Does My Pet Really Need All These Vaccines? - The Most Common Mistakes Pet Parents Make (Part 2)
In the second part of our multi-part series on "The Most Common Mistakes Pet Parents Make," Dr. Shadi Ireifej talks about the need for prophylactic (preventative) shots for pets.
By Pet Pro Supply Co. Featured Veterinarian,
Dr. Shadi Ireifej DVM DACVS
Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at VetTriage
Owning (parenting) a pet is difficult! It takes years of experience with owning many pets to get the hang of it. Husbandry, nutrition and medical issues are just some of the broad topics that are often a source of confusion and frustration for many pet owners. In this series, we will visit some of the more common mistakes pet parents make and present solutions for (and ways to entirely avoid) those mistakes.
If you wanted to maximize your own health and longevity, you would try to prevent as many diseases as you could. You would do this proactively, with vaccines, since so many diseases are easily preventable with a simple injection. Prophylactic medicine has the same goal for pets. Investing in prophylactic healthcare for your pet now means avoiding diseases and improving their quality life.
In this article we will discuss why investing the time and money with preventative measures now are worth it to prevent spending more time and more money in the future when your pet becomes ill with a disease that could have been prevented.
My veterinarian wants me to spend all of this money on these unnecessary shots for these diseases I never heard of - what’s the deal?
Vaccinations have been an integral part of both human and animal health for a very long time. Their development has changed the course of human history. In fact, at the time of writing this, the world is racing for an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine, as we all know. It's the same thing with vaccinations within the animal world. Their continued use is of vital importance to not only each individual pet, but to animals as a whole, on a population-wide scale. The takeaway: don't skimp on these!
Here are some examples.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
The overall seroprevalence of both feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV or what's commonly called "feline AIDS") and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) in healthy cats is 0.1 to less than 2%. In those that are considered at high risk or ill, the incidence becomes 6 to 33%. Vaccinations to such viruses are not considered core vaccines but can be used for infected cats.
Although the FIV vaccine is not 100% protective, the antibodies induced by vaccination will persist for at least a year and the antibodies can be passed in the colostrum. This aids in strengthening the immune system for infected cats. The same is true for FeLV; those cats that have a history of being FeLV-vaccinated that develop an abscess or wound are more likely to be seronegative when compared to those without a vaccination history (seven times the risk!). In fact, the incidence of FeLV infection has decreased in recent years because of effective vaccination and larger scale testing programs.
Why is this important? Here is the list of potential diseases that could arise secondarily from FeLV- and FIV-positive cats:
Anemia of chronic disease/inflammation
Most commonly lymphosarcoma/lymphoma
Opportunistic secondary infections
Hopefully these are scary enough for you - get your cat vaccinated!
Now let’s look at a vaccination that is considered a core vaccine.
Feline panleukopenia virus
This is a highly contagious virus in cats that is also known as “feline parvovirus.” As one example of how prevalent this can become: on a population-wide scale, cats in Costa Rica have a 92.8% incidence of being seropositive with only 16% of cats having a history of receiving vaccinations.
This shows how an obvious risk factor to developing infection is a lack of or poor vaccination history. The mean age of infected cats is 4 months old and 56% of patients are less than 6 months of age! The scariest part: the survival incidence once infected with the virus is only 51.1%!
The science is clear: vaccination history plays a huge role in mitigating the risks of becoming infected and ill by this virus. Again: make sure to get your cat vaccinated!
Let’s move on to some dog diseases that rely on vaccinations as preventative measures of more serious diseases.
This is a hardy and highly contagious virus of dogs. Of the dogs infected, 45% are 4 months of age or less. The risk factor of being positive for distemper virus (another virus potentially prevented by routine vaccination) concurrently in a parvovirus-infected dog is 3.7! Those dogs that are a year of age or older and positive for distemper virus are more likely to be concurrently positive for parvovirus. It's clear that getting this vaccination is very important.
Vaccination to all canine parvoviral types with a modified live vaccine results in positive antibodies. Having the protective antibodies increases survival to 67%. Compare this to a mortality of over 90% without treatment and 0 to 30% with treatment. Such intensive care cases can remain in a 24-hour specialty and emergency hospital for days to even weeks, accruing thousands of dollars in fees.
For dogs vaccinated against the canine distemper virus, a virus neutralization of 45% infers a protective antibody titer. Dogs with a protective distemper virus antibody titer increases survival to 43%.
So: please, pet parents! Get. Your. Dog. Vaccinated.
I mention Rabies here as a vivid example of how incredibly effective vaccinations can be.
The human death toll per year due to rabid dogs is about 35,000 to 50,000. Most of these occur in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and India. In contrast, in the US, where dogs are routinely vaccinated for rabies, the incidence of human death due to canine rabies is a very low 3 to 11 cases per year.
Certainly this virus creates quite an economic toll. Public health investigations, animal rabies testing, post-exposure prophylaxis, livestock deaths, pet vaccinations, and public education efforts all play a role. Costs increase by 20% when dealing with post-exposure prophylaxis.
Most importantly: Rabies is highly infectious and 100% fatal once clinical signs are evident. Rabies vaccinations are not only highly efficacious in disease prevention, but also minimize risk to other animals and are hugely beneficial from a public health standpoint.
Because Rabies is such a well known disease, you don't see many pet parents arguing against getting their pet vaccinated for Rabies. The same attitude should prevail when considering vaccinations for less well known diseases.
Prevention with vaccination is key.
The list of reasons why veterinarians recommend prophylactic measurements, like vaccines is endless. The above is only a short, illustrative list of viral infections that can be prevented or mitigated with vaccination protocols.
When proper measures are taken in disease prevention, your pet is safer, you worry less, and you can save your finances for times of true medical emergencies, where preventative measures were never an option. Vaccines are well worth the investment now to prevent avoidable disease in the future.
VetTriage.com offers 24/7 veterinary sessions to discuss such topics and provide guidance. The goal of VetTriage is to not only make you as a pet owner more aware of issues such as vaccines, but to also strategize with you on the best means of providing your pet with treatment options when an unexpected medical emergency arises.
About Dr. Shadi Ireifej:
Dr. Shadi Ireifej DVM DACVS is the Chief Medical Officer at VetTriage. He holds degrees from SUNY Binghamton and Cornell University and has practiced as a veterinary surgeon all across the United States. Follow him on Instagram @dr.shadi.ireifej and subscribe to his YouTube channel (Dr. Shadi Ireifej).
VetTriage is the world’s foremost provider of veterinary telehealth services. With VetTriage, pet owners have immediate access to triage advice from licensed veterinarians. Follow them on Instagram @vettriage and Facebook (facebook.com/televeterinarian).