Michael Goldberg, DVM, CHom
Annual Vaccinations Not Necessary There is a current controversy with respect to vaccinations for our pets.
Annual Vaccinations Not Necessary
There is a current controversy with respect to vaccinations for our pets. Even though the diseases we vaccinate against do exist, the question has to do with the potential damage we inflict (iatrogenic disease) by over-vaccinating or vaccinating inappropriately.
According to Tom Phillips, DVM and Ron Schultz, PhD, annual revaccination is a practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification. Their 1992 article published in Current Veterinary Therapy XI explains that, with almost no exception, there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination.
Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal. Successful vaccination to most bacterial pathogens produces an immunologic memory that remains for years--allowing an animal to develop a protective anamnestic (secondary) response when exposed to virulent organisms. Revaccination with most viral vaccines fails to stimulate an anamnestic response as a result of interference by existing antibodies. The practice of annual vaccination should be considered questionable.
As fear of contagious disease in the 1970s grew, yearly vaccinations became commonplace. Low-cost vaccination clinics and drug-store availability of vaccines are now matter of fact. The public perceives vaccination as an absolute necessity for a healthy pet. I believe this to be untrue.
In a 1998 report, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the Academy of Feline Medicine (AFM) Advisory Panel on Feline Vaccines recommended new guidelines for feline vaccination. Vaccinations were to be done every three years, after kitten vaccination and their first year booster. Many US veterinary colleges have adopted this protocol as well. These differ from standard practice--including the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association--which recommends yearly vaccinations until further research is completed.
The AAFP and AFM recommendations were based on a study published in 1997 in Feline Practitioner. It showed that after vaccinations at eight and 12 weeks of age, presence of positive antibodies for feline Panleukopenia, feline herpes, and feline Calici virus lasted six, three and four years respectively. When these cats were challenged with the viruses, there were a number who got ill, but recovered uneventfully.
I have been practising veterinary medicine in British Columbia for the past 10 years. For the most part, I was in an area that is endemic to a number of pet diseases. I’ve seen approximately 1,500 to 2,000 cases of canine Parvo and about a dozen cases of dog distemper. Only a handful or fewer of these cases have been adult dogs with either no vaccination history or minimal vaccine history. The majority of the cases have been unvaccinated puppies.
As for feline disease, I have seen thousands of herpes and Calici viral infections and about a dozen cases of feline Panleukopenia (feline distemper). The vast majority of cases have recovered with proper treatment.
I have no doubt that vaccines can help our pets. However, do we need to vaccinate every 12 months? There are a number of well-documented side effects to vaccinations. By far, the most common is anaphylaxis--acute life-threatening systemic reaction to repeated vaccination--much like an allergic reaction to bee stings. There is a vaccine-induced sarcoma (cancer at the vaccination site), which is relatively rare. Immune hemolytic anemia (a condition where the immune system attacks and destroys the red blood cells) and a rise in antibodies against the thyroid gland are two well-documented vaccination reactions.
There are also more visible complications such as skin problems, allergies, chronic upper respiratory disease, chronic cystitis (bladder inflammation), arthritis and seizure disorders. These conditions have been noted to develop in close association with the timing of vaccinations. In my homeopathic practice, I have noticed the chronological appearance of a number of conditions that correlate with the timing of vaccinations in the medical histories of my patients.
For a Healthier Pet
First and foremost, I would suggest maintaining optimal health through good nutrition and vitamin supplementation. Minimizing stress and maximizing exercise is crucial. Make sure your pet is parasite-free. Check for internal and external parasites such as fleas and worms. A simple stool sample can provide much information. Conventional de-wormers or herbal preparations can be used as prevention.
As for the vaccination question, there are a number of ways that you can protect your pet. I still vaccinate puppies and kittens--though this is an individual decision and I discuss with each client about the risks and benefits. I minimize the number of vaccinations given as I feel that more is not better!
If your pet is ill, do not vaccinate! This compounds the stress on your pet. Vaccines are labelled for use on healthy pets only, so wait until your pet is completely healed before vaccinating.
Substitute Titre Testing
A growing number of my clients have their pets’ antibodies tested for adequate levels of antibody to the diseases that are in our area. This is known as titre testing. It is based on the fact that if there are enough antibodies in the system directed against the virus, any contact with that virus will elicit a protective response.
Homeopathic nosodes are another option. Nosodes are homeopathic preparations of the actual disease that we are trying to prevent. A sort of vaccination is made from pieces of diseased tissue or discharge. These are prepared according to strict homeopathic guidelines. Dr Chris Day, a veterinary homeopath in England, showed that nosodes were more effective at reducing disease than vaccines. Homeopathic remedies such as thuja, silicea or sulphur can be used after vaccination to prevent side effects.
The issue of vaccination is a complex one at best. I hope this article enlightens you to inquire more into this question and gives you a topic to discuss with your veterinarian.