By Dr. Anne Luther
Do we vaccinate our pets too often? Yes, if they are being given all of their vaccines on an annual basis, according to Dr. Ronald Schultz, a veterinary immunologist and chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. His opinion is based on over 30 years of vaccine research. Dr. Schultz is on the American Animal Hospital Association Canine Vaccine Task Force and the American Association of Feline Practitioners Feline Vaccine Task Force which provide recommendations to the industry for vaccine programs. Dr. Schultz is well known for his research studies which date back to the 1970s. In 1978, he began recommending “core” vaccines be given no more frequently than every 3 years. In 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) finally agreed that these vaccines don’t need to be given more frequently than every 3 years. The “core” vaccines are necessary to prevent the highly contagious, potentially fatal diseases rabies, parvovirus, canine adenovirus-2, and distemper.
The statement “if it doesn’t help, it won’t hurt” is not true for vaccinations. According to Dr. Jean Dodds, president of Hemopet, A non-profit animal bloodbank, some vaccines should not be given annually. She states that giving them too often does nothing but put pets at risk. Risks from vaccinations include:
-Injection-site tumors (primarily cats)
-Inflammatory Bowel Disease
-Immune Mediated Blood Disorders
-Ear and skin conditions
-Susceptibility to other diseases
Although vaccines cause a multitude of problems in both dogs and cats, some problems are species specific. The most common, and alarming disease which we see in cats, is the development of injection site fibrosarcomas.
The AVMA conducted a study to try to determine why 160,000 cats in the US develop terminal cancer at their injection sites each year. These tumors are extremely invasive and difficult to remove. Although much less common, dogs also may develop these injection site tumors.
According to a Purdue University study, vaccine induced organ failure should be suspected when it occurs shortly after a vaccine. Dr. Larry Glickman of Purdue University stated that following routine vaccination, there is a significant rise in the antibodies dogs produce against their own tissues. Some of these antibodies target the thyroid gland, connective tissue such as that found in the heart valves, red blood cells and DNA. A common problem seen in cats is the development of chronic kidney disease and recent research from Colorado State University suggests a link between vaccination for feline distemper and development of chronic renal failure.
Another common problem in our canine companions is arthritis. A 1997 study of 4,000 dogs performed by Canine Health Concerns showed a high number of dogs developing mobility problems after they were vaccinated.
Some vaccines are not recommended because the disease is not severe enough to justify the risk of vaccinating for it. Because of this, Dr. Richard Ford, professor of medicine at North Carolina State recommends against giving the Coronavirus and Giardia vaccines. The Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine is commonly required by groomers and boarding facilities, but , according to Dr. Ronald Schultz, kennel cough is not a vaccine preventable disease. It usually occurs because of many factors including stress, dust, humidity, molds, etc. and it is often a moderate to mild self-limiting disease.
At Sarasota Animal Medical Center, we assess the risks and benefits of specific vaccinations for each pet. We discuss the options with the owners and choose the best vaccine protocol for that individual animal. Even though there are many potential problems associated with vaccinations, the need to vaccinate against potentially fatal disease still outweighs the risk. Vaccination with the core vaccines for Canine Distemper, Parvovirus and Adenovirus is highly recommended in the dog. Cats should receive the Feline Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia vaccines. Outoor cats should receive the Feline Leukemia Vaccine for at least the first few years of life. Rabies is required by law and is a fatal, incurable disease with potential health risks to humans. Vaccination programs are changing and they will continue to change. Every pet is an individual and their exposure and risk factors should be evaluated prior to vaccinating. Some vets still recommend vaccinating once a year saying “better safe than sorry”. Unfortunately, just the opposite is true. Over vacccination may result in a myriada of health issues which range from minor to fatal. Just remember that more isn’t better when it comes to vaccinations!
Dr. Anne Luther graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 1985. After 15 years of conventional practice, she wanted to offer more to her patients, so she studied Acupuncture and Tui Na therapy at the Chi Institute, Homeopathy with Dr. Richard Pitcairn, Chinese Herbal Medicine with Dr. Steve Marsden, and Western Herbal Medicine through the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies.
Sarena von der Heyde, DVM, CVA
Dr. Sarena received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Georgia, following her dream to become an animal healer and integrative veterinarian. She has completed advanced training in Veterinary Traditional Chinese Medicine through the Chi Institute, which is world renowned for the quality and rigors of its studies and high standards of its graduates. I addition, she has studied many aspects of holistic medicine including Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Food Therapy, Tui Na, Bowen Therapy, Healing Touch, Homeopathy, Homotoxicology, Tension Release, and Western Herbal Medicine.