“Anti-vaxxers” and pet health

dog-owner-vaccination-400-fThere’s been a lot of media attention to the anti-vaccination movement, particularly its role in the ongoing measles outbreak in the U.S. Yes, measles – a disease that was virtually eradicated more than a decade ago, but is showing a resurgence. Over the past few years, veterinarians have been noticing an uptick in the number of pets that are not being vaccinated, due to similar anti-vaccination ideology.

Like measles, viruses such as canine distemper, canine parvovirus, and feline parvovirus (which causes panleukopenia in cats) are highly contagious; they’re easily spread from an infected pet to another. In many cases, an infected pet does not have to appear ill to infect others. This means that a disease can rapidly gain a foothold in a population with even a small number of at-risk and unvaccinated animals. Rabies, which isn’t spread as readily as these other diseases, is a significant risk to people and animals, and vaccination against rabies – even for indoor pets – is required in most areas.

Vaccination is the primary reason we no longer have the domestic dog variant (strain) of rabies in the U.S. Vaccination is also the reason that diseases like distemper, parvo and panleukopenia have become less common in our pets, but this trend could easily be reversed by the same circumstances that are allowing measles to regain a foothold. And that’s a terrifying thought to veterinarians, who’ve been on the front lines fighting these devastating diseases.

Unvaccinated pets are not only at risk themselves, but put other pets at risk. Pets that are at highest risk include young pets who haven’t had their full series of vaccines yet and are not fully protected; and pets with immunosuppressive diseases or that are receiving steroids, chemotherapy, or other medications or treatments that reduce their immune system’s ability to ward off infection and disease. And because there are no vaccines that are 100% effective, there are animals who’ve been vaccinated but the vaccine hasn’t quite provided enough protection (either due to the vaccine or due to some factor associated with the individual pet), putting them at risk if exposed to an infected animal.

We vaccinate against these diseases because they’re not only contagious, they’re deadly. And in many cases, if your pet survives the illness, he or she may have long-term health problems.

Vacccination-300Like any medication given to or procedure performed on you or your pet, vaccination does carry risk. The potential adverse responses to vaccines can vary from mild to severe, but most of these vaccine responses are mild and resolve quickly. For cat owners, the risk and fear of sarcoma formation is real, but the frequency of sarcoma formation has dramatically reduced due to improvements in vaccines, vaccine frequency, and guidelines for location of vaccination. For the majority of pets, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

How frequently should you vaccinate your pet? It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing, and not every pet needs every vaccine. For dogs, the American Animal Hospital Association develops Canine Vaccination Guidelines. For cats, the American Association of Feline Practitioners develops Feline Vaccination Guidelines. For your own dog or cat, your veterinarian can use these guidelines to tailor a vaccination program that provides the right protection for your pet.

We understand pet owner’s concerns about vaccination, but urge pet owners to base their opinions on science and not ideology. Vaccinating your pet not only protects your pets, but your friends’ and neighbors’ pets as well. You’ve got enough other things to worry about, and having your pet’s health threatened by a preventable disease shouldn’t be one of them. Talk to your veterinarian about the vaccination schedule that’s right for your pet, based on your pet’s risk of exposure.

17 thoughts on ““Anti-vaxxers” and pet health

  1. Granted there is a continuing problem with pet owners thinking inside cats don’t need any vaccines, or their pets not need X Y or Z because not exposed, but the number of clients I have met who are “anti-vaccination “ for reasons similar to human anti-vaccination sentiments, is minuscule compared to — the number of clients who have been told, almost always by a university, or an emergency / specialty hospital (wrongly thinking this reflects human medicine) that their pet should never be vaccinated again -for anything – because
    — it has or had, or there was some vague reference to , or maybe…
    – a reaction –no matter how small,
    – it has been solidly, or tentatively, or possibly, or maybe or someone overheard whispering the hallway-, a diagnosis of a past, current, short term or long term, immune related condition (immunosuppressed, immuno-proliferative, immune-incompetent, on immune modulating drugs ) .

    In human medicine, with certain conditions, sometimes vx ( usually MLV ) are avoided. But for important vaccinations ( say, rabies in a rabies exposure ) even previous anaphylaxis ( even in a pregnant woman) is not considered a total contraindication – they will try to medicate and vaccinate . In many instances, a patent’s immune condition dictates more frequent or sooner re-vaccination.

    What is most egregious, when dealing with Rabies vaccination , are the staff of said institutions who tell a client to “check with their rDVM about getting an exemption’ never mentioning the animal will be considered legally unvaccinated, and if there is possible rabies exposure- it will be vaccinated, quarantined 2-3-6 months – or– killed. To which I say “Write your own damn exemption request”. Meanwhile, these same places , worried they may step on referring veterinarians’ toes, neither ask nor give DA2pp or PVRC vaccines to clearly at risk, unvaccinated, young animals who may be or are the instant they come in, exposed at their facility .

    I, like the majority of practicing veterinarians have fully accepted the idea of tailoring vx programs to the individual pet, with special emphasis on reducing unnecessary vx (and all repositol injections in cats , due to fibrosarcoma risks). The latter is the main reason I have been fighting my state’s rabies rules which dictate that if a RV has lapsed, by even one day, a 3 year RV booster – is only good for 1 year. –ridiculous.

    Unfortunately there are a embarrassingly large number of veterinarians who think all pups and kittens need X number of core MLV vaccinations, regardless of the age started, and some, when faced with an older pet, of unknown vaccination history, recommend a series of 2 MLV core vaccinations- and within 2-4 weeks.

    For some killed vaccines (not all, think – rabies ) this is what is recommended . The 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines recognizes that in dogs over 16 weeks of age, ONE -1- MLV core DA2pp vaccination is all that is needed ( then repeat 3 years ( I repeat at a year and then q 3 ) . Meanwhile, the AAFP which the AVMA is recommending as the gurus on feline vaccination , while acknowledging one vaccination of stressed , possibly sick, feral cats gives effective immunity to most, for client animals, recommends vaccinating any cat of any age with an undocumented vx history, with a series of two MLV PVRC , and vaccinating every kitten thru 16 weeks of age, even if that means 4 MLV PVRCs (most manufactures’ recs are to 12 weeks) . Their scientific rationale is based on one article, in which a few kittens didn’t show titers at 14 weeks (an indication of antibody levels but not of cellular immunity ) – no challenge , no proof that these kittens were susceptible to panleukopenia (and the study had no end- point. So some may not have had tires at 17 or 18 or 20 weeks). Mind-boggling .

    (Disclaimer : I do tailor vaccines, I don’t feel I can force a vaccination, but I can and do refuse to hospitalize, or give notice I will not see again, animals not legally vaccinated for rabies or reasonably vaccinated for DA2pp or PVRC. Having a major medical malady this past year, at age 64, I got more vaccines than I had since I was a baby! 6 ! – Flu, pneumonia, shingles and DPT ( I was titred for MMR and only had a titer to mumps, I’m not sure why that booster has not been rec’d at this time – I would, if recommended- for the same reason as the DP or the DPT– for public health. I personally was shocked to hear how many unvaccinated children were in public schools – I figured those that couldn’t be vaccinated, as well as those that refused, were all being homeschooled – and think they should. On the other hand, the one time I was exposed to rabies, I got a booster while waiting on my titer, when it came back high I refused another , and since now I suspect most animals are dead end hosts except for their own rabies strain ( i.e. dogs and dog rabies) if exposed to a rabid animal that is not a vector species, I wouldn’t even have one booster. ).

  2. We need to be a bit more objective about this than blaming this anti-vaccination attitude on the current mindset in humans. We vilified vaccines ourselves about 20 years ago as we looked for reasons to change vaccine protocols. We are only reaping what we have sown.

    • Very well said Dr Norsworthy. Very diplomatic. I nominate you to head the committee. We need more objective and reasoned persons to address concerns from both sides, positive and negative issues, and to examine data from around the world for proper answers… There are in fact reasons for the growing need of owners to be stronger advocates for their pets. And reasons for humans to speak out against poor practices in medicine and science. There are good and bad in all things. We cannot blindly accept what is given – consider the historical results of that!

  3. I have also had to research after my Dachshund (as a breed notorious for vax reactions) repeatedly reacted to vaccinations. His last round of shots (distemper, parvo, canine flu ) also contained Letpo. He was 2 years old and I told the vet he reacts. So they gave him a shot to counteract any reaction. He was lethargic for 7 days, yelped in pain if touched, had a huge swollen place at injection site and are if I brought food for him to eat while lying on his bed. This lasted for a week. The shot was in January and that whole year his coat (longhair) was a mess! Dry almost wire-like in texture and sparse. He chewed his feet a lot and was itchy. (Although nothing else had changed in his environment.) I had just assumed he had skin allergies and food allergies. He wasn’t interested in eating and had to be hand fed most of the time. He became sensitive to heat. This was all explained when I found out fall of 2014 when the new vet in the practice told me they had given him a 4 way with Lepto!! A vaccine I had told them no to! Anyway, he is now titered. I will have to do rabies. But it will be in conjunction with a holistic Vet!

    • Jennifer, Although vaccines can have side effects like lethargy, pain at the site of the injection, or swelling that lasts a week or so after the vaccine isn’t that far more desirable than a possibly deadly disease such as Leptospirosis. As far as chewing at the paws and course hair coat a year later that is very unlikely related to vaccines. Your first guess of some sort of allergy is far more likely which can pop up later in life without any changes in the environment.

  4. How rude! Our worries are based on science! Over vaccinating pets have led to cancers. Vaccines with adjuvant causes cancer in cats. Certain dog breeds are more sensitive to certain vaccines and ferrets are especially sensitive to injections. That is why they are recommended to stay at the vet office about 45 minutes after receiving a vax.
    I choose the schedule that is right for my pet because I researched based on FACTS. Will I inject my dog against kennel cough? No because my dog is mostly always at home or in open spaces. Not in crowded kennels like shelters. How dare you suggest that my research is not based on science but poppycock!

    • if you had to sit and watch your beloved pet die just because you was stupid get your pet vaccinatedlove you want willing to do that you should not ever have a pet pet is part of your family they give us unconditional love.and all they want in return is love and not to be sick

      • hey, I’m not saying no vaccinations ever duuuude
        I’m saying research is important. Find out what vaccinations are important for your specific pet and learn the risks for vax and none. I have a dog who only gets rabies every 3 years and she is healthy. Why did I stop the others? Because the risks for it wasn’t there. Btw I also stopped because my pooch had seizures right after vax and that is why I researched more into the subject. The cons outweighed the pros for my specific pet. All I’m saying is everyone should research as well and decide what is best for their pooch. Yes, I made my choices along with my vet.

  5. There are plenty of low cost vaccine clinics in my area where you can get all your boosters for less than $50. To call vets “greedy” is ridiculous – it would be much more efficient in that case to NOT vaccinate your pet and then charge you thousands to treat it if it gets sick from parvo/distemper/etc down the line.

  6. Hhhmm, but of course the vets are going to feel that their coffers are being threatened, if pet owners aren’t bullied and/or required by law to spend hundreds of dollars per year on vet visits for overpriced vaccines (not to mention special food, excessive tests and medications, etc., etc.).
    That’s what I immediately thought when a friend sent me this article.
    My pet is vaccinated, don’t worry, and I also very much value my local vets and the services their office provides. But I will point out that what we definitely do NOT need is more scare mongering, thank you very much!

    • While I cannot speak for all vet offices, especially those larger chains, I can say your (the commenter above me) comment is biased and negatively paints all vet practices with a wide brush. Yes, there may be practices that seem to treat clients and patients as only a widening profit margin, but you fail to see the blood, sweat and tears behind the curtain. As a vet tech myself with many years under my belt, I can speak for many others – veterinarians and staff – in saying that profits are the very LAST thing I am thinking about, I assure you. Good medicine and patient care will ALWAYS come first! EVERY SINGLE PET that walks through our doors is treated as if they were my own fur babies. Why? Because I love animals. That is why I choose to work in a field where I get badmouthed by disgruntled clients who think I’m only out for their pocket books, who are upset because I can’t work miracles in healing their pet immediately despite the pet being sick for weeks by the time they come in or because their owners can’t comply to a simple medication schedule, who thinks that $7 is too expensive for a heartworm pill given ONCE A MONTH (!!!), who thinks that we can diagnose pets by ESP without diagnostics because trying to be certain and performing the same tests a human doctor would recommend is only to rake in that extra dollar (because, yes, we do have a magic pill that cures EVERYTHING and it is our fault that Obamacare does not apply to pets!), or who think that WE make the prices skyrocket so high (your complaints should really be lodged towards the vaccine and medication manufacturers, seriously. It even makes US upset!). Let’s not forget that we not only deal with humans, we have to look out for pets who, understandably, do not always enjoy their visits. I have been scratched, bitten (it happens no matter how skilled or careful), frustrated, stressed, over tasked beyond comprehension. I know it sounds like it, but I’m not complaining about my job either; I honestly love my job and have no regrets. I just wish owners would realize that we in the vet field, or at least most of us, are not money-grubbing profiteers. I also disagree with you in that we NEED more scare mongering . . . as long as it is the truth, of course. We promote vaccines because they are important and necessary to prevent very serious and potentially fatal disease. But many owners are unaware of the benefits because vaccines work the way they are supposed to. I tired of telling owners that some vaccines (like kennel cough) don’t necessarily prevent illness all together; like the flu shot, it lessens the severity, which decreases mortality . . . you can still get the flu even if your vaccinated, you just won’t get as sick! But consequences of not vaccinating: I have seen pets DIE by not being vaccinated. I have seen puppies DIE of Parvo and yet others who had contact with the sick puppy, yet was properly vaccinated live through it. I care for feral cat colonies. I have colonies that are FeLV + and FeLV -. I have seen many DIE without vaccinations; suffocating and choking to death from FIP (fluid build in the lungs) – a common result of FeLV. Yet those that I was able to vaccinate live. It’s not something you lose faith in when it stares you in the face. Yes, there will always be pets and humans that may react to a vaccine. Unfortunately, that will always be true no matter how much medicine has improved over the years. If cost is an issue, shop around. Not all clinics are alike and you will usually be surprised to find that many clinics are not insulted. We WANT your pet to receive care, even if it is not from us. But the benefits cannot be ignored and the cost of life should always matter more than money – after all, isn’t that the responsibility of an owning a pet?

      • Well said. I have many friends in the vet med community and they are always looking out for the interest of your pet. Anyone who want’s to be rich should stay away from vet medicine, it is not a way to make money.
        I posted a similar question in Linked in about vaccination of animals and families that choose not to vaccinate their children and someone from the ahvma (American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association) pointed out that if people don’t want to vaccinate annually they can get titers taken and then the vet can guide them on whether they need a booster or not. I think this is a wise way to go, but if a client is a penny pincher they may just want to take the boosters rather than pay for a titer test.
        Just another thought!

        • TickMc, I agree, wholeheartedly. It may be a surprised to most to find out that many veterinarians and vet med staff do not get paid as well as one would think we do, especially considering the job expectations. Depending on area, there are some vet tech staff that get paid no better than minimum wage! That being said, we do it because we believe in fostering good pet health. But, in regards to your other comment about vaccine titers, yes, they are available, but cost prohibitive. Most titers are done at specialty labs, such as Antech or IDEXX, and can anywhere between $150 -250. However, it is an alternative to vaccinating. I, myself, have used the vaccine titer testing on one of my dogs because she had an occurrence of Thrombocytopenia (blood clotting issue where platelets are not made at normal levels or destroyed) and it was not advised to vaccinate with her condition. However, vaccine technology and duration of immunity are advancing and improving all the time. Most DA2PP (distemper/parvo/etc combo) vaccines have a known immunity of a MINIMUM of 3-4 years and have cause the least amount of adverse reactions than I have ever seen. Because of this, vaccine protocols have changed with it. DA2PP can now be done once every 3 years (depends on manufacturer, of course. Each has their own recommended vx schedule based on their immunity duration studies). As for vaccine reactions, I have seen the rare minor allergic reaction (hives/minor muzzle swelling) to vaccines, like rabies or leptospirosis, but have yet to see a reaction, much less a severe one, in the DA2PP. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen; there will always be that rare case. But it just shows how much medicine has improved.

  7. “One Health is the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals, plants and our environment.”
    “One Health implementation will help protect and/or save untold millions of lives in our generation and for those to come.”

    “Between animal and human medicine there are no dividing lines–nor should there be.” Rudolf Virchow, MD (the father of cellular pathology)

    The One Health Initiative team strongly supports administration of scientifically recognized and recommended vaccination (immunization) programs by physicians and veterinarians for human and animal patients. Failure to vaccinate is an irresponsible and dangerous practice.

    Bruce Kaplan, DVM