If you’re like me, you get friendly reminder cards from your veterinarian each year asking you to set up an appointment for an exam and any required vaccinations for your pet. It got me thinking. Children-of-the-human-variety receive their vaccinations and booster shots in their childhood and adolescence, but the immunity to most of those diseases lasts through adulthood. As our pets become more like children to us, pet parents are starting to question whether or not our pets truly need vaccinated every year or if the vaccinations could be causing more harm than good.
A few years ago, I walked into my vet’s office with my new puppy, my first as an adult. I was bombarded by pamphlets and discussions on all the different diseases that Barrett could be vaccinated against. It was my vet doing most of the talking, and I trusted (and still trust) that they are only trying to do what is best for my pets’ health. He told me about diseases, how they are contracted and, truthfully, almost scared me into signing Barrett up for every vaccine offered. What I didn’t hear from him were the possible side effects of the vaccine, how effective it really was against the diseases it claimed to prevent or if over-vaccinating can have adverse side effects. Doctors and vets operate on a risk/benefit comparison. If the collective benefit of a vaccine is greater than the potential risk, the vaccine is recommended.
How many different diseases should a pet be vaccinated against, and how often should the boosters be administered?
How Often Should My Pet Be Vaccinated?
For years it has been common veterinary practice to vaccinate every year. Only recently has it become more commonplace to vaccinate every 3 years. Some holistic veterinarians have even proposed that for some individuals, this 3 year schedule may also be considered ‘over vaccinating’. Some veterinarians have started using blood titer testing to gauge when or if a pet should be given a booster. A titer test measures the level of immunity your pet has against certain diseases. If immunity to a disease has fallen below adequate levels, your veterinarian will administer a booster shot. If you are concerned about over vaccinating your pets, ask your vet if they employ this technology in their clinic.
Some vaccines are required by state law to be administered every so often, such as the Rabies vaccine. Until state laws catch up with technology, pet owners and veterinarians have little choice in the matter and must administer required vaccines in accordance with state law, or risk fines or even losing their pet to the authorities. Additionally, many kennels, groomers, dog parks and competitions require your pets to be up-to-date on vaccines that combat highly communicable diseases, such as Bordetella (kennel cough) and Parvo. If you don’t want to vaccinate based on the current recommended schedule, seek out facilities that will accept titer testing results.
There are many vaccines on the market that are considered “non-core”, meaning they are not required nor recommended for every pet. A few notable mentions include the canine and feline influenza vaccines, Lyme disease vaccines, Leptosporiasis vaccines, and even rattlesnake envenomation vaccines. Whether or not the risks associated with these additional vaccines outweigh the benefits is a discussion to have with your veterinarian. Some of the factors to weigh in on include your geographical location, the prevalence of those diseases in your area and you and your pets’ lifestyles and common activities.
What Are Some Of The Risks Of Vaccinating?
As with any drug, vaccinations can sometimes have adverse side effects. They can range from inflammation at the injection site to more severe reactions, possibly leading to the death of your pet. I don’t want to scare anyone out of vaccinating their pets. More often than not, the benefits associated with the vaccines outweigh the chance your pet may have a serious reaction, but you should be aware of the potential risks when deciding what vaccines are right for your pet. Some reactions aren’t always correctly diagnosed as a vaccine reaction, since reactions can happen over a month after the vaccination. Some cats have even been noted to develop cancer at the injection site of their vaccine injection sites years after vaccination!
You are your pet’s advocate. They can’t do the research or make decisions about their health care. It is up to you and your vet to discuss any potential side effects or repercussions to vaccinating, or not vaccinating your pet. Don’t be afraid to challenge your veterinarian with informed questions, or even to get a second opinion.
Gatsby is going to the vet this weekend and he is ‘due’ for his Bordetella vaccine. You can be sure that this year I am prepared to ask if the clinic does titer testing, and if Gatsby’s lifestyle indicates that he is at risk and should be vaccinated. After all, I’d rather be safe than sorry.