Vaccinating pets is something many people don’t even think about. Every pet owner has gotten one of those frequent reminders from their vet to bring in Zero for his canine distemper shot. Many pack up their pup and take him to get vaccinated without a second thought. For a long time this idea has not been questioned, but recently that is starting to change. Vets have begun debating if pets need as many vaccinations as they get and how necessary some of those vaccines are.
The usefulness of pet vaccinations came into question in the early 90s. Dr. Mattie Hendrick’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania found that some cats were developing irritation and cancerous growths from a rabies vaccine. The state of Pennsylvania had mandated rabies vaccinations, and with all the treatments this rare side effect became more visible. This caught the eye of researchers who looked into other possible causes. What they found was that there was a possibility of this reaction in up to one in a thousand cats. This was troubling but more so because what is the alternative? If an animal gets rabies, the vet will put them down. So what should a responsible pet owner do? This problem has started moving the debate about pet vaccinations. What can we do to protect our pets best?
Animal vaccinations have not always been as standard as they are today. Pet vaccinations became popular after the parvovirus epidemic of the 70s. Parvovirus is an especially nasty virus that can kill puppies and leave older dogs injured for life, and it was spreading like crazy in the 70s. Only after a strong push for vaccination did it subside. The vaccine worked. Years later we are dealing with a culture in veterinary medicine that studies this outbreak as proof of vaccine effectiveness. This makes the debate about vaccination difficult. Vaccines do have benefits, but the real question is: do the benefits outweigh the risks? Also, are there other options?
The best answer is to talk to your vet. One of the most sensible things to do is to open a dialogue. Let the vet know that you are interested in all options. The effectiveness of vaccines has made them the default option when sometimes there are other choices. For example, if you have a housecat and live in an apartment do you really need every vaccine the vet offers? Some diseases are restricted to specific areas, and a housecat often needs significantly fewer vaccines than a barn cat. Asking what risks are involved at least will give you a choice. Choosing the right option for you and your pets will allow you to provide them with the best home you can with the knowledge to keep them healthy.