a room where he can’t see or hear people approaching the door this can be enough to solve the problem. Where that isn’t practical a letter box on the wall (out of sight of the dog) or at the end of the drive offers a cheap and easy solution.




This week six batches of St John’s Wort products have been recalled because they have been found to contain  high levels of a toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA). As PAs are not found in St John’s Wort it is thought that the products have been contaminated with weeds collected during harvest. Certain PAs can lead to liver damage if taken over a period of time and anyone using the affected products should stop using them for themselves or their pets straight away.

Whilst it is good news that these products have been tested, and a problem detected, it is concerning that the manufacturers do not appear to be taking the quality of their raw ingredients seriously enough. We have previously discussed herbal remedies which don’t contain any of the active chemicals, but accidental contamination and deliberate substitution of herbs are also risks.

The herbs that we supply come from companies which only supply trained herbal practitioners. They produce herbs to the same standard as pharmaceutical drugs, and check the chemical profiles of their products to ensure quality and safety.

For safe, effective herbal medicines for your pet always consult a trained Veterinary Herbalist!

For information on the recalled products:

To find a Veterinary herbalist near you:




Over the last few years great strides have been made in understanding the genetic causes of many disease which affect dogs.

Perhaps surprisingly, many diseases are cause by single gene mutations. A dog gets one copy of each gene from its dam, and one form its sire. Most of these mutations only cause disease when a dog has two ‘bad’ copies of the gene. This is described as being an autosomal recessive trait. You will have learned about these in O level/GCSE biology (remember the wrinkled and smooth peas???), but it might have slipped your mind since then, and there certainly seems to be a lot of confusion.

For a specific mutation a dog can be ‘clear’ (two good copies); ‘carrier’ (one good copy and one bead copy); or ‘affected’ (two bad copies).

Clear and carrier dogs will NEVER show any signs of the disease in question. But if a carrier dog is bred from there is a 50:50 chance that each puppy could get a ‘bad’ copy of the gene. That’s OK if the other parent is clear…but if the other parent is also a carrier there is a 1 in 4 risk for each puppy that it will get a ‘bad’ copy from each parent and be ‘affected’.

Just to add to the confusion, ‘affected’ dogs may also appear outwardly normal, at least for some of their lives. Some conditions are invariably fatal, others may show varying severity in affected dogs, or not show up until later in life. But, if ‘affected’ dogs are bred, every puppy will get a ‘bad’ copy of the gene.

This table provided as nice summary, but remember…the way probability works mean each puppy has the discussed risk. A clear to carrier mating to result in all clears, all carriers, or a mixture. Each puppy has a 50% chance of being a carrier.

simple recessive

The status of a dog can be determined through DNA testing. A blood sample or cheek swab is taken, and the dog’s identity confirmed (by a vet or vet nurse usually). If a dog has two ‘clear’ parents it will be described as ‘hereditary clear’. The same mutation spontaneously recurring is VERY unlikely, but some breeders test again every few generations to guard against human or lab error.

Many results are recorded by the Kennel Club and can be seen on a dog’s Mate Select profile. For emerging problems breed clubs may hold a list, or breeders may test for their own peace of mind. Always ask to see the test results if they are not listed on the KC or breed club website.

A final piece of terminology you may see is ‘carrier by progeny’. This isn’t used officially but is used to denote a dog which has produced carrier or affected offspring but hasn’t been tested itself (perhaps as it has died or been sold). A dog can be ‘carrier by progeny’ either if a mating between two untested dogs produces affected puppies, or where a untested dog has been mated with a ‘clear’ dog and pups have been tested as carriers.

The great thing about DNA tests is they allow breeders to slowly remove unwanted genes, whilst keeping as many dogs in the gene pool as possible.





Osteoarthritis and joint disease are the most common reason that dogs are referred to Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care. We get great results using combinations of acupuncture, botanical medicines, conventional medicines, supplements, and physiotherapy but wouldn’t it be better to reduce the risk of joint disease and arthritis in our dogs?


Developmental joint problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and shoulder OCD are more common in some breeds than in others. This has lead us to believe that there are genetic factors which influence healthy joints. Unfortunately scientists haven’t found single gene mutations which correlate with good or bad joints and it is likely that a number of different genes are involved. For this reason breeders have to rely on having a dog’s joints assessed before breeding and only breeding from those with better than average joints. In the UK dogs of at risk breeds can be scored under the BVA/KC schemes for hips and elbows. Elbows are rated from 0-3 and ideally only dogs with 0 elbows are bred from. Hips are rated from 0 to 106 (0-53 each side). It is recommended to breed from dogs which are below the median value for the breed. In some breeder, breeders can also use ‘estimated breeding values’ to predict if a dog will have puppies with better or worse hips than its parent. Joint laxity is thought to be the major factor in hip dysplasia developing and some breeders use an additional test called PennHIP which assess joint laxity. It is not done as commenly as vets need special equipment and training to perform it. Screening is also available for patella luxation (slipping kneecaps) which is done by a vet handling the dog. This is most likely to be done on small and toy breeds such as chihuahuas, but some larger breeds are also assessed. At the moment there are no schemes for shoulder OCD, or incomplete ossification of the humeral condyle which affects spaniels but breeding from affected individuals is not recommended.


Pups are born with normal hips, which grown and change with the stresses and strains put on them. Puppies reared on slippery surfaces are more likely to develop hip problems so breeders should ensure surfaces offer good grip. Summer puppies have a lower rate of hip problems, which may reflect that they spend more time outside than on a slippery kitchen or kennel floor. Growth rate and body weight are important too. Obviously puppies need to eat to grow, but growing too fast and being too fat in early life has a negative impact on joint health.

Once you get your puppy home you need to keep up the good work! Exercise on soft, uneven surfaces such as grass or the beach is really good for joint development. Too much pavement pounding, or again, time spent on slippery surfaces, has a negative impact. Strong muscles contribute reduce the risk of lax joints developing, but care must be taken not to overdo things. I work on a rule of thumb of 10minutes of ‘going for a walk’ per months of life until dogs are fully grown. Training, obstacles, hunting games and other low impact activity are much safer for growing dogs than fast running after balls.

Keep your dog on the lean side too. Aim for a body condition of 4-5 out of 9 (ask your vet how to assess body condition).


Active dogs are at risk of wear and tear on their joints, just like human athletes. However, there are things you can do to reduce the risks. Weight control remains key throughout life.Dogs on a restricted diet could live more than 2 years longer than overweight dogs! Ensure your dog is warmed up before intensive exercise and cooled down afterwards, and make sure his is properly trained and conditioned for the tasks you expect him to do. You wouldn’t enter a triathlon with no training…would you?!

Joint supplements aim to support healthy cartilage, ligaments, joint fluid and muscles and may be helpful for very active dogs or high risk breeds. There are many available but we particularly like Joint Aid and Nutraquin.




We endeavour to keep the costs of treatment, visits, and medicines at an affordable level. Our prices for herbal medicines have not changed for several years, but unfortunately our supplier has had to increase their prices significantly due to increasing manufacturing and shipping costs…so we have to pass this on to our clients. Below are the new costs for our most commonly prescribed botanical medicines. Herbal medicines remain great value with most formulas coming in at under £1 a day for a 30kg dog and around 30p a day for a cat.

100g dry herbs £7.50

200ml herbal tincture £23

500ml herbal tincture £ 47



It’s frustrating, as a vet who has undertaken extensive training in physiology, conventional pharmacology, and then studied herbal pharmacology on top, to read the advice of all the ‘experts’ on the internet. Today, a post popped up on my Facebook feed all about the benefits of turmeric which included this gem, “I take it three times a day. It’s natural, what harm can it do?”

The answer is that if there are chemicals present in a herb that can do good, there is also the potential for harm.

Obviously, some herbs are well known for their toxicity. Although foxgloves and lily of the valley contain chemicals that can be used to treat heart disease, we don’t use them because the risk of poisoning and death is too high. But there are many herbs that we do use that can be therapeutic at one dose, but poisonous at a higher dose. A good example would be garlic; small doses can be very useful, but even moderate doses over the long term can cause blood disorders in some animals, especially cats. Some herbs can irritate the nose, mouth, or gut if given in large quantities, or if not mixed well into food.

Whilst we’re on cats, they are very tricky creatures! There are differences in how cats metabolise drugs…and herbs…which make them far more toxic than they are to humans or dogs. Worryingly several herbal preparations are sold over the counter for arthritis in dogs and cats which contain willow bark. Willow bark contains compounds similar to aspirin which can be toxic to cats if given in even moderate doses over a period of time. And although nobody is suggesting lilies as a botanical medicine, these pretty plants can prove fatal to cats if they ingest even a small amount of pollen.

Next comes the problem of giving herbal medicines without your vet’s knowledge when your pet is on medication. Almost everything taken into the body, drug, food, or herb, will be metabolised. Much of this metabolism happens in the liver, where a limited number of enzymes get to work on a huge variety of natural and artificial compounds. Some compounds compete for the same enzyme which slows down their metabolism. Other compounds may slow down or speed up the activity of an enzyme which metabolises another drug. Turmeric has many of its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects through inhibiting enzyme reactions…but this also means it could slow down the metabolism of other drugs. This may be a benefit, leading to a greater effect, but could also lead to toxicity. St John’s Wort is well known for increasing the activity of certain enzymes, meaning other drugs are cleared more quickly from the body. In humans progesterone in contraceptive pills is a concern, but in animals clearing antibiotics too quickly would be a concern. St John’s Wort also works to reduce the reuptake of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, hence its usefulness for depression in humans. But if given with other medications (especially antidepressants) which also block neurotransmitter reuptake there is a high risk of side effects, including the sometimes fatal serotonin syndrome. And it’s not just herbal medicines; broccoli and sprouts can increase specific enzyme activity, and grapefruit can inhibit enzymes.

Finally, I am always concerned about the quality and safety of herbal medicines. Even where a particular herb is safe, and should be effective, buying the right tablet or tincture is essential. Very few companies make herbal medicines with the attention to detail that they should and this can lead to ineffective, or unsafe products. Research done by the BBC last year found that most over the counter herbal products contained little active ingredient. Some contained no active ingredients, and some…unknown compounds. Herbs may be incorrectly identified before processing, poorly stored, or have grown in poor conditions meaning they contain less active compounds. With dried ground herbs, such as turmeric, the method of drying and grinding can significantly affect quality, and where a herb contains essential oils, drying can remove many of these.

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we love herbal medicines. But we strongly believe they should only be used after consultation with a vet who is trained in their use. In addition we only use herbs from companies which perform sufficient quality control.





You can’t read a dog magazine, or join a dog Facebook group without the subject of dog vaccinations coming up. Usually the theme is, ‘vets are ripping you off and harming your dog’, but is that true?

The best place to start is probably not an anti-vaccination group, or a drug company website, but the WSAVA who have a committee dedicated to reviewing the research into vaccination and developing guidelines for vets in many different countries and situations.

The WSAVA are concerned with both an individual dog’s health, but also the health of the wider canine, wildlife, and human populations. Many writers focus on their advice that many dogs have long durations of immunity to core vaccinations…but they don’t consider the extra puppy jabs the WSAVA recommend. This article considers the recommendations for pet dogs in the UK.


Vaccination gives dogs protection against a range of diseases. Vaccination pre-warns the immune system so that it can respond better when challenged with the disease. This means the dog either doesn’t get sick, or has a milder form of the disease. Many vaccines also stop dogs shedding the disease and spreading it to other dogs.


Every dog should receive vaccination against Canine Adenovirus (infectious hepatitis), Canine Parvovirus, and Canine Distemper. Of these Parvovirus remains the most common, often being seen in puppies from poor backgrounds. It causes bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, and affected puppies often die even after extensive (and expensive!) treatment. Distemper was becoming something of a distant memory in the UK, though many colleagues have seen one or two cases (often in dogs imported from Eire). However distemper is on the rise in imported dogs from eastern Europe. Early symptoms include lethargy, conjunctivitis, and joint pain. Dogs can recover with intensive nursing, but may suffer neurological damage and problems with their pads. Infectious hepatitis is not often reported in the UK, but may be underdiagnosed with liver problems being attributed to other causes. Most UK core vaccines are proven, by their manufacturers, to give at least 3 years duration of immunity.


These should be given according to risk. In the UK almost all dogs should receive Leptospirosis vaccination. This bacterial infection is found in standing water, especially water which may have been contaminated with farm animal or rat urine. The disease is contagious between dogs, and also to people (where it is called Weil’s Disease). Infection in people starts with flu-like symptoms but the disease can become serious, even fatal. In dogs the liver or kidneys are most commonly affected. Treatment with fluids and antibiotics can be successful, but dogs can shed the leptospires in their urine for some time after recovery making them an animal and human health risk. The number of confirmed canine Leptospirosis cases each year is relatively low because a proper diagnosis required two blood samples, taken a month apart, showing a rising antibody titre. Dogs are usually either dead or recovering by the time the second sample should be taken and its cost means this step is often skipped. Many more suspected cases are treated every year, and Leptospirosis is thought to be responsible for some chronic kidney and liver disease too. In recent years with increased flooding vets have reported clusters of Lepto cases.

Kennel cough vaccines can be considered for any dog which goes to kennels, groomers, training classes, shows, or to a dog walker. Although Kennel cough is not dangerous to healthy adult dogs it can kill old dogs and puppies. Breeding bitches should be vaccinated before mating. The vaccine protects against Bordatella and the Paraninfluenza virus and is given as a nasal drop.

Leptospirosis and Kennel cough vaccines only offer short lived protection and should be repeated annually if required.

Rabies is not a core vaccine in the UK as we are rabies free. However vaccination is required for travel under the Pet Passport scheme.

In the last few years additional vaccines have become available for Lymes Disease and Leishmania; these should be given only to dogs at high risk of those diseases. Herpes virus vaccination is available to reduce the risk of fading puppy syndrome. It is only given to breeding bitches and must be given at each pregnancy.


A small number of dogs can’t be vaccinated due to ill health, previous reactions, medications, or simply don’t produce a good immune response to vaccination.These dogs can be protected by ‘herd immunity’, i.e. diseases are unlikely to reach them if all the other dogs around them are protected.


Nothing that we put into our, or our dog’s, bodies is safe. The immune system can react badly to any food, drug, or vaccination. The risk of reactions from vaccinations may be higehr than for other drugs as we are directly trying to stimulate an immune response. However, vaccines are generally safe with a low risk of reactions.


The most common reaction is pain at the injection site. With some vaccinations over 50% of dogs will show some pain. A few of these will get a swelling at the injection site but this is short lived.

Being ‘off colour’ for 24 hours or so is not unusual either, and reflects the stimulation of the immune system.

Some dogs, especially puppies get diarrhoea after vaccination. This may reflect the immune response, but may also reflect the stress of a vet visit on top of rehoming, a change in diet and water, and any parasite treatment given. Most cases resolve with symptomatic treatment.

These common, mild reactions usually pass with little or no treatment, but always contact your vet if you are concerned.


Anaphylactic reactions are extremely rare, and unfortunately are very unpredicatable. Dogs may react at their first injection, or after having a vaccine on several previous occasions. Anaphylactic reactions happen very quickly after vaccination and may include fainting, fitting, vomiting, and diarrhoea. They usually happen before a dog leave the practice and treatment with oxygen, adrenaline, and maybe steroids is usually effective.


Some authors write extensively about diseases caused by overvaccination, but there is actually very scant evidence for this. A ‘hypothyroid epidemic’ is blamed on vaccination, and yet the rate of diagnosis in the UK is the same as that on the Falkland Islands (where no disease risk means no vaccination). Autoimmune disease certainly seem to be on the rise, but many factors may be involved other than vaccines; we know certain breeds, and lines within breeds are more likely to get autoimmine diseases, pollution may play a factor, and understimulation of the immune system due to excellent hygiene and parasite control could be factors too. A survery examinind illnesses suffered in the three months after a vet visit showed no statistical difference between dogs which had been vaccinated, and those which had been seen for other reasons.

That said, it makes sense to only give what a dog needs when he needs it.


Homeopathic nosodes are not a suitable alternative to vaccination. In challenge testing puppies ‘vaccinated’ homeopathically against parvovirus got ill and died.

Titre testing is the best alternative to following the manufacturers recommendations. Titre testing is now available at a reasonable price (around £30) for Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvovirus. Dogs with good levels of circulating antibody will be protected against disease. Dogs with low or no circulating antibody may not be protected. Advanced testing shows that some dogs with no circulating antibodies actually have cellular immunity…however this level of testing is not available in practice, so revaccination is recommended for low/no titre dogs.

Leptospirosis vaccination only produces circulating antibodies for a few weeks, then the immunity is cellular. For this reason titre testing is not suitable for assessing Leptospirosis protction.


For maximum protection the WSAVA recommends either titre testing puppies monthly from 6weeks until their maternal antibody protection fades, or giving core vaccines monthly until 16weeks. They recommend a further vaccination at 6-12months and then either revaccination every 3 years for core vaccines or titre testing.

In practice very few people are going to want to either pay for monthly titre testing, or vaccinate their puppies up to 5 times in 6months. In the UK where disease risk is moderate the current protocols where vaccination starts at 6- 8 weeks and finishes at 10-12 weeks, with a booster at 12months, should provide adequate protection for most dogs. A 16week vaccine or titre test could be considered for certain breeds, or during a disease outbreak. Additionally, breeders keeping puppies which may suckle from their dam for longer than most could consider delaying their vaccine start, or titre testing.

The good news is that more and more practices are offering titre testing and individualised vaccination. Our Vet Vicky Payne offers vaccine consultations and titre testing at Companion Care Vets Eastbourne and Goudhurst Vets.