Vaccinations vary with each pet. Only vaccinate against a disease if your pet will be exposed to the disease.Dr. Judy Morgan
Overuse and misuse of vaccinations is currently one of the biggest problems we are faced with in traditional veterinary medicine. Even though the AVMA and AAHA recommend vaccines be given no more often than every three years, over sixty percent of veterinarians still recommend and give vaccines annually.
In 1985, the first Feline Leukemia vaccine became available for use and many veterinarians recommended vaccinating every cat. Feline Leukemia is a virus that is transmitted from one infected cat to another through bodily secretions and there is no effective treatment for the disease, once infected. At about the same time, Rabies cases started cropping up in the state of Pennsylvania, resulting in mandatory annual vaccinations for cats. However, the wrong cats were being immunized. Feral, stray, and barn cats that should have been immunized were rarely caught and taken to the veterinarian, but house cats were being immunized for diseases to which they would not have exposure.
Suddenly, in the early 1990’s, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Davis pathology laboratories had more tissue samples than ever before from tumors in cats. Through years of research it was determined that cats were making sarcoma tumors related to products in vaccines. Rabies and Feline Leukemia vaccines were incriminated. Heavy metals and preservatives in the vaccines were seen as foreign material by the body. The immune system of the cats tried to wall off the offending foreign material and extrude it from the body, leaving large, open, cancerous wounds that were impossible to heal. Most of the tumors were located between the shoulder blades on the backs of cats, as that was the most common site used for injection of vaccines. Since the discovery of the vaccine-related sarcoma problem, recommendations have been made to give the Rabies vaccination as low as possible on the right hind leg and the Feline Leukemia vaccination as low as possible on the left hind leg. The reasoning is that if a vaccine-related sarcoma occurs, the leg can be amputated. Personally, I find that to be pretty offensive.
Fast forward a decade. More owners started keeping cats inside, often declawing them, eliminating any outdoor time and exposure to viruses. Pets were being treated more like family members and children, not being allowed to roam the countryside. Yet these cats and dogs were still being vaccinated annually for diseases to which they had no exposure. This, I consider, is misuse of vaccines.
For years, just as we were taught in veterinary school, veterinarians have advocated annual vaccination of dogs with a five-in-one vaccine covering Distemper, Parainfluenza, Leptospirosis, Parvovirus, and Hepatitis. Some veterinarians add Coronavirus to this list. Lyme, Influenza, Kennel Cough, Porphyromonas, and Giardia vaccines are also available. Cats have been routinely immunized against Panleukopenia (Distemper), Calicivirus, Viral Rhinotracheitis (Herpes virus 1), Chlamydia, Feline Leukemia, and Rabies. More recently, vaccines for Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Feline Giardia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline Ringworm, and Feline Bordetella have been added to this list. For years, dogs and cats have been bombarded with anywhere from five to ten disease antigens in one vaccination visit and this has been repeated annually. Slowly, we have begun to see more cases of hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, tumors, Cushing’s Disease (adrenal gland disease), immune-mediated diseases, cancers, and long-term illnesses. Researchers are starting to link overuse of vaccinations to these diseases.
My current recommendations for vaccinations vary with each pet. No two pets have the same lifestyle and exposure to disease. Indoor cats are not going to be exposed to viral diseases spread by other cats, unless an unknown stray is brought into the mix or the indoor cat escapes to the great outdoors. Small dogs that use indoor piddle pads and never go outside certainly do not have the same exposure to disease that a hunting or show dog would have. Dogs in large kennel situations or spending time around shelter dogs will have a much higher rate of disease exposure. However, this may not translate to needing more vaccinations, as these pets may develop natural immunity from exposure.
The best way to know if your pet needs a vaccination is to have blood drawn for a titer test. The titer measures antibody levels in the body to determine if the pet’s immune status is ideal. I recommend vaccinating only if a dog has a low titer and is at risk of exposure to disease. Cats can be tested for immunity to Panleukopenia, or Feline Distemper, as well. Governments requiring vaccination against Rabies usually have the final say in whether pets need to be vaccinated, although exemptions can be written in most states for animals with diseases that would make them poor candidates for vaccination. The vaccine inserts state that they are only to be used in healthy animals, so vaccinating any pet that is suffering from disease would be inappropriate.