Understand This Well and Avoid This Disease
This heartbreaking story comes from a Vital Animal Pack member:
My lab mix, 12 yesterday, developed laryngeal paralysis and the resulting hind quarter weakness and lameness over the last 2 years… I believe the rabies vaccines may be a contributing factor… my county requires yearly vacs although Texas A&M recommends every 3 years (which more aligns with the period the vaccine is supposed to be “good” for).” [Ed: emphasis mine.]
…because we travelled I felt at least the rabies had to be kept current…The last was in 2012..and sadly he is not mobile to travel and is now dragging his hind end.”
His Rear End No Longer Works
The forty dollar word for this heartbreak is degenerative myelopathy, or DM for short. It’s commonly found in large breed dogs, most notably German Shepherds, but also Corgis, Boxers, Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers and Labs among many others.
In a nutshell, this is a disease of nerve degeneration. When it starts, the affected dog may be subtly dragging his rear paws when he’s moving forward. If you listen closely, you can hear nails dragging as his feet are brought forward for each next step. You can often see wear on the tops of nails if you look closely.
A quick test you can do to assess this is a test of proprioception: does your animal know his foot is upside down? Here’s how to do this at home:
- Stand your dog up on all fours.
- Fold one hind foot and set it down. In effect, he’d be standing on the top instead of the bottom of his paw now.
- Let go and watch his response.
Normal dogs know immediately the foot doesn’t belong like this, and they’ll right it quickly, standing normally in a flash.
A dog with a “proprioceptive deficit” doesn’t get the signal of things being amiss, and stands on the top of his foot for some time.
(Other diseases can cause this deficit, so be sure to see your veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis.)
The disease is progressive, and over several months, goes from foot dragging to wobbly rear ends (the “drunken sailor” walk, or ataxia) to finally, paraplegia, meaning the rear legs no longer work, while the forelegs are fine.
Incontinence in stool and/or urine sets in around this time, and most affected dogs at this point are euthanized.
The dogs with this disease are normal from the waist up, and become completely weak and flaccid from the waist down. There is no known cure, though acupuncture and nutritional supplementation helps slow the inevitable in some cases. I’m not sure I’ve ever helped a case with my best efforts in homeopathy.
Why Rabies Vaccination Involvement?
Here’s the chain of logic tying rabies vaccination to this dog’s disease.
- This is yet another example of autoimmune disease, where the damage is done by one’s own immune system. In this case, the Lab’s immune system attacking his own spinal cord.
Degenerative Myelopathy is an autoimmune disease whereby the patient’s own immune system attacks their central nervous system. This immune attack leads to loss of myelin (insulation around nerve fibers) and axons (nerve fibers).
While it begins and is most severe within the thoracolumbar (middle back) spinal cord, DM also affects other areas of the central nervous system… The cause of this autoimmune disease is not known… Conventional medicine has little to offer patients with DM.1 –R.M. Clemmons, DVM, PhDQ: How does the immune system get so confused that it would attack its own nerves?
A: The #1 reason for immune confusion is vaccination. Any vaccination.
- Rabies virus affects the nervous system. That’s how it spreads, in fact. The virus shuts down normal bite inhibition in the brain, the rabid animal bites another, and the virus in his saliva moves on to infect a new “carrier.”
The nervous system. Paralysis means the nervous system has been compromised, right?
No communication from the rear legs means your dog doesn’t feel where his feet are placed. He staggers and walks unevenly.
Compromised nerve impulses to the rear legs means his intention from the brain to walk is poorly put into effect back in his legs. The muscles have no impulses to work, so weakness and finally paralysis sets in.
In Hering’s Guiding Symptoms of Our Materia Medica under the remedy lyssin (made from rabid dog saliva) is this report of symptoms from a rabid dog:
Loss of power in limbs; gait unsteady, at times some stiffness of hind legs.”
We see variations of this in our chronically rabies vaccinated dogs, don’t we?
In mild form, we might call it hip dysplasia, in a more advanced version, we name it degenerative myelopathy, DM.
In DM, the nerve communications from bladder and rectum can get weak, too. The dog can’t feel when he’s full. The nerve impulses that keep the bladder sphincter toned and closed aren’t getting through, so it relaxes, as does his anus, and waste leaks out.
A Classic Rabies Symptom
In this Lab’s case, there’s also larynx paralysis, so vocalization and breathing and swallowing are affected. Still a nerve problem.
And one of the main places rabid people and animals show symptoms of the natural disease is the throat: they choke and can’t swallow without difficulty.
Just the thought of drinking can cause painful, suffocating throat spasms, hence rabies’ older name: hydrophobia.
And, vocalization changes. Rabid animals make strange sounds, likely due to their own laryngeal paralysis. Here’s the Merck Veterinary Manual:
The most reliable signs, regardless of species, are acute behavioral changes and unexplained progressive paralysis. Behavioral changes may include sudden anorexia, signs of apprehension or nervousness, irritability, and hyperexcitability (including priapism). The animal may seek solitude. Ataxia, altered phonation, and changes in temperament are apparent.”
- Ataxia (wobbly walk).
- Altered phonation (the making of sounds).
That’s what this Lab has.
How Long Are These Vaccines “Good For,” Again?
So, our reader is right to suspect rabies vaccines as the cause of his old Lab’s paralysis in both the throat and the rear end. But, the most important piece of the puzzle is his notion that these vaccinations are only “good for” a limited amount of time.
After which, they run out of gas, perhaps? Their reservoir runs dry and needs refilling? They stop working their magic?
This is where you need to be smarter than the average animal owner. We’re talking about duration of immunity here.
You get your young adult dog a rabies shot. If all is working properly, his immune system responds and he establishes an immunity to rabies.
Let’s set aside the nonsensical laws for a moment and just review what veterinary immunologists are saying about duration of immunity to viral vaccines.
Here they are, quoted from the very mainstream veterinary textbook, Current Veterinary Therapy.2
Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal… Furthermore, revaccination with most viral vaccines fails to stimulate an anamnestic (secondary) response…”
In plain English, these scientists are saying virus immunity is likely years to life long, and further vaccinations are unlikely to increase that immunity.
Our current understanding is being furthered by the Rabies Challenge Fund, whose goal is to determine rabies vaccination duration of immunity.
UPDATE (January 2018) from Dr. Ronald Schultz, chief researcher on the Rabies Challenge Fund:
Results to date of The Rabies Challenge Fund research study showed protection from live rabies virus challenge five years after the dogs received 2 doses of rabies virus vaccine. Other data are still being collected and analyzed for the 6.5 and 7-year post-vaccination periods.”3
Odds are high this duration of immunity will be minimally five to seven years, and probably even longer. If you’d like to support that privately funded research, visit the link above and give them some money.
Hey: Let’s Be Careful Out There
So, be well informed. Duration of immunity to vaccines is a long term thing, and if Dr. WhiteCoat doesn’t know this, you can tell him.
You’d do well to OWN this understanding, along with that of harm that can come from “just a rabies shot.”
Have you fulfilled the intent of the rabies “law” by getting a couple of rabies vaccinations early on, say at 16 – 20 weeks old for your pet?
That’s likely far safer than fulfilling the letter of the rabies “law,” whether it says you must vaccinate annually or every three years.
As this is often the loudest question that comes in…
I understand this duration of immunity for vaccinations, but there’s this law about rabies. What do I do about that??”
…I’m going to ask those of you who’ve found a way to avoid a senseless law to please tell us in the comments how you’ve managed it. You shall of course remain nameless if you so choose.
I’ve got another valuable resource for you: my no-cost Rabies Short Course. Check it out.