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Monday, March 23, 2015

Decoding the Dog Anti-Vaccination Movement

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Decoding the Dog Anti-Vaccination Movement
  by Taylor Malowney
Parvovirus vaccines are administered every three years by your vet.  If you have concerns,speak up!  Image via Canstock/UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
If you haven’t heard of the human “anti-vaxx” movement, you soon will – anti-vaccination sentiments are spilling over into pet parenting. While many of the pet anti-vaccination movements strongly deny a relationship, it’s more than a coincidence.

“Often issues in veterinary medicine spill over from human medicine, and over the last 10 or 15 years there has been an increase in mostly unfounded concerns about vaccine safety for people — and that, I think, has raised people’s awareness and level of concern about vaccinations for their pets,” says Brennen McKenzie, former president of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association. 

So what’s all the fuss about? According to, repeated vaccinations, too many vaccinations at one time, and vaccinations for rare diseases are all harmful to pets. Other pet anti-vaxxers are concerned that vaccines trigger immune disorders and life-threatening side effects. This cluster of supposedly vaccine-related symptoms and side effects is collectively called “vaccinosis.”
 Serious side effects from vaccination are rare. Talk to your vet about any concerns you might have – you are your pet’s health advocate.

Titer testing is being touted as the end-all for vaccines. A type of blood test, “titering” looks for antibodies in the blood. However, titer testing can’t predict a pet’s protection from certain diseases – it can only reveal which antibodies are present. Cell-mediated immunity, not antibodies, determines your pet’s ability to fight infection. 

Homeopathic veterinarian Rosemary Manziano eschews shots for her pet patients, instead recommending taking your pet to to a crowded park to gain immunity against common diseases. Her viewpoint is shared by many anti-vaccination pet parents, who say pets’ natural immunity is enough protection.

The problem with this is pets don’t have this protection until they’re exposed to a disease. When pets do come into contact with, say, canine distemper, they don’t get “just enough” to grant them immunity – they get infected and sick. Diseases like distemper are highly contagious; spread through the air, distemper has no specific cure. In one 2014 outbreak in Amarillo, Texas, over 200 dogs were infected. 

Veterinarians are overwhelmingly recommending pet parents get animals vaccinated according to the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Canine Vaccination Guidelines. Some vets acknowledge that “combo shots” and unnecessarily repeated vaccinations can be harmful, especially to the very young, very old, and immunocompromised. But fatal reactions from pet vaccinations are rare; more common side effects include lethargy, diarrhea and reduced appetite. 

 Talk to your vet about your dog’s vaccination schedule, including non-core vaccines.

The chemical additive “adjuvant” has been tentatively linked to fibrosarcoma tumors at injection site in cats only. However, this is extremely rare, occurring in 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 cats. Vets now typically inject vaccines with adjuvant on cats’ legs to allow easy treatment if a tumor does develop.

Pets’ vaccines are divided into core and non-core. Essential, medically-necessary vaccinations are considered core, while non-core vaccines are optional but may be beneficial for many pet parents.

Dog Core Vaccinations

Cat Core Vaccinations
Herpes virus

Ask your veterinarian which vaccinations are legally and medically necessary for your pet. Non-core vaccines are useful for pets at risk of contracting certain diseases, like kennel cough and leptospirosis. Risk factors include high contact with other animals, especially at kennels and boarding facilities, dog parks, farms, or in multi-pet households. If you live in an area where ticks are present, the Lyme disease vaccine offers protection from the blood-sucking buggers. 

Outdoor cats or multi-cat households may want to consider vaccinating for feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), chlamydophila, and kennel cough. FIV in particular can be devastating to cats and is easily preventable via vaccination.

If you have concerns about your pet’s vaccination schedule, talk to your vet! Most vets will create a modified schedule for adult pets; vaccination guidelines are especially strict regarding young animals, whose immune systems aren't fully developed yet. When in doubt, call your vet – not Dr. Google. 

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