Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Truth About Pet Vaccines

If you are like most pet owners today, you are probably finding the whole issue of pet vaccines more and more confusing. You have your conventional veterinarian telling you that “as a responsible pet owner, you should follow my advice and vaccinate your pet annually” with annual booster shots. And then you’ve heard the horror stories about cats who develop cancer at the site of vaccine injections, and numerous other stories about adverse vaccine reactions in both cats and dogs.

So… are we vaccinating our pets far too often? Are we giving them the right number of vaccines, or too many? By vaccinating yearly, are we really doing what is best for our pets, or is this all about the veterinarian’s ‘bottom line’?

There are many different views, often completely contradictory. The Veterinary Society in general is telling pet owners to vaccinate yearly, that vaccines are not harmful to our pets. Many veterinarians tell pet owners to vaccinate casually, that “at worst, they won’t cause any harm”. The evidence, and many individual veterinarians and alternative pet health practitioners, suggests otherwise.

Why do we vaccinate our pets?

A basic understanding of vaccines, and why we vaccinate in the first place, is important. We give our pets vaccinations to protect against infectious disease. When we give a vaccine, it stimulates our pet’s immune system to produce “Opposite Invaders” or antibodies. The new antibody that is produced is just for that particular virus, so if your dog or cat is exposed to the real virus at a later date, she will be able to respond quickly and produce antibodies to overcome the infection before it takes hold.

In theory, since vaccines are able to protect our pets from life threatening diseases like rabies and parvovirus, they sound wonderful. In that sense they most are - vaccines have saved countless lives. If that’s the case, why be concerned? Are there real drawbacks, reasons for caution?

The dangers of vaccines

The evidence is there for us to see, if we simply look. With the medical advancements we’ve made, we would expect our pets to be healthier than ever - but in reality, our pets are sicker than ever before. It is more and more common to see cancer in dogs and cats under 5 years of age, and autoimmune diseases are on the rise as well. Diseases such as immune mediated hemolytic anemia, immune mediated skin disease, vaccine induced skin cancer in cats, skin allergies, arthritis, leukemia, inflammatory bowel disease and neurological conditions are just a few of the diseases that have shown a link to over-vaccination in our pets. In fact, there are links to most of the common chronic health diseases of dogs and cats due to over-vaccination.

The reasoning for this is that when we vaccinate, the immune system can become ‘over-taxed’ and respond inappropriately. This is especially true when multiple vaccines are given at once. Pet owners may see adverse reactions directly (within 24 hours) after their pet has been vaccinated, with their pet having diarrhea, vomiting, or an abscess showing up at the site of the vaccine injection. In other pets, it may show up later, as an allergy, cancer, or a multitude of other diseases. One recent study has shown that the more vaccines that are given at once, the higher the risk of developing sarcoma (soft-tissue cancer). The study shows up to approximately 175% increase in cancer risk if vaccines are administered in the same location.

While over-vaccination may not be the sole reason we have so many sick pets today, it is definitely a major factor. Other reasons include low quality food, environmental toxins, and genetic deterioration due to poor quality breeding. The combination of these factors is leaving each generation more and more susceptible to disorders and chronic disease. Regardless, we are vaccinating our pets too often for more diseases than they truthfully need.

Reasons for over-vaccination

The reasons we have been over-vaccinating are manifold. These include the original belief that “at worst, vaccines won’t cause any harm”, to the bottom line of both veterinarians and the companies that produce the vaccines. Many veterinarians choose to ignore current research because they feel the benefits of vaccines outweigh any risks, or because they still rely on ‘annual booster shots’ as a source of income.

By now you are probably wondering if you should vaccinate your pets at all, with the risks of vaccines being so high. In short, I do currently advise a limited vaccine regimen for most cases - just not as often and not as many vaccines as you currently are giving your pet. Alternatives to vaccines do exist, but only if you are willing to make changes in how you care for your pet and how you view the risks involved. In Part 2 of this series, I will provide my recommended vaccine schedule and an overview of vaccine alternatives.

If you are wondering what the right decision is for your pet's vaccines, grab Dr. Andrew Jones' free dog and cat health e-book and ask for his report on dog and cat vaccines.

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