The Outdated Vet Vaccination Advice That Can Harm Your Pet

Pet Vaccination

Story at-a-glance

  • The new canine vaccination protocol recommending 3-year vs. every year intervals for core vaccines is now two years old. Within those new guidelines, the American Animal Hospital Association admits that immunity lasts at least 5 years for distemper and parvo, and 7 years for adenovirus. So in fact, even the new 3-year protocol is heavy-handed.
  • Regrettably, two years after the new guidelines were released, and despite the fact that vet schools are now teaching the 3-year protocol, the majority of practicing veterinarians continue to recommend annual re-vaccinations.
  • One reason given for continued yearly vaccinations is veterinarians can think of no other way to encourage clients to bring their pets in for wellness exams. The second and more offensive excuse is that many vets simply do not want to give up the revenue they bring in with annual vaccination visits.
  • If your vet is still recommending yearly re-vaccinations, ask for titers to measure your pet’s immunity. If your pet was properly vaccinated as a puppy or kitten, chances are he’s protected for life from core diseases. It’s also important to remember the only vaccine required by law is rabies.
  • If your vet recommends any non-core vaccines, it’s important to ask what your pet’s real risk is of acquiring the disease in question, and we also recommend doing your own research on risks vs. benefits of non-core vaccines.

By Dr. Becker

Two years ago, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) canine vaccination task force updated their vaccination guidelines. The task force changed the previous annual protocol for core vaccines to an every 3-year protocol, with the exception of 1-year rabies shots. (In many states you can choose either a 1-year or 3-year rabies vaccine for your pet. If you choose a 1-year shot, or if your state doesn't offer a 3-year vaccine, the annual protocol is required by law.)

The task force also acknowledged in the updated guidelines that for non-rabies core vaccines, immunity lasts at least 5 years for distemper and parvovirus, and at least 7 years for adenovirus. This means that even the updated 3-year protocol is overkill.

Veterinarians who are vaccine minimalists, and certainly I am one of them, viewed this protocol change as a small step in the right direction. We feel re-vaccinating pets against diseases they are already immune to poses significant and unnecessary health risks.

Why Are 60 Percent of Vets Still Doing Annual Re-Vaccinations?

Sadly, despite the new guidelines that are now two years old, members of the traditional veterinary community have been slow to adopt the new recommended protocol. According to Mark Kimsey, a DVM who works for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., a veterinary pharmaceutical company, "Basically, what we're seeing is there's a gradual trend toward three-year protocols."

Dr. Richard Ford, a DVM who is on both the AAHA canine vaccination task force and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) feline vaccination advisory panel, agrees with Kimsey. "It's a slow change," says Ford. "Most practices still recommend annual vaccinations. All the vet schools are teaching triennial vaccinations."

Ford believes, based on feedback from vaccine manufacturer sales reps, that 60 percent of veterinary practices are still re-vaccinating on an annual rather than every 3-year basis. "Some acknowledged the reality and changed their protocols, while others, fearing loss of a major source of revenue, argued against anything other than the time-honored paradigm: annual boosters," said Ford.

It appears there's no shortage of vets out there willing to openly admit they don't want to lose the income from unnecessary vaccinations and new, safer protocols be damned. Hopefully you're not taking your own pet to a veterinarian with a similarly misguided, dangerous practice philosophy.

Unwilling to Change? Addicted to Easy Money? Or a Bit of Both?

According to Veterinary Practice News, Dr. Gary D. Norsworthy, owner of Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio and a practicing vet for 40 years, is among the 60 percent who aren't budging from an annual vaccination schedule for their patients.

His rationale is that he has a number of clients who will only bring their cats in for wellness exams if they believe vaccines are needed. Norsworthy says he's determined not to lose the opportunity to do annual checkups on cats in his practice. So he uses only the 1-year rabies vaccine, and tells his clients he must see their cats yearly.

Norsworthy believes "Internet chatter" scares cat owners into believing vaccines are dangerous. He notes that his practice vaccinated 25 percent fewer cats in 2012 compared to 2007. He says he sees only one case of feline vaccine-associated sarcoma for every 65,000 vaccines he injects.

Clearly, Dr. Norsworthy, like many conventional vets, makes no connection between other feline health problems and repeated unnecessary annual vaccinations. Like Norsworthy, many DVMs don't know or don't choose to know about the dozens of other health crises that can arise as the result of vaccines, and especially as the result of repeated re-vaccinations.

Rather than figure out how to give clients logical, legitimate reasons to bring their pets in for regular wellness exams, the majority of vets apparently prefer to continue the risky business of re-vaccinating their patients year in and year out.

Could it be this approach to pet care is why veterinary visits have steadily declined in recent years?

Is it really so difficult to explain to pet owners the benefits of bringing their dog or cat in for at least one wellness visit a year? From my experience, it's not difficult at all. I see the majority of the patients in my practice for wellness visits twice a year, and it is extremely rare that I administer any vaccine to an adult animal, excluding the mandatory 3-year rabies.

Also according to Dr. Ford, there are some DVMs who would like to follow the new guidelines, but are concerned that vaccine product labels include text that reads "annual booster recommended."

This seems a very strange argument in favor of continuing annual vaccinations, doesn't it? If canine and feline vaccination advisory panels have established new recommended guidelines, why would a vet choose instead to take the advice of the vaccine manufacturer's product label?

So What's a Concerned Pet Owner to Do?

As regular readers here at Mercola Healthy Pets are aware, I'm very much an advocate of "less is more" when it comes to vaccinating animals.

If your veterinarian is still recommending yearly core vaccinations, ask him (or her) instead to do titers to measure your pet's current immunity. Chances are excellent, if your pet was vaccinated properly as a puppy or kitten, that he's protected for life. It's important to remember the only vaccine required by law is rabies.

If your vet is no longer pushing yearly core vaccines, but instead is recommending items off a menu of non-core vaccines, you should have a frank discussion with him about the actual risk your pet runs from whatever diseases he wants to vaccinate against. I also recommend you do your own research on the risks and benefits of all non-core vaccines, which are generally not as safe or effective as core vaccines.

For more information on the revised guidelines and my vaccine recommendations for dogs, read here.

For a very informative 4-part video interview with renowned veterinary vaccine expert Dr. Ronald Schultz: part 1 (How Often Should You Vaccinate Your Cat or Dog?), part 2 (The Alternative to Re-vaccinating Your Pets Annually), part 3 (The Vaccine That's Mandatory in Every State in America), and part 4 (Does Your Pet Really Need That Rabies Shot?).

For a discussion of why regular veterinary wellness exams are important for your pet's health, read here.



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