The practice of vaccinating ourselves, our children, and our animals to prevent disease is the subject of a great deal of debate.
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The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a risk free life.
Each one of us must make the decisions about who, what, when, where, how, and why to vaccinate ourselves, our children and our pets – and no matter what decision we make, there are risks involved.
A healthy older animal that has been vaccinated multiple times in the past may not need any more vaccines.
More is not necessarily better! Some breeders have been known to vaccinate their animals weekly or every two weeks – this is severe over vaccination.
Animals that are being shown where there are large numbers of other animals or where they will be touched by the public are at much higher risk for being exposed to street virus than animals that stay home.
Animals kept in clean and sanitary environments are exposed to fewer diseases than those kept in dirty environments
If an animal's lifestyle changes, their vaccination plan should be re-evaluated in the light of the new risk level(s).
The practice of vaccinating ourselves, our children, and our animals to prevent disease is the subject of a great deal of debate. Heated discussions arise over what to vaccinate with, when to vaccinate, who to vaccinate, and even whether to vaccinate at all. Every side has strong arguments for why their way is the right way and can show statistics and tell horror stories to prove their point. I am here to tell you that the bottom line is that there is no such thing as a risk free life. Each one of us must make the decisions about who, what, when, where, how, and why to vaccinate ourselves, our children and our pets – and no matter what decision we make, there are risks involved.
In the past, veterinarians and clients alike demanded “standard protocols” like “Every cat should be vaccinated with every vaccine available for cats every year.” In reality, the world is much more complex than that. A more intelligent plan would be to create a vaccination protocol that reflects the fact that every animal is an individual with individual needs and tolerances. This is not really as complicated as it sounds. Here are the factors that I use to evaluate my patients need for vaccines:
- Young animals are protected by maternal antibodies in mothers milk as long as they are nursing. If they are bottle fed, they are at risk for developing disease until their immune systems are exposed to enough virus particles to develop their own personal immunity. Whether they get sick or not depends on numerous factors including nutrition, their own innate ability to respond to virus challenge, the number of viruses they are exposed to, and the potency of that virus. The goal in creating a vaccine virus is to take street virus and alter it to be potent enough to stimulate a response while not being potent enough to create illness. This is a delicate balance since statistically in any population there will be patients with stronger or weaker than average resistance to disease.
- Older animals have multiple challenges to their immune systems over the years which leave toxins imbedded in their bodies, as well as generalized weakening of all systems just from the normal wear and tear of living. A healthy older animal that has been vaccinated multiple times in the past may not need any more vaccines. There is typically little or no information available on how long many vaccines last beyond the tested period. Running vaccine trials beyond a year or two is not only costly and depressing (remember to test a vaccine you must expose the patients to set amounts of street virus and see how many of them get sick and/or die), but it is also impractical because the vaccines themselves are changing rapidly. Vaccines from 10 years ago are pretty much obsolete now due to ongoing improvements in efficacy and safety.
Previous vaccination history:
- How many times has this patient been exposed to this vaccine virus in the past, and on what schedule? More is not necessarily better! Some breeders have been known to vaccinate their animals weekly or every two weeks – this is severe over vaccination, and has been shown to cause a number of problems including blood thickening from immune system protein complexes that can damage internal organs like the kidneys, failure of the immune system to fight off bacterial or fungal infections because it is too busy fighting vaccine “infections”, and increased risk of vaccination reaction – including death.
- Note: It is my understanding that there has never been a documented case of rabies virus infection in the US in a pet vaccinated at least twice, as an adult, by a veterinarian.
- Live virus vaccines are generally contraindicated in pregnant or breeding animals. Please note that males who are in breeding programs can pass live vaccine virus to the females they are breeding. Pregnant females should not be exposed to other animals that have been recently vaccinated with live virus vaccines. (Killed virus vaccines cannot be passed accidentally from one animal to another).
- Likelihood of exposure to street virus: Animals that are being shown or taken places where there are large numbers of other animals (parks, grooming parlors, shows, boarding facilities, day care facilities, shelters, etc) or where they will be touched by the public are at much higher risk for being exposed to street virus than animals that stay home in a restricted environment with few contacts to the outside world.
- Environment: Animals kept in clean and sanitary environments are exposed to fewer diseases than those kept in dirty environments – not only because more pathogenic virus/bacteria/fungus can grow in filth but also because these environments often damage the patients immunity. For example, the build up of ammonia in poorly cleaned and/or inadequately ventilated pens or cages damages the lungs making animals more susceptible to respiratory diseases.
- If an animals lifestyle changes, their vaccination plan should be re-evaluated in the light of the new risk level(s).
- Is there a history in the family or the breed of being extra susceptible to a particular disease? Is there a history in the family of having problems with any particular vaccine? If so, this should be a factor in your decision about whether or not to vaccinate. If you must vaccinate an animal that has had problems with vaccines before, that animal should be protected against reactions before, during, and after vaccinating by the use of antihistamines or homeopathic remedies.
General Health Status:
- Most vaccines include a disclaimer stating that they should not be used in sick or debilitated animals. I would expand this to include any condition that may be exacerbated by vaccinations. This would include any chronic disease like kidney disease, skin disease, recurrent infections, diabetes, autoimmune disease, immunodeficiency, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, asthma, or allergies, and any inflammatory “-itis” type disease like arthritis, thyroiditis, hepatitis, endocarditis, or gastritis.
- In some areas the most life threatening risk is actually not from the disease, but rather from the authorities concerned with human health risks. This particularly pertains to rabies vaccination. A cat that bites someone may be more at risk of losing his or her life from rabies testing than s/he ever was at risk from rabies itself. Government officials are often more concerned with rules and/or liability than logic and it would be unwise to put your cat at risk unnecessarily.
- Some states may require vaccinations in order to license an exotic cat facility. Occasionally the PTB will allow the facility veterinarian to certify (in writing) that specific animals should be exempt from specific vaccinations for medical reasons. You should verify this (in writing, and get names) with the appropriate licensing agency.
I recommend putting together a spreadsheet to simplify evaluating the risk factors and appropriate vaccination schedule for every individual you keep so you can vaccinate accordingly. I understand that for some facilities this may inspire a few moans and groans, but it doesn’t really need to be complicated. Once you’ve practiced thinking of each animal as an individual, it’s a pretty simple process. And truthfully, if a facility has so many animals that they can’t take care of them as individuals, perhaps they have too many animals!
Many thanks to Dr. Jona Jordan, DVM for allowing the use of this article on AfricanServal.com. This article is copyrighted 2004 by Dr. Jona Jordan. All rights are reserved.