January 23, 2007

Why Are We Over-vaccinating our Pets?

Today, I received a sympathy card from the veterinarian who euthanaized Aimee. She wrote that she respected my decision.

May I say that I do not respect hers?

I did not know this at the time; however, her strict adherence to a protocol for handling an animal without a "current rabies shot" is misguided if not complete hogwash.

After we tucked her into her little grave, I wrote Dr. Bob Rogers, a Texas DVM, and one of the leading advocates in the fight to spur new legislation to protect pets, promote veterinary ethics and promote better Continuing Education for Veterinarians. In his opinion:

"There has never been a cat develop rabies that has had one rabies shot in its life. The last case of a human getting rabies from a cat was 1979 in Indiana.

These facts support your contention that this Veterinarian's insistence on the masking procedure was unreasonable and unnecessary."

I'm sure Dr. McShane believes she's right. Regrettably, she's dead wrong. Indeed, virtually the entire veterinarian profession is very wrong about this business of keeping current on vaccines.

You can see how this has occurred.

Just as advances in veterinary medicine have made it possible for our pets to live longer, they have also made it easier for animal doctors to make a decent living catering to people who love their pets.

Through the years, as new vaccines have emerged to fight distemper, rabies, Feline Leukemia, rhinotracheitis, chlamydia and other previously deadly diseases, they have been a boon to pet owners and a relief to the veterinary profession. Finally, animal doctors had reliable ways to prevent animal illnesses.

And so, where previously, the old school vet responded to emergencies and did all right financially, a whole generation of animal doctors have built their practices, clinics and a livelihood around vaccinations, pharmaceuticals, packaged "prescription" pet food, diagnostics and emergencies.

Booster shots and annual wellness exams began to keep "the pipeline" full for the cash flow machine. They secured the relationship between patient and doctor, ensured animal welfare and contributed a healthy share of the bottom line.

Fast forward thirty years, to now, our companion animals are suffering an increase in chronic disease not hitherto known in pets - allergies, asthma, arthritis, ear infections, thyroid disease, heart disease, kidney failure and cancer. And there's a large body of growing evidence to support the fact that over-vaccinating our pets is one of the primary causes.

It's more than conjecture.
  • The duration of immunity for Rabies vaccine, Feline Panleukopenia vaccine, Feline Rhinotracheitis and Feline Calicivirus have all been demonstrated to be a minimum of 7 years by serology for rabies and challenge studies for all others.

  • Source: Schultz, Ronald D, Duration of Immunity to Canine Vaccines: What We Know and What We Don’t Know, Proceedings – Canine Infectious Diseases: From Clinics to Molecular Pathogenesis, Ithaca, NY, 1999.

  • Vaccines are not harmless. In addition to IMHA and Injection Site Fibrosarcomas mentioned above, adverse events and reactions can lead to hypothyriodism HOD and chronic renal failure.

  • Modified live vaccines for diseases like Parvovirus and Distemper provide lifetime immunity when administered to adult ( >6 mo) dogs and cats.

  • There is little justification for annual vaccination of adult cats for Feline Leukemia. Cats over one year of age are immune to FeLV whether they are vaccinated or not. This is age related immunity.

    Source: The AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents (COBTA) presented their consensus at the July, 2000 137th Annual AVMA Convention.
So where are we now?

I am a responsible and conscientious pet owner.

My dog and all the cats who ever owned me have been hauled to the vet's office annually for a wellness exam and religiously inoculated with booster vaccines.

Let's set aside for the moment, the cost of all this needless vaccine and focus on the impact on my sweet calico cat.

In 13 years, on the recommended schedule, Aimee had received 135 antigens. Yet, according to the most recent recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, 32 antigens would have been more than adequate to protect her.

Furthermore, the AAHA, the AVMA Council on Biologic & Therapeutic Agents , the American Association of Feline Practitioners as well as immunologists and clinicians at 22 veterinary schools in North America all err on the side of fewer vaccinations rather than more.

The word, "overkill," is not too strong.

Did over-vaccinating my cat cause diabetes?

Seeing her health issues through the prism of today's research, I can see the early warning signs in skin allergies and cystitis - all treated with steroids and antibiotics that suppressed the symptoms without correcting the underlying "dis-ease." Add to vaccinosis the negative effects of annual systemic toxins aimed to kill fleas (Program) and the daily convenience of grain-based kibble (Sensible Choice,) Aimee not only looked like a B. Kliban cat by age 2, she was the poster cat for the long-term, life-shortening effects of a compromised immune system.

My bad. I didn't know better.

So why are dedicated and supposedly caring veterinarians still recommending annual booster shots? And why was this vet adhering to a needless safety procedure for handling an animal not previously in her care?

It's damned hard to accept that everything one did for the sake of he animal's health turned out to subvert it. I can easily imagine the earth shaking under a contemporary veterinarian who sees her entire practice through this lens.

Alternatively, something more insidious is at work.

According to Dr. Rogers, "the Veterinary profession has not reduced the vaccine associated fibrosarcomas in the 10 years they have known about the problem. They are harming pets by causing fibrosarcomas, possibly hypothyroidism and IMHA. The research has been done to support reduced vaccination recommendations. More importantly research shows that unnecessarily repeating vaccines has no effect. The AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents concluded that no research exists to support our present prevailing recommendations. Doctors like Ford, Schultz and Wolf have presented the data and made persuasive arguments with persistence and dignity.

After 7 years less than 7% of Veterinarians have changed."

Of 100 veterinarians, only seven are aligned with the profession's new recommendations on vaccines. 93 vets would pressure you, shame you or mistreat your beloved companion animal in the interest of maintaining the financial status quo.

I find this appalling.

Are these die-hards tone deaf to the knowledge that has emerged from veterinary practice in the last 30 years? Or is cha-ching the only sound that makes music to their ears?

Further reading:

The Cats are Talking... About Chronic Disease by Will Falconer DVM

The Rabies Challenge Study - Dr. Ronald Schultz of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, will be conducting the rabies challenge studies.

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