One question that crosses many pet owners’ minds at one point or another is, “Does my pet really need all these vaccinations?”
It is difficult to have to listen to our animals’ cries, to object them to something we may not fully understand the value or purpose of, and to pay the hefty bills that often come with vaccinations.
Vaccines have averted millions of human and animal deaths. When a sufficiently high proportion of a population is vaccinated against a disease, community immunity, i.e. herd immunity, is established. Herd immunity effectively describes a resistance to the spread of contagious disease within the population of interest. When there is such little opportunity for outbreak, the whole community is protected.
While the answer is quite clear in humans (get vaccinated!), it turns out that research is lacking on many vaccines in pets, and it is unclear whether the benefits outweigh the risks for each individual pet. There are at least 3 potential dangers to consider when deciding when and if to vaccinate your pet.
1. With many vaccines, immunity may last longer than was once thought. Unfortunately, there is a lack of data on the length of immunity given by various animal vaccinations in general let alone for specific sizes and breeds. Veterinarians tend to avoid claiming that pets will be fine if they skip vaccinations, and rightfully so; they can get in serious trouble for saying this without any proof that they still have immunity, especially if your pet ends up contracting the disease! The downside, of course, is that this “better safe than sorry” approach may mean subjecting your pet to unnecessary shots and side effects.
2. Not all pets are social creatures; some live their entire lives indoors. Therefore, the issue with vaccines is it’s not “one size fits all.” An indoor Persian cat who never socializes with other animals might not need all the vaccinations that a Golden Retriever who frequently visits dog parks will need. You know your pet, and you know what your pet is doing all day every day. Don’t be afraid to use that knowledge to take care of them to the best of your ability. To optimize treatment, veterinary medicine should be individualized.
3. We can’t ask our pets to describe the side effects of vaccinations, so we will never fully understand what they endure. We do know that many vaccines can cause mild symptoms like itching and swelling or more dangerous symptoms like anaphylactic shock or even death. Vaccines and their side effects may or may not be too much for your pet to handle. It may be helpful to spread out vaccinations rather than doing them all at once if your pet has shown signs of a negative reaction.
Do not be afraid to communicate with your veterinarian about vaccines. Ask what is known and what is unknown about them. Ask about their benefits and risks. Speak up for your pet because if you don’t, who will? And finally, keep in mind that veterinary exams are critical to ensuring the health of your pet regardless of which vaccines you and vet decide on.