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Are we over-vaccinating our pets?

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Pet owners are forgoing national standards for pet vaccinations. Why?

After the latest breakout of measles at Disneyland, the gloves came off between the vaxers and anti-vaxers. But what about an anti-vax movement for pets? New York magazine posted an article recently about the anti-vax movement trickling down to pet owners that stirred up a lot of controversy in the comments. With regard to pets, the movement seems to revolve around the issue of over-vaccination rather than anti-vaccination.

3 Things the anti-over-vaccine pet movement is saying

1. We're vaccinating our pets too frequently

Equinesportsmed, NYMag user and veterinarian, points out that Dr. Ronald Shultz, professor of immunology at University of Wisconsin's vet school, published on this topic in the '80s. According to Shultz, vaccines we're accustomed to giving our pets yearly last much, much longer. Just as in humans, some vaccines may even last a lifetime.

He recommends giving rabies shots every three years and other core vaccines (i.e., parvo, distemper) no more frequently than that. Other non-core vaccines (i.e., Bordatella, Lyme disease) may have shorter durations of immunity, but only dogs at risk for exposure should get these anyway.

2. Over-vaccination can have serious consequences

Overall, pet vaccines are perfectly safe when administered responsibly, but the major veterinary associations now agree that over-vaccination can trigger anything from allergic reactions to cancer as the strains of now irrelevant pathogens (that your pet's body will fight off anyway because its immune system remembers it) begin to cause harmful autoimmune responses due to overexposure.

Additionally, animals are too often vaccinated for illnesses they won't be exposed to. For example, Lyme disease-carrying ticks are a huge concern, but only if you live in one of the regions where ticks carry Lyme disease. If you do, you may need to get your dog the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterin (dogs only).

3. Insist on titer testing, even if your vet shrugs you off

Titer testing looks for the concentration of antibodies in your pet's blood to see if it is actually in need of a booster shot, rather than getting a booster "just in case." Many vets will be resistant. Vaccines are a big profit center for vets and drug companies.

3 Things the anti-over-vaccine pet movement isn't saying

1. Don't immunize your pet

There are anti-vaxers in the pet community, but most seem to lean toward more responsible vaccination. It's important to note that even anti-vax homeopathic vets do give legally required rabies vaccinations.

2. Give your pet [insert deadly disease here] to boost immunity

Non-vaccination shouldn't be practiced without the supervision of a certified homeopathic vet, and one should never ensure an animal gets a disease in an attempt to boost natural immunity. Exposing the animal to these diseases is done by some vets but is potentially deadly if done incorrectly. There's a reason vaccines use weakened or dead versions of the virus — the animal's immune system will fight off the weakened version. Starting with the full-blown virus without understanding how it works is like taking on Jet Li before your first martial arts lesson.

3. All vaccines are bad

Whether or not your animal needs a vaccine is dependent on the pet's individual medical history, immune response and the likelihood of exposure.

Even anti-vaxers don't simply avoid vaccination. They use homeopathic means to boost the animal's immunity so it doesn't need the vaccine (this is a good option for animals who don't respond to vaccinations, too). Some may even recommend that a particular animal get vaccinated if they believe the animal may be at increased risk (that they cannot counteract homeopathically) for any reason.

Knowledge is power, but so is common sense

Over-vaccination is bad, but not vaccinating at all is probably an overreaction.

We recommend you read Stop the Shots!: Are Vaccinations Killing Our Pets? by John Clifton. Believe it or not, the book doesn't recommend anti-vaccination. It just presents and encourages you to understand the real risks vs. the potential benefits and to make your decision based on your animal's needs.

You should also check out this article by Lisa Rodier, who interviewed Shultz, that gives a great plain-language breakdown of Dr. Shultz's findings. Note that Shultz's research was mainly on dogs, but that doesn't mean some tenets don't apply to all animals.

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