I feel compelled to do one of those serious “issue based” posts, with “facts” and all that boring stuff. Partly because I’ve spent most of the week blathering on about my animals, but mostly because my friend shared last week’s vaccine post on Fark and someone responded with something the equivalent of, “Well, the lady has a point.”
NO SHE DOESN’T. She has a pointy head and that I will concede. Let me be clear: If you say to me, hey, I have some concerns about overvaccinating my pet, can we talk about risk versus benefit and come to an agreement about the optimal schedule, I will say, “Yes. That is amazing. Thank you for taking the time to be involved in your pet’s care.” But if you say, hey, I know you just want to make a quick $2 off me by making my dog sick so I refuse to vaccinate my puppy, ever, I will raise my eyebrow and shake my head because THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.
That doesn’t mean to say that I think overvaccination doesn’t happen, because it does. In my first job, I worked for a guy who vaccinated every pet for everything. Hunting labrador? You’re getting the distemper/parvo combo, bordetella, leptospirosis, corona, rabies, giardia, and lyme. 17 year old lap dachshund with a history of vaccine reactions? You’re getting the distemper/parvo combo, bordetella, leptospirosis, corona, rabies, giardia, and lyme vaccines, plus a benadryl injection. Don’t like it? Find another hospital. (Which is incidentally exactly what I did.)
There are a couple of key points one must keep in mind when discussing vaccines, for dogs, for cats, for kids.
1. Vaccines are not benign, side-effect-free sugar tablets. They are potent biologics, with the potential for adverse reactions. To ignore this fact is wrong.
2. That being said, for most recipients, the benefits of an appropriately chosen vaccine far outweighs the risk. Accepting that risk is a part of the game. You accept the risk of a vaccine associated sarcoma when you vaccinate your cat for feline leukemia, just as you accept the risk of, well, feline leukemia, if you don’t vaccinate your cat. You choose.
3. The key, and the art, is choosing what that appropriate vaccination protocol is. There is a lot of wiggle room here.
Here is the gist of things in a nice bite sized form for those intimidated by the size of this post, or just in a hurry, or already bored:
ALL Puppies and kittens need a series of vaccines for a handful of life-threatening diseases. This series is necessary to create a long term immune response.
They need to be boosted in one year.
After that, do what you want (though I’ll still suggest boosting.)
All right. Those who are still here, let’s break it down:
When I see a new puppy, I ask questions about the breed, the lifestyle he or she will be living, and where they will be living. This is all vital. A duck hunting retriever in Wisconsin is going to need different things than a pug in a high rise in Manhattan. As pets age, the health of the pet also comes into play- an elderly, sensitive poodle with a history of renal disease will have different risks and benefits than a young sturdy Rottweiler who goes to dog parks. To say they all need all vaccines is misguided. To say they all need no vaccines is also misguided.
The American Animal Hospital Association spent a good deal of time and effort coming up with revised vaccine guidelines that attempt to provide some basic recommendations that are easy to follow and tailor to the needs of the individual. They are reasonable and make a good deal of sense. Many vets follow these guidelines, myself included.
It has been pretty well accepted that an appropriately administered minimum vaccine protocol gives an adult dog at least 3 years’ protection from distemper, parvo, hepatitis, and rabies- the “core” vaccines that all pets should have . “Non-core” vaccines are given dependent on the individual dog, and duration varies (vaccines against diseases with a bacterial component don’t last as long.) There are other vaccines that aren’t recommended at all so it doesn’t matter how long they last.
That is the basic, basic version of the guidelines; but you can download the recommendations yourself from AAHA, or see this article for a more thorough summary.
As for cats, the current recommendations from the American Academy of Feline Practitioners are what most vets, including myself, use these days. The principle is the same as the dog recommendations: core vaccines that all cats should get are given as kittens, boosted at one year, then at 3 year intervals. Non-core vaccines are given to certain cats dependent on lifestyle, and there are a few that no cat needs.
What about titers? Titers are a very helpful tool in determining your own dog’s level of immunological protection, and should you desire to go that route instead, go for it. I’ve never understood the people who think vets are pushing vaccines solely for monetary reasons- we would make more money off a sick parvo pet, to be perfectly honest, and would probably make an equal amount off of performing titers. Shoot, if we were in it for the money we wouldn’t have gone to vet school to begin with.
Truth be told, administering vaccines at a regular interval is convenient and cost effective for the majority of the population. It’s easy for people to remember and covers all your bases. With a few exceptions, the clients in my current practice would look at me like I was nuts if I wanted them to do titers every year. It’s not a value judgment, it just is what it is. If I worked in a different area where people didn’t mind the hassle, I would probably have a lot more people doing titers. I support whatever works best for the client and the pet.
I’m not married to these guidelines- after all they are guidelines, not a rule. I wouldn’t hesitate to skip vaccines in an old, sick pet who has gotten them regularly for years. That judgment call is why I make the big bucks- OK, I don’t make the big bucks, but it is why I get to act like I do.