To vaccinate or not? And, if so, what is the best schedule?
We're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't these days. I often feel trapped with no good option, and the more I read and research, the more I realize I have to learn. It's a frustrating place to be. The subject of pet vaccines has been a controversy for the past few years and has recently become quite a hot topic, thought to stem from questions regarding the human vaccine schedule. There seems to be compelling arguments on both sides of the human and pet vaccine controversy, which can often leave us paralyzed, afraid to move in either direction. I don't advocate a particular vaccine schedule for your pet, but I encourage you to keep yourself informed and working with your veterinarian to tailor the vaccination schedule of your individual pet. Let's look at this controversy and our options a bit closer.
Why do we vaccinate our pets?
As with humans, we vaccinate our pets to protect them from life-threatening and serious debilitating diseases.
How are canine and feline vaccine schedules determined?
Vaccines fall into two categories: core vaccines and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are thought to be vitally important to the health of a pet and are considered "required," while non-core vaccines are suggested as more of an option.
Vaccine schedules can vary and are typically created by the vaccine manufacturers. Most vaccines are required during the first few weeks of life for puppies and kittens and often annual boosters are required/recommended.
What is the controversy surrounding pet vaccines?
The controversy is more about vaccine frequency and dosage than it is about whether vaccines should be administered. Most veterinarians and pet parents agree that the benefit of initial puppy and kitten vaccinations far outweighs the risks. Some vaccines are required by law in some states, and most kennels or boarding facilities will require proof of vaccination.
The main question is: Are we over-vaccinating our pets?
It has long been accepted that vaccines should be administered annually for the duration of a dog or cat's life. An annual checkup is usually accompanied by "annual vaccines." More recent studies suggest that this vaccination schedule is overkill, and that the pet is actually immune from some diseases for three years or more.
The suspicious part? The vaccine manufacturers determine the vaccine schedules. They benefit financially from more frequent vaccines. Vets also benefit, as it's more likely you'll bring your pet in for a check-up if he's due for his vaccine. An annual check-up is important, but it may be that the vaccine aspect is not vital.
Dosage is also in question. Vaccine dosage is often universal, meaning that the same dose given to a 100-pound Great Dane is also given to an eight-pound Pomeranian. It is thought that this dosage issue may be contributing to the increased cancer rate in animals under twenty pounds. Some vets have begun to reduce the dosage for smaller animals, but this opens them up to a whole host of legal ramifications. It seems vaccine dosage needs to be looked at more closely.
Can harm come from over-vaccination?
Most recent studies say yes. The vaccinations and the preservatives in them may be cancer-causing when taken in larger-than-necessary doses. At that point, the risk becomes higher than the benefit. Cats are especially susceptible, it seems, as they have developed tumors at the vaccination site. Veterinarians were seeing large tumors between the shoulder blades of cats right at the injection location so often that they began vaccinating closer to the arm of the cat so amputation would be an option should a cancerous tumor develop.
Over-vaccination is thought to lead to cancer, allergies, and other ailments in some pets. But we're still not sure, and there is division among veterinarians. Most of the studies done are sponsored by the vaccine manufacturers, so they are considered biased. More independent testing is needed.
How do I know if my pet needs a particular vaccine or not?
Vaccines protect our pets longer than previously thought. Blood tests can be done to determine your pet's immunity status regarding a particular disease such as rabies or distemper. If the blood test shows that your pet is still immune, then a vaccination is not necessary. Annual blood tests are a good option to help you make the decision as to whether or not to vaccinate.
Your geographic area and lifestyle are also something to consider. If your pet is not boarded and is not around other dogs, you may determine that a vaccine for kennel cough isn't necessary. The same goes for lyme disease, which is most commonly transmitted through ticks. The lyme disease vaccine may be very important to a country dog who roams fields, but perhaps not for a city dweller who takes walks on the sidewalks each day. Talk with your vet about the risk for particular diseases in your region and for your particular pet.
The most important thing to do is to educate yourself and find a vet that will work with you to determine the best vaccination schedule for your pet. Consider all factors, and weigh benefit vs. risk.
Resources and further reading:
This article by me appeared in it's original form in June 2014 on Hybrid Rasta Mama, a blog to which I contribute original content regularly, and has been reprinted with minor changes with permission.
Hop on over to Hybrid Rasta Mama to read my most recent contribution, Natural Flea Prevention and Control with Apple Cider Vinegar.
pet photo source: peggyadams.org