How to keep a healthy dog and a happy pet
The veterinary world has been blighted by anti-vaxxers, just as in humans. There is no good evidence for any widespread, serious health issues from “over-vaccination”, but this has not stopped vaccine sceptics from making accusations that have put some people off having their pets vaccinated.
There may not be a problem when a few individual dogs remain unvaccinated in the midst of a large vaccinated population, due to a phenomenon called “herd immunity”. But when less than 70% of the dogs in an area remain unvaccinated, there is a major risk of an epidemic of life-threatening viral diseases. This has happened recently in Australia, where dozens of dogs of all ages (from puppies to elderly animals) have been struck down with Parvovirus. This disease has a mortality rate of 70-80% even when intensive treatment is given. In comparison, the risk of a reaction to a vaccine is about 0.003% with most side-effects being mild and transient.
Vets have been accused of recommending unnecessary vaccination as a money-making exercise: the truth is that vaccinations make up just around 7% of vets’ income. Vets would make far more money by stopping vaccinations, then charging for treating the seriously ill animals that would follow. The real reason why vets push vaccinations is to prevent disease. There’s nothing more dispiriting as a vet than witnessing previously healthy animals dying painful deaths from illnesses that could have been prevented.
It’s true that our knowledge about vaccinations has improved in recent years, and now vaccines are given on an individual basis, following a risk assessment carried out after discussing a pet’s lifestyle. Some vaccines are now known to last for more than a year (e.g. Parvo, Distemper, Hepatitis) while others only last a year at maximum (e.g. Leptospirosis). And the needs of a handbag-type dog living a sheltered life in an apartment will be different to a rat-chasing terrier who spends time running through ditches in the local park.
It is possible to do so-called “titre-tests” to measure a pet’s antibody level to specific viruses, but when there is such a low incidence of vaccine complications, most owners are reluctant to go to the extra expense of doing this. The alternative – a vaccine strategy that has been proven to be effective and safe in over 99% of pets – is preferable for most pet owners.
The important take-home message is that all pet owners should liaise with their own vets to discuss their pets’ vaccine needs.