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August 16, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: If a little is good...

Ohlone Humane Society: If a little is good...

By Nancy Lyon

I try to be a responsible parent to my animal family and that includes trying to protect them by vaccinating against disease. This is especially true in my case because, as a liaison for rescue at the animal shelter, I walk the kennels and wards each week potentially bringing home a health risk.

But which vaccines are really needed and how often is not as clear as first thought. In the veterinary field there are conflicting opinions by professionals on immunization guidelines and vaccine safety. Protocols often say that if you don't vaccinate for a multitude of diseases you're putting your animals in jeopardy; yet there appears to be valid concerns that over-vaccinating and doing it too frequently endangers their health and perhaps, in some cases, their very survival.

"If a little is good... is more better?"

In an effort to make an informed decision before possibly putting them in harm's way, like many people, I turned to the Internet for help and found more than I bargained for.

Vaccines are generally classified as either basic, required vaccines or vaccines chosen by recommendation. Examples of required vaccines in dogs are the DHPP for canine distemper, canine parvovirus, canine hepatitis, and adenovirus. The basic cat vaccine is called an FVRCP or Feline Distemper-Rhino-Calici and Pneumonitis combination.

Young cats and dogs are given the initial "kitten or puppy shot series," to boost their defense system against common and deadly viruses. In the past, veterinarians have asked dog and cat guardians to bring them in for annual boosters for these "core" or highly recommended vaccines. However, opinions on vaccine frequency are changing; many veterinarians are moving toward an every three year protocol with some exceptions.

Veterinarians are now considering a myriad of factors prior to recommending a vaccine protocol. For example, it is thought by some that if a dog is not boarded, a vaccine to protect against kennel cough is not necessary. Lyme disease vaccination in situations where exposure to ticks is unlikely is often not recommended; if they live in regions of the country where this problem is not present. Also questioned by some is whether leukemia vaccine is necessary for strictly indoor cats.

According to the Whole Dog Journal (WDJ) in 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) revised its vaccination guidelines for dogs, recommending that vets vaccinate adult dogs only every three years - not annually. Many enlightened veterinarians changed their canine healthcare protocols to reflect these guidelines and now suggest annual wellness examinations with vaccinations at three year intervals.

In WDJ's opinion (and that of the experts they consulted), annual vaccination for most canine diseases is unnecessary and potentially harmful. They suggested that dog "owners" should avoid employing old-fashioned veterinarians who recommend annual vaccines. They felt that guardians should also avoid veterinary service providers who offer inexpensive vaccines and other routine care without the benefit of a substantial relationship with you and your dog beyond a brief transaction in a parking lot or pet supply store. "While the financial cost of vaccine clinics may be appealing, the fact is, your dog's health may pay the price of unnecessary or inappropriate vaccines."

No matter the species, a variety of opinions exist as to the need, effectiveness and advantage of frequent vaccinations. Some argue that frequent, excessive and annual vaccinations include adverse consequences such as a compromised immune response. The following view is offered by Dr Robert Pitcairn, D.V.M, PhD in his book Natural Health for Dogs and Cats: "Vaccinations are not always effective, and they may cause long-lasting health disturbances."

Other veterinarians advise against giving multiple vaccines at one time because if there is a reaction, it is very difficult to determine which component is causing the problem. They recommend spacing individual vaccines three weeks apart to avoid overloading the immune system.

Concerns over mandatory rabies vaccination causing harm to some animals with existing health problems have resulted in Assembly Bill 258, now in the California legislature. AB 258 would permit an annual exemption for dogs with medical issues as determined by a veterinarian. It has passed committee hearings and may be signed into law this month.

From what I have gathered, while you may get that yearly postcard in the mail advising that your animal companion is due for her annual boosters, the main reason for seeing your vet on a regular basis is for yearly checkups. Yearly wellness examinations help your veterinarian develop a good baseline of your animal's health, better able to take notice of subtle changes over time.

To help you make an informed decision regarding vaccine pros and cons for your animal friend, check out the following websites: l (cats)

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