Many pet owners and some animal scientists believe that we are over vaccinating our pets. They also think that some shots may be doing more harm than good. One type of cancer in cats, for example, is known to be caused by vaccinations. In addition, vaccines can cause allergic reactions but the truth is that vaccine reactions are very uncommon. A recent study showed that there was not one vaccine that was seen to cause more reactions than any other. The common denominator for vaccine reactions was when pets received numerous vaccinations at one time.
There are numerous reports and rumors of side effects becoming so widespread, pet owners increasingly are asking their vets about whether or not to vaccinate. I can personally attest to this. Rarely does a day go by that I am not having this conversation with one or more clients. One thing that I have seen growing over the past couple of years refers to clients who are purchasing purebred dogs. Many of these clients will bring their new puppy in for the first wellness visit and they are accompanied by paperwork from the breeder stating that if the pet receives certain vaccinations it will void any warranty with the breeder. Let's dive into some facts about vaccinations.
Why Do Pets Need Vaccines?
Vaccines protect against contagious, potentially fatal diseases such as Distemper and Parvovirus. Vaccines trigger immune responses that can prepare a pet's immune system to fight future infections. Even though some common diseases are quite rare, many veterinary experts agree that vaccinations are still necessary but that doesn't mean there is no controversy over the subject amongst veterinarians.
Some experts advocate yearly shots, others every three years, and a few believe no more vaccines are needed after the first year. Depending on where you live, requirements for how frequently certain vaccines must be given can vary. The concept of "over vaccination" has led many pet owners to skip vaccines for preventable diseases which, unfortunately, has caused a rise in deaths from diseases like Parvovirus. These vaccines are being skipped when the animal is a puppy. Arguably, this is the most important time for a pet to receive vaccinations especially since there is no treatment for some of these diseases.
Can Vaccines Cause Cancer?
In cats, definitely. Years ago, veterinarians started noticing tumors forming in the area between the shoulders where cats were being vaccinated. The tumors are rare, forming in 1/1,000 to 1/10,000 cats. Now the standard recommendation is to vaccinate cats on the lower aspect of their hind leg. In theory, if a tumor forms at the vaccination site, the leg can be amputated potentially saving the cat's life.
Most in the industry believe that the culprit causing the tumor is a chemical called an "adjuvant" that is added to some feline vaccines. It is strongly recommended to avoid using any cat vaccine that is labeled "killed" or "inactivated". Thankfully, there are companies who have provided a remedy to this situation. They produce vaccines for cats that are labeled "attenuated" or "recombinant" which does not contain and adjuvant. These types of vaccines are thought to be much safer.
What Are Some Of The Diseases Vaccinated Against?
For dogs these include:
Parvovirus: a life threatening illness that attacks the GI tract causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and white blood cell destruction.
Distemper: a life threatening illness that can attach the GI tract, respiratory tract, central nervous system, and the teeth.
Adenovirus: a life threatening illness that causes hepatitis.
Parainfluenza/Bordetella: causes kennel cough which is not generally life threatening but is highly contagious between dogs.
Rabies: a fatal central nervous system disease that can be spread to humans and there is no cure.
For cats these include:
Panleukopenia: a life threatening disease causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and low white blood cell count.
Feline Leukemia Virus: a disease causing chronic immune system suppression which often leads to cancer.
Herpesvirus and Calicivirus: while not usually life threatening, these disease can cause respiratory signs, problems with the eyes, lesions in the mouth, and fever.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus: a disease that causes chronic immune system suppression which can lead to cancer.
Core vs. Non-core Vaccines
Core vaccines are those that are universally recommended and most commonly given. Non-core vaccines are optional, according to protocols set by major veterinary organizations. Parvovirus is a core vaccine. Other core vaccines for dogs are those against rabies, distemper, and adenovirus-2. Non-core vaccines include Bordetella, parainfluenza, Leptospira, and Lyme disease.
Core vaccinations for cats include panleukopenia, herpesvirus, rabies, and calicivirus. Non-core vaccines are for protection from feline leukemia, feline immune deficiency virus, chlamydophilia, and Bordetella.
You and your pet's lifestyle and location where you live can play a roll in what vaccinations are appropriate for your pet. I recommend speaking to your veterinarian regarding vaccines and the appropriate vaccination protocols.
Animal Vaccines And Global Health
Over 75% of emerging animal diseases can be transmitted to humans such as Rabies, Influenza, and Salmonella. Animal vaccination plays a vital role in global health and preventing zoonoses, diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. An increasingly smaller world due to globalization means that humans are at greater risk to diseases spreading across international borders. Vaccinations play an essential role in preventing health risks, protecting animal health, food safety and public health.
Vaccines are a safe and easy way to stimulate an animal's natural defense system to prevent disease, safeguard their health, and protect their welfare. They also protect food animals against infectious diseases which ensures the provision of safe and nutritious foods such as eggs, milk, fish, and meat products.
If you have any questions regarding vaccinations and your pet, please set up a time to consult with your veterinarian. You want to ensure you have all of the facts and correct information before deciding if vaccines are appropriate for your pet. Be sure that your pet's veterinarian knows all of your pet's medical history as there are certain situations in which vaccination is not recommended.
Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM