Pet Talk column: The importance of vaccinating your pet
July 18, 2013
With our annual vaccination day at Gypsum Animal Hospital right around the corner, I thought a refresher on the importance of properly immunizing your pets was in order. This is especially crucial this year as we are, once again, having rabies issues in Colorado (thankfully none in Eagle County).
No person or animal really enjoys getting poked with a needle for an immunization. It's not much fun for those of us doing the poking either. But it is a necessary evil akin to insurance. Pet vaccine protocols have changed dramatically in the last decade and we are vaccinating less; however, we really don't fully understand how long vaccines last so periodic re-immunization is necessary.
Keeping your pets up to date is the responsible thing to do, both for your pet and for other people's pets. I have had pet owners put their dog on anti-parasite medication telling me "I don't want my dog to be the one spreading worms to other dogs." I am duly impressed with this attitude.
So why does your pet need to be revaccinated after their initial puppy/kitten series? Because the immune system forgets and the cells responsible for recognizing the bad guys die a natural death. But we don't really know when they die. The immune system is the most poorly understood aspect of medicine.
More holistically inclined veterinarians will tell you we can measure titers or antibody levels against certain diseases and tell if your pet has adequate levels. Many of us see flaws in this approach as antibody levels tell only half of the story (the humoral half); the other half, the cellular level, we cannot measure. Studies might, and I repeat, might correlate antibody levels with protection but as for me, I am not taking that chance.
So we follow the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners recommendations for vaccinating dogs and cats. To my knowledge, none of these organizations are in bed with big pharm, and I would certainly blow the whistle on them if I thought they were.
Here are the guidelines: Dogs need rabies every three years after the vaccination on their first birthday (or one year after their puppy rabies vaccine). Ditto for cats, but we use a safer one year vaccine for cats as per AAFP recommendations. Sorry cats, you get popped yearly for rabies, but you don't get a nasty tumor; fair trade. FVRCP for cats and Distemper/Parvo for dogs are given every three years after the first birthday. Feline Leukemia, Canine Leptospirosis and Canine Bordetella (kennel cough) are non-core vaccines and are to be discussed with your veterinarian. And Bordetella only needs to be given once a year; sorry, I had to add that to tweak those kennels requiring it twice a year (call me out on it and I'll send you enough supporting literature to keep you in the bathroom for a year).
The bottom line is to keep your pets up to date and follow your veterinarians' advice. Immunizations are really important.
Stephen Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 970-524-DOGS or http://www.gypsumah.com.