As with anything, pet vaccinations can be too much of a good thing. Similar to parents who are learning more about vaccinations for children, veterinarians and pet owners alike are beginning to question some of the standard wisdom when it comes to protecting pets. There are certain fatal diseases against which every pet should be protected, but the questions now relate to some of the newer vaccines, how often pets should be vaccinated, and whether it is appropriate to vaccinate all pets against all diseases.
There is currently a lot of misinformation surrounding the topic of vaccines. The primary goal of vaccinating is to reduce the chances of acquiring a highly infectious, often fatal disease (virus or bacteria). This is best achieved through something you may be familiar with called “herd health”. This means that when the majority of a population is protected from a disease, it greatly reduces the number of individuals acquiring the illness and their ability to spread it. Ultimately, this can lead to disease eradication (take polio for example). There are some negative side effects from vaccines, however, including anaphylaxis, autoimmune disease and even cancer. This is where the controversy comes from.
Prior to vaccination, we must therefore take into consideration an individual’s risk level for acquiring the disease, the severity of the disease itself, the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing illness and possible unwanted side effects following vaccination. We believe that there is not one blanket vaccine protocol for all pets, but there should be a plan made based on the pet’s lifestyle and individual needs.
At WCA, we recommend a vaccination protocol that calls for pets to receive initial “core” puppy or kitten shots starting around 7-8 weeks of age, as they enter the “herd”. Most puppies and kittens have natural immunity from their mother until that age, so vaccinating any earlier does not do much good. They should then be vaccinated again around one year of age as their immune system matures. After that, we recommend booster shots every three to four years or more depending on the pet’s exposure level to diseases. The core vaccines which we believe every dog should receive includes distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus (hepatitis), bordetella and rabies. For cats, the recommended core vaccines include panleukopenia (parvo), calici, herpes, and rabies. For pets in certain at risk populations, there are other “non-core” vaccines available including canine influenza, leptospirosis, lyme disease, and feline leukemia.
Many pet parents are not aware there are actually titer tests available for most vaccines. A titer is a simple blood test which measures the level of protection that a certain vaccine provides and helps determine whether that vaccine should actually be boostered or not. We have found that many vaccines provide protection years beyond the two or three-year claim made by the vaccine manufacturers. Annual vaccine titer testing is a great alternative to vaccinating pets, particularly those with chronic illness or advanced age.
Pets usually tolerate vaccinations quite well; however, if you should observe any unusual symptoms in your pet after an injection such as a fever, sluggishness, vomiting, diarrhea, or seizures, contact your veterinarian immediately.
What does this mean for you as a pet owner? It means that you need to become an advocate on behalf of your pet’s health. Take steps at home to keep your pet healthy, visit your veterinarian on a yearly basis, and become educated on the benefits and risks of pet vaccinations.