Vaccines and Spaying Neutering

Vaccination (specifically, when and how) and the appropriate age for spaying / neutering our moyen poodles (and all dogs!) are two issues I feel very strongly about. Not just with my moyen poodle puppies, but for all dogs. I spend a LOT of time educating my puppy owners and my training clients about avoiding over-vaccinating and the dangers of desexing a dog too young.  This page will talk a bit about both. Each section has many links to further information to read. Educate yourself before heading to the vet so you can make an informed decision with him/her!


Below are links to further reading about vaccinations and over-vaccinating in general.  You will see many references to Dr. Ronald Schultz, a world-renowned veterinary immunologist; and to Dr. Jean Dodds, one of the foremost veterinary experts on vaccinosis.


The distemper/parvo combination vaccine (often abbreviated as DAPPv or DHLPP etc) is a “core” vaccine. (That means it’s recommended for every dog regardless of lifestyle.) When pups are born and start nursing from mom, she passes her immunity to things like distemper and parvovirus to them through her “first milk” (called colostrum) for the first 36 hours of their lives.  It is not know how long that immunity lasts because it’s different for every mom and puppy. We do know that it has waned and is at a minimal level by 14-16 weeks.  This is why you give puppies a set of vaccines, generally starting around 8-9 weeks old and generally ending around 16 weeks.  Not because they NEED 3 boosters – but because we don’t know when the immunity they received from mom has worn off.  The veterinarian is trying to shorten any amount of time that the puppy is completely unprotected.

Vaccine and syringeHowever. Once the distemper/parvo/etc puppy vaccine series is completed at 16 weeks, the research shows that most dogs do not need any further boosters. Ever.  That the puppy series imparts lifetime immunity.  So, a year after the last puppy vaccine, you’ll be expected to give another booster. Then another booster every 3 years thereafter.  In almost all cases, it is not necessary. Your dog very likely has full immunity already to everything contained in the booster.

You’re saying “very likely” isn’t good enough. You’re right! It’s not!  These are awful diseases – you need to know your dog is fully protected against them. You can’t assume or guess.   What to do?  There’s an easy answer. A blood titer. Instead of automatically giving your dog a booster vaccine that he VERY likely does not need, you have your vet run a titer. What’s a titer?  Just a blood test that tests for immunity to the very stuff they were going to vaccinate again for.  If the titer results are that your dog has low immunity?  Of course you get the booster!  But it won’t show low immunity. It will come back showing high immunity.  If you dog has high immunity to everything in the booster, why on earth would you give the booster?! That’s over-vaccinating and is not good for your dog.

I’ve been running titers on my dogs for about 25 years (once their puppy series are done).  I have not ever had a dog come back showing anything other than full immunity – regardless of their age.  Think of how many completely unnecessary boosters (and chemicals and antibiotics) I would’ve pumped into my dogs if i just automatically boosted.

Do note that if you choose to get a puppy from me, it is in my health contract with you that once the puppy series is done, you must titer instead of automatically allowing a booster.

Further reading:


Rabies is a vaccine required by law in all states in the US.  You have no choices here, and you cannot titer. The wonderful Rabies Challenge Fund has gotten most states to accept an every-3-year re-vaccination instead of annual, as it had been.  The Rabies vaccine is a tough one for dogs, and is one that most holistic and integrative veterinarians recommend giving your dog as close to 20-24 weeks old as you can (to give the immune system a chance to mature) and NOT to allow your vet to give it along with other vaccines. The recommendation is to give it alone, with no other vaccines 3-4 weeks before OR after it.   And please, never allow your vet to give the rabies vaccine at the time of spay/neuter. Giving this tough vaccine to a dog under the severe stress of surgery is incredible.

Further reading about the Rabies vaccine:

Lepto / Bordetella / Lyme

These are the “non-core” vaccines (non-core means they aren’t recommended for every dog – just those who have a high chance of contracting the illness). They are possibly-not-necessary vaccines depending on where you live and your lifestyle.

Leptospirosis  is the vaccine with the highest rate of adverse reactions among bacterin vaccines. I always counsel my puppy parents to ask their vet how much lepto they are diagnosing in your area.  If they are diagnosing a lot, every week or month, you may want to consider this for your dog. (Or not;  do read the links.)  If they aren’t diagnosing very much, it’s completely optional and you should be sure to educate yourself well about the risks and benefits.  Again, lifestyle matters here.  Lepto is most often gotten from infected standing water. (So, a rodent urinates in a puddle, your dog laps up the water, and the leptospira are now in your dog.)  If you don’t do a lot of hiking with your dog, nor have a bunch of wildlife in your yard, nor live in an endemic area, you may well not need this. If you read the links below, you’ll see that there are over 200 serovars (strains) of lepto. Only 7 are clinically significant for dogs, and of those 7, only 4 are in the vaccine. Dr. Schultz (world-renowned veterinary immunologist) considers the vaccine to be only 60-80% effective against leptospirosis, and finds that a high percentage of dogs don’t even respond to the vaccine.

Further reading about the Lepto vaccine:

Bordetella, usually called kennel cough, is a contagious, self-limiting illness most closely resembling the common cold in humans.  Please know that many different things come together to cause “kennel cough” – actual bordetella may or may not be one of them. (So, your dog can still get “kennel cough” even though they’ve had the bordetella vaccine.) It is common in overcrowded places with poor ventilation, like some shelters, where it spreads from dog to dog quickly.  Again, in most dogs, it is self-limiting and will go away on its own after a week or two, just like the human cold.  No fun hearing your dog cough of course, and yes it does have a risk of turning into something more (like us when a cold goes into pneumonia), but that is unusual.  I feel no need to vaccinate my dogs against bordetella despite the fact that they are groomed every 4 weeks (at a clean, well-ventilated grooming shop) and accompany me often to obedience classes. However.  Do be aware that many places such as boarding kennels, daycare, and some groomers will *require* you to have this vaccine to admit your dog.  DO read up on it – most current research shows it to be mostly unnecessary.  Also know you generally have to booster every 6 months with this one.

Further reading on the Bordetella vaccine:

Lyme disease, as you know, is a tick-borne disease. This vaccine is another that’s quite controversial, with most feeling that if you live in an area with a whole lot of ticks that transmit Lyme and a whole lot of Lyme diagnoses, you should probably get this for your dog. However, there are many downsides, and many feel that if your area is NOT high risk, you are better off not getting it for your dog.  Do know that the efficacy of the vaccine (how well it works) is only 60-70% and if a vaccinated dog shows infection, he has to be treated with antibiotics – just the same as an un-vaccinated dog.

Further reading about the Lyme Disease vaccine:

Spaying & Neutering

Most veterinarians encourage dog owners to spay/neuter their dogs at 6 months old. That age is chosen because it is generally before sexual maturity in most breeds, and females usually won’t have had a heat cycle yet. You will usually hear from your vet that the studies show that dogs desexed at 6 months have a much decreased chance of getting certain cancers (like for example, uterine cancer). However, of the cancers they talk about, your dog has an extremely low chance of getting many of them in any case.  (For example, uterine cancer accounts for only 0.3% of all canine tumors.) Perhaps much more importantly, though, is that there are many new(er) studies showing the huge downside of early spay/neuter. Studies show an incredible increase in joint problems and injuries in early spayed/neutered dogs, and studies show that when you remove their hormones before they are finished growing, they can not and do not grow and develop normally. Studies show a huge INcrease in many cancers in early spayed/neutered dogs and a big decrease in how many years he/she will live.  Please – educate yourself about this before agreeing to spay or neuter your dog at the typical 6 month mark.

Further reading:

What is a spay?

A traditional spay removes the entire of a female dog’s reproductive tract: uterus, ovaries, and Fallopian tubes. It is called an ovariohysterectomy.   In a laparoscopic spay, just the ovaries are removed (called ovariectomy). The ovaries are the “brains” of the system, producing and coordinating all the reproductive hormones.

When to spay your girl

I always encourage my puppy parents to allow their female to go through at least one cycle (have one “heat”). If they are willing to allow her to go through two cycles, even better. Then you spay at a hormonally “quiet” time – generally 2-3 months after her most recent heat cycle began.  That gives her a chance to make full use of her hormones to finish growing properly. When you spay early – before 12 months – you are risking her joints, many cancers,  shortening her lifespan, and guaranteeing she will not grow as she was meant to.   However, if you are unwilling or unable to properly supervise a female in heat, you should indeed spay her before her first cycle. A baby of 9 or so months old should not be carrying puppies, let alone unplanned ones.

What is a neuter?

In a traditional neuter, a male dog’s testicles and associated structures are removed.  It is called castration.

When to neuter your boy

I encourage my puppy parents to let their boys reach at least 12 months old before neutering. Preferably 18 months.  Let him have some time to make use of his hormones to grow properly and ultimately be so much healthier. Here again, if you neuter at 6 months old, you are risking his joints, many cancers, shortening his lifespan, and guaranteeing he will not grow as he was meant to.  However, if you are unwilling or unable to supervise an intact male and keep him from escaping to breed any female in heat he can, then neuter him at 6 months, before sexual maturity.

Alternatives to traditional spay and neuter

Some people feel strongly that they want their dogs to be able to keep and use their hormones but do not want them to be able to reproduce. It’s doable!  Vasectomies can be done on male dogs to allow them to keep their testicles (and so, hormones) but not be able to create puppies.  Ovary-sparing-spays can be done on females to remove the uterus but not the ovaries. So the ovaries continue to produce and control the hormones but no uterus is present and she can never become pregnant.  She will however continue to cycle and be attractive to males during her cycle, but she won’t bleed and cannot conceive.

Further reading about the various alternatives:

Magenta Bay Poodle’s requirements for spaying and neutering our moyen poodle puppies

Currently, my contract specifies that NO puppy is allowed to be spayed or neutered before 6 months old. Males must be neutered no later than 18 months old, and females must be spayed no later than 3 months after her first cycle began. (I’m happy to extend that to “no later than 3 months after her second heat cycle began” on an individual, case-by-case basis.)
If you are choosing an alternative means of sterilization, as above, I’m happy to change the wording of the contract to reflect that.