This week, stories appeared on the internet of a Brooklyn veterinarian who has encountered pet parents unwilling to vaccinate their dogs for fear of autism. While at this point there’s no way to know how many pet parents have engaged in this behavior, it is unlikely that this veterinarian is the only one encountering this fear, and this story is a good reminder about the importance of animal vaccines.
There are two things to get to note right away. First, dogs cannot get autism. Secondly, vaccines are essential to you and your pet’s long and healthy life.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines work the same in animals as they do in people. A small amount of a killed or modified life pathogen is injected into the body, which causes the body to produce a small immune response. This immune response allows the body to produce antibodies that prevent infection from that disease when the body encounters it in the future.
Without vaccines, the body has a much more difficult time fighting off common severe infections, particularly in young and old age. Vaccines allow us and our pets to interact with the world safely, without fear of being infected by some of the world’s deadliest pathogens.
The more pets who get immunized, the fewer hosts a disease has available in those communities. The fact that so many cannot catch the disease provides limited exposure, protecting those who are weaker or who cannot receive the vaccination for whatever reasons. This is known as herd immunity.
Why are vaccines important for pets?
In short, without vaccinations, your pet is susceptible to treatable and preventable illnesses that can be painful and life threatening. Diseases like distemper, corona virus, hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus can be deadly to dogs, while cats can be susceptible to feline leukemia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia. Distemper and parvovirus are often fatal if contracted.
Most boarding, grooming, dog parks and daycare facilities require all of these vaccines, and often also require Bordetella (“kennel cough”) for dogs, in order for your dog to be able to attend. If you want your dog to be able to engage with other dogs, vaccines are often key! The Canine Influenza vaccine is becoming more commonplace and often recommended in these types of facilities given the recent outbreaks that have occurred over the last 10 years in parts of the country for pets with no natural immunity to Dog Flu.
Why are pet vaccines important for people?
There are some illnesses in pets that can be transferred to humans. The most deadly and common of these diseases is rabies, which is nearly always fatal in human beings. Both dogs and cats are given rabies shots as part of their core vaccines, and it’s required by law in most states. Leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans. Pets that ingest water contaminated with infected rodent urine (streams, creeks, puddles) are susceptible. Signs of Leptospirosis in humans include high fever, muscle ache, vomiting, and abdominal pain. This vaccine is often included in the combination vaccine that covers Distemper, but be sure to ask your veterinarian if it is.
Are vaccines dangerous?
To reiterate: dogs and cats cannot get autism. Autism has never been diagnosed in any species outside human beings.
But pet parents do worry about vaccines, even if they’re not afraid of autism. Some fear that the vaccines used dangerous “fillers” that can cause adverse reactions or even poison their pet. Others are afraid that vaccines actually make their pet’s immune system weaker.
While it's true that there can be risks associated with vaccines, it’s important to remember that the risks associated with not getting vaccines are much higher.
When you do choose to vaccinate, it's always important to keep an eye out for any side effects. The most common reaction to the vaccination is pain or swelling at the site of the injection. Your pup or kitty might be a little sluggish or tired as their body reacts to the pathogen in the vaccine.
However, some vaccine reactions may be more severe and require veterinary attention. These include:
• difficulty breathing
Some pets might have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, though it’s very rare. It’s important to contact your veterinarian immediately as symptoms arise, because allergic reactions can be fatal if untreated. Signs of an anaphylactic reaction to vaccines include hives, swelling of the face, and acute onset of incessant itching. Even though these reactions are very rare, it’s advised to get your pet vaccinated when you can stay home with them and observe them after the fact.
Every pet parent wants what is ultimately best for their pet and wants to keep them safe and happy at all times. The best way to insure that your furry baby lives a long life is to make sure to vaccinate against potentially lethal diseases while they're young to protect them as they grow older. To help ease any concerns you might have, always speak to your veterinarian and work with them to find the best way to keep your pet safe and healthy!