Annual Vaccinations for Dogs and Cats

Annual vaccinations and titre testing – are they necessary ?

For many years the veterinary profession have been staunch advocates of a yearly vaccination protocol for dogs and cats, and this has been fundamentally driven by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the vaccines. The vaccines that have been produced have only ever given a 12 month efficacy statement, and it is this fact that has under-pinned the science of annual vaccination.

In more recent times, efficacy testing on vaccines has been heavily researched in the USA, and has led to some contentious findings. By performing antibody titre tests (which are available from your local vet), it is possible to determine if a pet has adequate protection from the diseases we primarily vaccinate against (core diseases). The US studies demonstrated that many pets had lifelong immunity from the first few vaccines, and in the worst case, most were protected for at least 3-5 years. This information was relevant to the very nasty groups of diseases – distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus, but did not prove true for the kennel cough vaccines, which struggle to last even 12 months. When this information is combined with an ever increasing body of evidence that links over vaccination to a number of current diseases (feline vaccine sarcoma, canine hypothyroidism), it has created much debate about the ethical nature of advising yearly vaccines.

When challenged on the question of why vaccines have only been given a 12 month efficacy level, the answer has been that that was all the pharmaceutical companies were required to demonstrate to gain registration for the vaccines. The fact that they last much longer was not deemed relevant.

In light of this new information, Australian vets are now able to advise their clients to safely adopt a 3 yearly vaccination protocol for distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus (the AVA has officially endorsed 3 yearly vaccination). Kennel Cough vaccines must still be given annually, but this mainly applies to dogs that go to kennels on an annual basis. Remember, kennel cough is not a deadly disease, and most dogs will recover from it with no treatment at all. There is now also a registered 3 yearly vaccine, which has slightly higher levels of antigen. But the reality is, your regular yearly vaccine is going to be adequate for 3 years also (as titre tests have shown)

At my clinic in Castlemaine, I have been advising 3 yearly vaccinations for over 12 years, and have not had a single problem. I recommend puppy and kitten vaccines (6 and 12 weeks) and the first annual vaccination, then every 3 yrs. We advise kennel cough vaccines only for dogs that are going to be kennelled within 6 months.

We also offer antibody testing for those clients that want to confirm if their pets really do need a top up vaccination. Titre tests (blood samples) can be sent to veterinary laboratories for accurate antibody levels, or there are in-house test kits that give a colour change result to confirm adequate cover (eg Vacci-check). These titre tests can avoid unnecessary vaccinations, and do not have to be costly – we charge about the same as we do for a vaccination.

I encourage clients to still seek an annual health check for their pets, as early detection of abnormalities is key to an improved outcome. I’m always surprised at what hidden problems you can find during a routine annual health check. I also advise not vaccinating older pets (over 10-12 years old) if they have a good history of vaccination –in my experience, true acute vaccine reactions are rare, but chronic diseases that “may” be triggered, or aggravated, by vaccinations are more common in older pets.

Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons), Founder of Vets All Natural.

Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.

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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.
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