Special Report (June
our pets being over-vaccinated?
By Melissa Burden
Special to the Press
When you get a new
puppy or kitten, veterinarians give them standard vaccinations
to guard against infectious diseases. But scientists for years
have been questioning the need for annual “boosters”
for adult dogs and cats. Some studies have shown routine vaccinations
can even cause cancer and other serious diseases in pets.
Though many veterinary
colleges support newer vaccination guidelines, which reduce the
need for some shots, the debate over whether we may be over-vaccinating
our pets continues.
Jean Dodds, DVM, a
world renowned vaccine research scientist, in Santa Monica, CA,
told The Press many boosters are unnecessary.
“Why should we
be giving pets foreign substances when they do not need them,”
said Dodds, who has researched the vaccination guidelines for
over 30 years. Veterinarians, she said, have been giving annual
vaccinations simply because it’s assumed they are needed
and were recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture.
was any data that suggested vaccines must be given yearly,”
Dodds said. “Veterinarians assumed there was data but there
Vaccines like parvovirus
and canine distemper are responsible for many diseases of the
immune system in dogs, she contends. Anemia, arthritis, epilepsy,
thyroid disease, liver failure, diabetes, allergies and other
conditions, she believes, are linked to vaccines.
five to 10 percent will develop problems,” Dodds said. “That
increases to 20 percent in pure breeds.”
Irish Setters, Great
Danes, German Shepherds, weimaraners and akitas are at higher
risk of developing Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy, a bone disease
that causes a 107 degree fever, pain, and the inability to walk
as a result of vaccinations, she said.
“But there is
really no breed that is not at risk,” she said.
The only vaccination
needed, she asserts, is the rabies vaccine because it is legally
Dogs’ and cats’
immune systems mature fully at 6 months old, she explained. If
canine distemper, feline distemper and parvovirus vaccines are
given after 6 months, a pet has immunity for the rest of its life.
However, if another
vaccine is given a year later, antibodies from the first vaccine
neutralize the second vaccine, producing little or no effect.
Not only are annual
boosters for parvovirus and distemper unnecessary, they subject
a pet to potential risks of allergic reactions and immune-mediated
hemolytic anemia, a life threatening disease that generally has
unknown causes, said Dodds.
There is no scientific
documentation to back up label claims for annual administration
of these vaccines, she said.
A widespread belief
that vets are over-vaccinating animals because annual shots account
for a sizeable portion of their income “is just not the
case,” said Dodds.
only make up about 14 percent of a clinic’s income. The
bigger problem is vets believe pet owners would not bring in their
pets yearly if it were not for vaccines. Yearly exams for pets
are crucial and may help a vet to diagnose early kidney and heart
diseases. Vets believe that pet owners will be complacent and
not bring them in which is why some stick to giving yearly vaccines,”
Tumors have been found
at the site of vaccine injections in cats, though not dogs, according
to an article published in the March/April issue of The Journal
of the American Animal Hospital Association.
that like humans, dogs could be vaccinated with certain vaccines
early in life and be protected for a lifetime, rather than receiving
yearly doses,” says the article. “Reportedly, with
the exception of rabies, the core vaccines, which protect against
life-threatening disease, could last for seven years and should
not be given more frequently than every three years. Rabies shots
have a three-year duration, according to research, and should
be given every three years.”
Dr. Bob Rogers, DVM,
Critter Fixer Pet Hospital, in Texas, agrees.
“Dogs and cats
no longer need to be vaccinated against distemper, parvo, and
feline leukemia every year,” Rogers said. “Once the
initial series of puppy or kitten vaccinations and first annual
vaccinations are completed, immunity…persists for life.
Not only are annual boosters for parvo and distemper unnecessary,
they subject the pet to the potential risk of adverse reactions,
Vaccines against Corona
virus, Leptospirosis, and Lyme disease for dogs should be avoided,
of immunity for vaccines for diseases like rabies, distemper,
and parvovirus have been shown to be 7 years,” Rogers said.
“More importantly it has been scientifically proven that,
after the initial series, when vaccines are re-administered, the
immune status of the patient is not enhanced. Antibodies from
the initial vaccine block the subsequent vaccines from having
any effect. In cats, the risk of Vaccine Associated Fibrosarcomas
can be reduced by avoiding adjuvanted vaccines and unnecessary
vaccines like chlamydia for cats.”
Dodds and Rogers suggest
pet owners ask their veterinarians to perform vaccine antibody
titer tests, which test antibodies for distemper and parvovirus
annually after the initial series of vaccines.
are a tough issue,” Dr. David Boudouris, of Country Squire
Animal Hospital, in Oregon said. “The tests are relatively
expensive and there are many issues surrounding the results. We
hope that if the titer is high that it means the animal is protected
but there are questions surrounding the tests. They are expensive
also. The test for rabies alone can cost $80 to $90.”
Pet owners should ask
their vets about the duration and effectiveness of certain vaccinations,
“The trend in
veterinary medicine is to make sure we are not doing harm, that
we are doing the best we can for our pets,” he said. “We
do have options out there and we can assess what the animal’s
needs are and go from there.”
Boudouris and his staff
have embraced the concept of core vaccinations, such as rabies,
parvovirus, distemper, and hepatitis (adenovirus) in dogs and
feline distemper, feline leukemia, and rabies in cats.
animals may not need certain vaccines,” Boudouris said.
“Not every dog needs giardia or lyme disease vaccinations.
We have to assess the animal, know its lifestyle, and go on from
there. New vaccine technologies have improved safety and efficacy.
Diseases are never the same and new diseases emerge all of the
time. We have modified our protocols in the past and will continue
to constantly examine our program.”
In fact, Boudouris
believes pets going without vaccinations may be more of a major
“We have an epidemic
of parvovirus infection every year and see many cats with leukemia
and respiratory diseases,” he said. “I probably see
60 dogs each year with parvovirus, a disease that is life threatening.
Vaccines are important to an animal’s health.”
To report a suspected
adverse reaction in your pet from vaccinations, call the Center
for Veterinary Biologics - USDA Biologics Hotline at 1-800-752-6255.
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