For the last several years, the veterinary and pet communities have been turned upside down with revelations about vaccinations and pets. I can assure you I have been studying, reading, and attending seminars on this very subject. So let’s look at the subject of vaccines and try to decipher what is best for our pets (yes, veterinarians have pets).
Cats showing up with vaccine related fibrosarcoma started the whole reevaluation of vaccines and vaccination schedules. Across the country cats were being diagnosed with cancerous growths where vaccines were given. These growths were very aggressive and life threatening. The incidence was 1 cat in 10,000 cats. Throw in the internet and panic ensued.
Up until then vaccines and vaccine schedules were dictated by the drug company’s research and development and labeling for the vaccine. All vaccines were labeled for 1 yr, so we gave boosters yearly. We worried if the patient was overdue, and if exposed to the viral diseases, that they would become sick. Years of vaccinated pets not getting sick and overdue pets getting sick dictated the rational. Reactions did happen with vaccines. Mainly veterinarians saw allergic type of reactions, hives, lethargy, swollen muzzles, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. These reactions were easily treated and easily prevented at the next vaccination. In my experience less than 1% of vaccinated dogs and less than .1% of the cats had a reaction.
So what have we learned?
1. The cats that got the fibrosarcoma were genetically prone. They were reacting to the adjuvant which is an additive in the vaccine.
2. Not all dogs and cats have the same risk. A strictly indoor pet using a litter box or papers has a less exposure rate than an indoor/outdoor pet. Pets under stressful circumstances (shelters, boarding/grooming facilities, show circuits) have a higher risk. Pets having close proximity to feral dogs or cats have a very high risk.
3. Geographical areas have their unique endemic viruses. Salmon Poisoning is endemic to Washington State, but not here in Missouri. Therefore, pets need to be protected for the diseases unique to their area.
4. Not all vaccines deliver what they promise. Ringworm vaccine was a failure. In the beginning bordetella vaccine was barely good for 3 months despite the year labeling. In the beginning Parvovirus vaccine was only good for 6 months. Now given time, a lot of the failures will be weeded out and the kinks in the other vaccines will be worked out.
5. Vaccines last longer than originally thought. Now we have 3yr canine distemper and feline distemper. We also have 3 yr rabies vaccines.
6. Vaccines can be triggers for autoimmune diseases. CAN Be, not will be. Autoimmune disease is a disease of one’s own immune system attacking normal tissue and causing damage.
In conclusion, know your pet’s risk and know your area’s potential diseases. Customize a vaccine plan to protect your pet and stick to it. It is the owner’s responsibility to maintain the conditions they and their veterinarian outline. You can’t say your cat is strictly indoors if the window and screen doors are open and feral cats are being fed outside. Or the dog is strictly indoors except for going to the groomers once a month.
Part 2 will cover titers and part 3 will cover puppies and kittens.
The pet’s immune system protects from diseases. The immune system is a very complicated system divided into two parts, cell mediated and humoral (blood) mediated. Each of these parts has many components working to protect our pets from getting diseases. There are parts of the immune system that react indiscriminately to a threat. Look at any abscess, the pus cells (white blood cells) are fighting the infection no matter what the bacteria causing it. And there are segments that are very specific to the threat. Vaccinate a pet against distemper and that segment of the immune system is primed for distemper only.
The pathogen (bacteria, parasite, or virus) can be fought at the exposure site, in the blood, and/or in a lymph node. Basically, the pathogen enters the host, certain cells release chemicals as a call to arms. The pathogen is tagged by either another cell and/or chemical (antibody) and presented for destruction or neutralization by another cell. Then certain times another cell is encoded with memory of this pathogen. Most memory is finite and some is lifetime.
A vaccine is an altered disease pathogen. A vaccine should not produce the illness if the pathogen has been altered correctly. So we get the benefit of protection without having to go through the disease.
Out of all this complicated immune system and all the cells interacting with each other, the only thing that can be measured are the antibodies in the blood. That measurement is called titer. A titer is a measurement for a specific antibody and specific disease. There is no other test that can measure all the cellular activity or the chemicals released to communicate between the cells, just the antibodies in the blood. There even is no test for antibodies that line mucous membranes like the nose, mouth, or gut. Therefore, most of the immune system that protects us is “invisible” to testing.
So what does titer testing tell us? That there are antibodies produced from some sort of exposure (natural or vaccine). As many immunologist and internist say “the numbers are meaningless.” There are no standards for what is protective and what is not. Vaccine companies do not use titers for testing their product, they use exposures. The vaccinated animal is exposed to the disease. Results are a simple “ got sick” or “did not get sick.”
So now what do we do?
1. Testing for several diseases in more costly than vaccinations.
2. As of right now, testing takes several days for the results.
3. No standard for interpretation of the titers.
4. Some diseases, the protection is local antibodies (IgA) which can’t be tested. Any intranasal vaccine stimulates the local immunity.
Pet owners want titers instead of vaccines. What is the best thing for the pet?
1. A lot depends on the pet’s family medical history. Or, breed predilections if the family medical history is unknown.
2. Risk assessment and environment is important to consider.
3. Three year vaccines are safer.
4. I have witnessed overdue pets getting sick.
5. Puppies and kittens need a series of vaccinations (see Part Three).
6. If pet owners want titers, then they are falsely assuming their pet will be protected based solely on titers.