The Pros and Cons of Pet Vaccines
In the past few years, the idea of receiving vaccines has become a controversial topic. The recent vaccines for COVID-19 seemed to have brought things to the forefront. While vaccines for COVID-19 are for people, the vaccine controversy has carried over into the animal world too. Today, many people are reluctant to take their pets in for vaccines. So, let’s explore a bit about the pros and cons of animal vaccines.
Vaccines are medical tools that are used to induce the body to recognize harmful viruses and bacterias and to fight them. The goal of using vaccines is to either prevent the disease from harming the body or to reduce the severity of disease and keep the individual out of the hospital. Scientists work diligently, often for years or even decades, to develop and test vaccines. As a result, vaccines are safe and effective for many diseases of humans and animals.
Medical science has made tremendous strides in preventing and fighting major diseases in the last 150 years. Many of our parents or grandparents remember the fear that gripped communities when outbreaks of smallpox, polio, measles, and influenza appeared. Each year, tens of thousands of people caught those diseases, suffered with horrible symptoms, and died. The people who survived often had lingering, even lifelong, debilitating limitations. Then, vaccines were developed for those diseases. People were greatly relieved and thankful when vaccines became available and they readily took them. As a result of vaccinations, polio and smallpox are no longer of concern in the United States. Measles cases were almost eliminated until the past few years. Measles are on the rise now because fewer people are getting their children vaccinated. Influenza is still a concern but vaccinations have resulted in less severe symptoms and kept the majority of people out of the hospital if they contract the disease.
Similar progress has been made in veterinary medicine. The first animal vaccine that experienced widespread usage was for rabies. Rabies is a universally fatal disease caused by bites or scratches from an infected animal such as bats, raccoons, and skunks. Domestic animals bitten or scratched by an infected animal may pass the disease on to humans. Most states have passed laws that require rabies vaccines for our dogs and cats. Over time, the use of the rabies vaccine reduced instances of rabies in domestic animals and in people. In the mid-1900s, distemper and parvovirus were commonly found in pets. Those diseases produced terrible symptoms and high fatality rates. Fortunately, vaccines were developed and widely administered to dogs and cats to combat those diseases. As a result, distemper and parvo are very seldom seen in our pets today except in unvaccinated individuals.
Veterinarians divide animal vaccines into two categories: core and non-core. Core vaccines are for diseases that are extremely serious and often fatal. Core vaccines protect animals form life threatening illnesses. Some vaccines prevent illnesses while others reduce the severity of those illnesses. Core vaccines should be given to all dogs and cats unless there is a valid medical reason for withholding them. For example, I had a dog who developed Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia. During the six months that she underwent treatment, her veterinarian did not give her any vaccines. After her recovery, she resumed receiving the core vaccinations.
Non-Core vaccinations may be recommended based upon the lifestyle of each individual animal. For example, if your dog lives in an area where Lyme disease is common, your veterinarian may recommend a vaccination for Lyme disease. Or if your dog attends doggie daycare or goes to a boarding kennel, a Bordetella vaccine may be suggested. If your cat spends time outside where they may encounter other cats, the non-core vaccines will be recommended. Otherwise, the non-core vaccines may not be needed for the individual pet.
Some people are reluctant to get vaccines for their dogs and cats. There are several common reasons for their reluctance: concern about vaccine reactions, obtaining bad information from unreliable sources, or a fear of science. Most reactions were mild but some more severe. Over the years, vaccines have been reformulated to eliminate or greatly reduce vaccine reactions. Now days, most animals do not have vaccine reactions, but for those who do, it is generally a low-grade fever. For example, if my cat receives multiple injections at the same time, he will develop a low-grade fever and the blahs for the day. The simple solution is that he receives his rabies vaccine first and goes back a week later for another vaccine. On the other hand, none of my dogs have ever had a vaccine reaction even when their core and non-core vaccines are administered at the same time.
Unreliable or bad information about vaccines, and everything else, is readily available at our fingertips. Don’t blame it on the internet. Blame it on the people who post information that has not been verified (fact checked) by them or by those who intentionally post false information. The issue has become polarizing and has political implications. If you chose to utilize online sources, please obtain your information from reputable sources. A couple of good online sources are the American Veterinarian Medical Association (avma.org) and the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov). Of course, your local veterinarian is an excellent source of information so please discuss your concerns with him or her. They can answer your questions about vaccinations in general, and many other subjects, and discuss things that are specific to your individual pet. That discussion should put your mind at ease. Ultimately, the decision to vaccinate or not is up to the pet owner.