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Dog vaccinations should be mandatory, just like children's

Anna is a lifestyle writer who spends way too much time with her two dogs. When she is not writing, she is probably gardening, reading, tripping over dog toys, or trying to acquire more farm animals than she really needs.

Should your pet's vaccinations be optional?

Anti-vaccers took a hit in California last year when the governor signed a new vaccination bill, effective July 1, which prohibits exemptions from mandatory vaccines based on religious and personal beliefs. The vaccine debate is not limited to humans alone. Pet owners have also taken up the anti-vaccination call, which raises health concerns for pets in public areas and begs the question: Should there be more mandatory vaccines for pets?

Why don't people vaccinate their pets?

There are many reasons why people choose not to vaccinate their animals. Some owners are worried about complications, others are concerned about cost, a few have personal or religious objections to vaccinations in general and in some cases, vaccines could compromise a pet's health.

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Core vaccines vs. noncore vaccines

Pet vaccines are divided into two groups: Core vaccines and noncore vaccines. Core vaccines protect your pet against diseases known to have a high mortality rate. For dogs, these vaccines include parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies. Cats receive feline distemper, feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus type I and rabies.

Noncore vaccines are administered to at-risk pets at the discretion of the client and their veterinarian. These include the kennel cough vaccine, leptospirosis, bordetella and feline leukemia, just to name a few, and are more "optional" than core vaccines.

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Why are vaccines a big deal?

It is easy to forget about the reality of the diseases we vaccinate against. Vaccinations have dramatically reduced the incidences of diseases like parvo, distemper, rabies and leptospirosis, just to name a few. It is not so easy to dismiss vaccinations once you have seen what these diseases do to pets — trust me, as a vet tech, I know.

I have seen these illnesses up close, and it is not pretty. Watching people's pets die is heartbreaking, especially when the diseases are preventable. It is also painful for the animals. Parvo, lepto and distemper are horribly unpleasant, and rabies is just plain scary.

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Weighing the risks

The thing that gets me about pet owners who choose not to vaccinate their pets is that animals, much like children, don't have a say in their health. It is up to us, as responsible pet owners, to decide whether the risks outweigh the benefits.

Every vaccine is different. If you do not have leptospirosis in your area, your vet may not recommend getting the lepto vaccine. If you do have leptospirosis in your area, choosing not to vaccinate out of fear of rare complications is not a risk that is worth taking.

Choosing not to vaccinate for core vaccines like rabies is just irresponsible unless your pet has extenuating circumstances surrounding their health.

Do we over-vaccinate?

Part of the pet vaccine debate is the idea that we over-vaccinate our pets. The science behind vaccinations is certainly not perfect. There is always room for improvement in veterinary (and human) medicine, but there is a big difference between choosing not to vaccinate at all and determining the best vaccination schedule for your dog.

Who should decide what is right for pets?

California took vaccinations out of the hands of parents when the actions of a few affected the health of many. In regards to core vaccines for our pets, I think we need to take similar measures to ensure that all of our animals are protected.

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