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An Update on Vaccinations

Recently, in the media you may have read about some recent developments with the Australian Veterinary Association’s (AVA) guidelines regarding vaccinations in dogs and cats. The following article will ensure that you are fully informed on the topic of vaccinations.

What diseases is my pet being vaccinated against?

DOGS

Parvovirus – Severe gastroenteritis causing vomiting and bleeding from intestines. This virus can survive for extended periods of time in the environment (in excess of 12 months).

Distemper – Virus leading to flu like symptoms and severe seizures and paralysis with a mortality rate of 50%.

Hepatitis – Virus leading to acute liver failure with complications including blindness.

Canine Cough – The most common disease seen in practice that we can vaccinate for. Dogs develop an highly contagious cough that may develop into pneumonia.

CATS

Flu – Caused by Herpesvirus and/or Calicivirus, symptoms include sneezing, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis & fever. Eye & mouth ulcers are seen in severe cases and the disease can be fatal in susceptible cats.

Enteritis – Severe virus causing vomiting and bloody diarrhea and often fatal.

Leukaemia Virus – The virus causes a weakened immune system, transmitted through saliva. Cancer develops in about 15% of infected cats. Not needed for indoor only cats.

Are vaccines really necessary?

Vaccinations have been successfully protecting our pets in Australia since the 1960’s. Regular boosters are necessary to continue this protection for life. Without regular booster vaccinations of the majority of the pet population, outbreaks of deadly diseases such as Distemper Virus & Parvovirus may occur.

Animal shelters and lower socioeconomic communities generally see higher rates of infectious diseases due to already lower vaccination rates in these populations of animals. Canine Distemper Virus was a common deadly infection of the 1960’s and successful annual vaccination of dogs has lead to the near eradication of the virus in Australia.

However, Distemper still exists around capital cities and urban areas, with 16 cases confirmed in Sydney over 12 months. This serves as a reminder that maintenance of vaccination and protection against such diseases is vital.

How safe are the companion animal vaccines?

Gordon Vet Hospital only uses vaccines with an extremely high safety profile. None of us have ever seen any deaths in animals as a direct result of vaccination. Our vets’ motto is always “first do no harm” and this certainly extends itself to our vaccine protocols, which have been protecting pets against fatal diseases successfully for decades.

In order for a vaccine to become registered for use in veterinary medicine, it must undergo rigorous clinical trials and obtain approval from the APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority).

Apart from being a bit itchy at the vaccination site immediately after the vaccine is administered, the most common vaccine reaction we see is hives, which disappears very quickly (1 in 60 000 dogs).

There is no direct link between immune mediated disease in pets and vaccinations. If your pet is pre-disposed to developing immune mediated disease (such as haemolytic anaemia), then any immunologic stimulation can set it off.

To date, there has been no evidence-based scientific data to demonstrate that multiple vaccinations given annually increase the risk of development of disease with the vaccines used in Australia today.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity looks at the dog population as a whole and its level of protection against infectious diseases. Animals that have been vaccinated will generally be protected from shedding Parvovirus into the environment, resulting in less environmental contamination. If there is less Parvovirus in the environment, then there is less chance of infection for dogs that have not been fully vaccinated (eg young puppies).

If the importance of herd immunity is overlooked, there will be increased viral contamination of the environment and potential outbreaks.

Are there any risks involved with vaccinating my pet less frequently?

Over 20% of dogs in a study in the USA showed that dogs did not have adequate protection against Parvovirus. These results suggest some concerns for less frequent vaccination of the population.

Vaccination protects animals in two ways – protection against disease and protection from shedding (spreading the virus). Unfortunately there is a lack of clinical trials that can demonstrate adequate herd immunity after extended vaccine interval protocols.

Furthermore, extended vaccine intervals may cause increased viral contamination of the environment, which may cause outbreaks of Parvovirus in the future. This should be taken into account when deciding on a vaccine protocol for your pet.

Studies that have been carried out have mostly focussed on younger animals. Immunity to disease decreases in old animals. Evidence is currently lacking as to the persistence of sufficient immunity after 3 year vaccine interval in older dogs.

How often should I bring my pet in for vaccination?

There are now 2 options for dog vaccinations:

1) Annual Vaccination for Canine Cough, Parvovirus, Distemper & Hepatitis (as before)

2) Annual Vaccination for Canine Cough and Triennial Vaccination (3 yearly) for Parvovirus, Distemper & Hepatitis

Either way, your dog still needs to come in for an annual vaccination & health check, but it may not be for every disease every year.

Given their high safety margin and effectiveness for protecting our pets against nasty infections, our vets still support annual vaccination for dogs and cats, until further studies on herd immunity have been published. However, we now stock both the vaccines so that clients have a choice. Please inform your vet at the time if you would prefer to have the triennial vaccine administered to your dog.

What about cats?

The European Advisory Board for Cat Diseases (ABCD) currently recommends that boosters should be given annually to protect individual cats. The ABCD is a team of experts and researchers in the fields of feline medicine and immunology. Below is an excerpt from one of their publications, available at www.abcd-vets.org

“Although the issue of recommended intervals between boosters is controversial, in view of currently available scientific evidence, the European Advisory Board for Cat Diseases recommends that boosters should be given at annual intervals to protect individual cats…with the exception of cats in low-risk situations (eg indoor only cats without contact to other cats). In these cases, three-yearly intervals would be acceptable.”

In light of this data, the vets at Gordon Vet Hospital unanimously support annual vaccinations and health checks for cats.

For further information on vaccinations or questions about this article, please contact info@gordonvet.com.au or phone one of our vets on ph 9498 3000 to discuss.

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