To Vaccinate or Not, That is the Question

Vaccinations have long been a topic of controversy, but unquestionably pet vaccination programs have vastly reduced the incidence of once common fatal diseases like distemper, leptospirosis, parvovirus and feline panleucopaenia virus. Yet despite of this, less than half of pet owners bother to have their pets’ vaccinated on a regular basis.

This may be partly due fear about side effects or cost grounds.

syringeThe Benefits of Vaccination

Vaccination is about stimulating a pet’s immune system to protect it against infectious organisms. Typically we vaccinate against infections that cause death in many cases (parvovirus) or are highly infectious, causing widespread disease when outbreaks occur (cat flu).Vaccination, if performed frequently enough, provides life long protection..

 

 

The immediate and obvious reasons for vaccinating your pet are:

  • Lifespan increases – your pet won’t die young from parvo, leukaemia or myxomatosis
  • Veterinary costs decrease – because trying to treat these diseases once present can run into hundreds if not thousands of pounds.

So why is it that less than half of our pets are vaccinated?

The Hazards of Vaccination

Vaccinations can cause adverse reactions, after all an “alien” substance is being injected into your pet’s body. But the degree of problem and likelihood of it occurring is often blown out of all proportion by the scare mongering tactics of newspaper reports and TV documentaries.

The recognised potential problems are: allergic chest reactions, occasional vomiting and diarrhoea, blood clotting disorders, anaemias, and injection site reactions. Some of these problems are very serious indeed and can result in tragedy if it is your pet affected, but for the pet population as a whole the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

Simply put your pet is far more likely to contract a fatal disease because it is not vaccinated, than have an adverse reaction if it is.

Vested Interests Before Pets Interests?

Evidence is now available that suggests protection may be longer lived than annually. Accordingly there have been accusations from some quarters that vets and vaccine companies are place their profits before the well being of pets.

Thankfully attitudes do appear to be changing and certainly it is now widely acknowledged that less frequent vaccinations against some of the diseases is possible. Research has conclusively demonstrated the need for less frequent vaccination with distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus.

In addition there is a new kennel cough vaccine for dogs which provides protection for a full year. At Lordship Lane our policies on vaccination have changed in keeping with the established and reliable evidence.

 

Lordship Lane Veterinary Surgery Policy

Risks from vaccination are extremely low so our policy regarding vaccination is that annual vaccination should be performed in all cases except where there is no specific reason not to do so.

This means:

  • Puppies are vaccinated from 8 weeks
  • Kittens are vaccinated from 9 weeks
  • Rabbits are vaccinated from 6 weeks

Thereafter the following boosters should be performed:

  • Dogs – Annually:Leptospirosis, Kennel Cough
  • Dogs – Every three years: Distemper, parvo, hepatitis
  • Cats – Annually: Feline leukamia, cat flu
  • Rabbits – Annually: Viral Haemorrhagic Disease andMyxomatosis.

If research is published to prove that vaccinations should be administered less frequently, our policy will change.

What’s the Alternative?

While we strongly advise annual health checks with appropriate vaccination we do respect the fact that some owners can make informed choices over the best way to protect their pet, provided they understand the risk / benefit consequences of their choices.

Some owners may be concerned because a pet has experienced a significant adverse reaction on a previous occasion. In this instance we would suggest that, provided the pet has had its primary vaccination course, an annual health check should be done to monitor the pet but without vaccination. If there is a significant outbreak of one of the diseases in the area then revaccination against the problem may be appropriate.

Some owners prefer to have their pet’s blood tested to assess antibody levels against the serious diseases. This mean blood sampling the pet on an annual basis and is more expensive than having just a vaccination done. There are also some concerns that a high antibody level may not truly reflect the ability of the pet to protect itself against exposure to a virulent infectious organism.

Finally we occasionally hear of dogs being “vaccinated” with homeopathic nosodes. On this topic we wish to be extremely clear. There is no evidence that homeopathic vaccines offer any protection against disease.

pet passportInsurance and Pet Passports

Not having pets vaccinated may affect pet insurance cover if the pet is affected by one of these diseases.

The “Pet Passport Scheme” requires that dogs be vaccinated at least every third year to qualify. Many European countries require animals to be vaccinated against rabies on an annual basis irrespective of the vaccine manufacturers’ recommendations.

Making Your Choice

In short, vaccinations have been one of the greatest advances in veterinary medicine, they protect against a variety of diseases for which little effective treatments exist.

Vaccinations can, on rare occasions, cause side effects (some of them very serious) but these risks are tiny compared to the risks of contracting serious infection with the real thing.
If concerned please don’t simply avoid the issue, discuss the matter with your vet.