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Pets don't need shots every year
Houston Chronicle ^ | April 22, 2002, 12:32AM | LEIGH HOPPER, Houston Chronicle Medical Writer

Posted on 04/22/2002 6:20:53 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife

Experts say annual vaccines waste money, can be risky

Debra Grierson leaves the veterinarian's office clutching Maddie and Beignet, her Yorkshire terriers, and a credit card receipt for nearly $400.

That's the cost for the tiny dogs' annual exams, including heartworm checks, dental checks and a barrage of shots.

"They're just like our children," said the Houston homemaker. "We would do anything, whatever they needed."

What many pet owners don't know, researchers say, is that most yearly vaccines for dogs and cats are a waste of money -- and potentially deadly. Shots for the most important pet diseases last three to seven years, or longer, and annual shots put pets at greater risk of vaccine-related problems.

The Texas Department of Health is holding public hearings to consider changing the yearly rabies shot requirement to once every three years. Thirty-three other states already have adopted a triennial rabies schedule. Texas A&M University's and most other veterinary schools now teach that most shots should be given every three years.

"Veterinarians are charging customers $36 million a year for vaccinations that are not necessary," said Bob Rogers, a vet in Spring who adopted a reduced vaccine schedule. "Not only are these vaccines unnecessary, they're causing harm to pets."

Just as humans don't need a measles shot every year, neither do dogs or cats need annual injections for illnesses such as parvo, distemper or kennel cough. Even rabies shots are effective for at least three years.

The news has been slow to reach consumers, partly because few veterinarians outside academic settings are embracing the concept. Vaccine makers haven't done the studies needed to change vaccine labels. Vets, who charge $30 to $60 for yearly shots, are loath to defy vaccine label instructions and lose an important source of revenue. In addition, they worry their patients won't fare as well without yearly exams.

"I know some vets feel threatened because they think, `People won't come back to my office if I don't have the vaccine as a carrot,' " said Alice Wolf, a professor of small-animal medicine at Texas A&M and an advocate of reduced vaccinations. "A yearly exam is very important."

The movement to extend vaccine intervals is gaining ground because of growing evidence that vaccines themselves can trigger a fatal cancer in cats and a deadly blood disorder in dogs.

Rogers conducts public seminars on the subject with evangelical zeal but thus far has been unsuccessful in persuading the Texas Veterinary Medical Association to adopt a formal policy.

"I'm asking the Texas attorney general's office if this is theft by deception," said Rogers, whose Critter Fixer practice won an ethics award from the Better Business Bureau in 2000. "They just keep coming out with more vaccines that are unnecessary and don't work. Professors give seminars, and nobody comes and nobody changes."

When rabies shots became common for pets in the 1950s, no one questioned the value of annual vaccination. Distemper, which kills 50 percent of victims, could be warded off with a shot. Parvovirus, which kills swiftly and gruesomely by causing a toxic proliferation of bacteria in the digestive system, was vanquished with a vaccine. Over the years, more and more shots were added to the schedule, preventing costly and potentially deadly disease in furry family members.

Then animal doctors began noticing something ominous: rare instances of cancer in normal, healthy cats and an unusual immune reaction in dogs. The shots apparently caused feline fibrosarcoma, a grotesque tumor at the site of the shot, which is fatal if not discovered early and cut out completely. Dogs developed a vaccine-related disease in which the dog's body rejects its own blood.

"That really caused people to ask the question, `If we can cause that kind of harm with a vaccine ... are we vaccinating too much?' " said Ronald Schultz, a veterinary immunologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. "As you get more and more (vaccines), the possibility that a vaccine is going to cause an adverse event increases quite a bit."

Less frequent vaccines could reduce that risk, Schultz reasoned. Having observed that humans got lifetime immunity from most of their childhood vaccines, Schultz applied the same logic to dogs. He vaccinated them for rabies, parvo, kennel cough and distemper and then exposed them to the disease-causing organisms after three, five and seven years. The animals remained healthy, validating his hunch.

He continued his experiment by measuring antibody levels in the dogs' blood nine and 15 years after vaccination. He found the levels sufficient to prevent disease.

Fredric Scott, professor emeritus at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, obtained similar results comparing 15 vaccinated cats with 17 nonvaccinated cats. He found the cats' immunity lasted 7.5 years after vaccination. In 1998, the American Association of Feline Practitioners published guidelines based on Scott's work, recommending vaccines every three years.

"The feeling of the AAFP is, cats that receive the vaccines every three years are as protected from those infections as they would be if they were vaccinated every year," said James Richards, director of the Feline Health Center at Cornell. "I'm one of many people who believe the evidence is really compelling."

Texas A&M's Wolf said the three-year recommendation "is probably just as arbitrary as anything else," and nothing more than a "happy medium" between vaccine makers' recommendations and the findings by Schultz and Scott aimed at reducing vaccine-related problems.

But many vets are uncomfortable making a drastic change in practice without data from large-scale studies to back them up. There is no animal equivalent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease in people, thus keeping tabs on a vaccine's effectiveness.

Federal authorities require vaccine makers to show only that a vaccine is effective for a reasonable amount of time, usually one year. Richards notes that studies to get a feline vaccine licensed in the first place are typically quite small, involving 25 to 30 cats at most.

There is no federal requirement to show a vaccine's maximum duration of effectiveness. Arne Zislin, a veterinarian with Fort Dodge Animal Health, the largest animal vaccine maker in the world, said such studies would be expensive and possibly inhumane, requiring hundreds of animals, some of them kept in isolation for up to five years.

"I don't think anyone with consideration for animals would really want to go through that process," said Zislin, another vet who believes current data are insufficient to support an extended schedule.

Diane Wilkie, veterinarian at Rice Village Animal Hospital, said she tells pet owners that vaccines appear to last longer than a year, but her office hasn't officially changed its protocol yet. She said 20 percent to 30 percent of her cat patients are on the extended schedule.

"It's kind of a hard situation. The manufacturers still recommend a year, but they're the manufacturers," Wilkie said. "It's hard to change a whole professional mentality -- although I do think it will change."

In Houston, yearly pet examinations typically cost $50 to $135, with shots making up one-third to half of the expense. A dental check, heartworm test, fecal check and overall physical are usually included in the price. Without the shots, vets could expect to lose a chunk of that fee.

But an increasing number of vets are emphasizing other services, such as surgery. Wolf said savings on vaccines might prompt pet owners to get their pets' teeth cleaned instead. An in-house test to check antibody levels is in development.

"I definitely think there's a profit issue in there; don't get me wrong," Wilkie said. "(But) people are willing to spend money on their pets for diseases. Although vaccines are part of the profit, they aren't that big a part. We just did a $700 knee surgery."

Vaccination findings

Veterinary research challenges the notion that pets need to be vaccinated every 12 months. Some of the findings:

Dog vaccines/Minimum duration of immunity

· Canine rabies3 years

· Canine parainfluenza3 years

· Canine distemper (Onderstepoort strain)5 years

· Canine distemper (Rockborn strain)7 years

· Canine adenovirus (kennel cough)7 years

· Canine parvovirus7 years

Cat vaccines/Minimum duration of immunity

· Cat rabies3 years

· Feline panleukopenia virus6 years

· Feline herpesvirus5 or 6 years

· Feline calicivirus3 years

Recommendations for dogs

· Parvovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza, distemper: Following initial puppy shots, provide booster one year later, and every three years thereafter.

· Rabies: At 16 weeks of age, thereafter as required by law.

· Bordatella: Use prior to boarding; may be repeated up to six times a year.

· Coronavirus: Not recommended in private homes. Prior to boarding, may be given to dogs 8 weeks or older, and repeated every six months.

· Lyme: Not recommended.

· Giardia: Not recommended.

Recommendations for cats

· Panleukopenia, herpesvirus (rhinotracheitis), calicivirus: Following initial kitten shots, provide booster one year later and every three years thereafter.

· Rabies: At 8 weeks of age, thereafter as required by law.

· Feline leukemia: Use only in high-risk cats. Best protection is two vaccines prior to 12 weeks of age, with boosters repeated annually.

· Bordatella: Use prior to boarding.

· Feline infectious peritonitis: Not recommended.

· Chlamydia: Not recommended.

· Ringworm: May be used during an outbreak in a home.

Sources: Ronald Schultz, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine; Fredric Scott, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine; Colorado State University; University of California-Davis Center for Companion Animal Health.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: vaccines
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To: abner
LOL. Reagan lays on his back in that "pet my tummy" position and it cracks me up! I, too, have that kitten photo shoot obsession :)

41 posted on 04/22/2002 7:05:18 AM PDT by Lizzy W
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Comment #42 Removed by Moderator

To: Cincinatus' Wife
And where's PETA when you need'em...
43 posted on 04/22/2002 7:08:14 AM PDT by mewzilla
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Comment #44 Removed by Moderator

To: mewzilla
Cats Of FreeRepublic fundraising calender.

What a great idea!

45 posted on 04/22/2002 7:09:08 AM PDT by abner
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Interesting, Washington must be a "three year" state on rabies, but my vet is still recommending annuals on the others. My horses get annuals on their various shots also, but I give these myself and they are cheap.

I have never heard (before this) of side-effects to the shots themselves, I believe they must be very rare.

Thanks for the post.

46 posted on 04/22/2002 7:09:24 AM PDT by HairOfTheDog
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To: Crunchy Jello
I will look forward to seeing "Spook".
48 posted on 04/22/2002 7:10:24 AM PDT by abner
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To: Lizzy W
How do you keep her coat so nice? I have one long hair that we have to shave every 6 months or so. We turn him into a capoodle. He refuses to be brushed or combed.
49 posted on 04/22/2002 7:12:26 AM PDT by abner
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To: Central Scrutiniser
Yes, of course you will... parvo is a very bad puppy disease. I don't think even the article questions the need for the puppy booster series. Veterinarians around here (Washington) don't particularly freak out if an animal is a bit overdue for the annual shots later in life, but that all changes with puppies. What kind of puppy did you get?
50 posted on 04/22/2002 7:15:38 AM PDT by HairOfTheDog
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To: Central Scrutiniser
Disregard my question about the breed then... answered while I was asking!
51 posted on 04/22/2002 7:16:38 AM PDT by HairOfTheDog
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To: HairOfTheDog
I have never heard (before this) of side-effects to the shots themselves, I believe they must be very rare.

I think attributing them to the shots, is what's been rare.

52 posted on 04/22/2002 7:19:22 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: abner
A capoodle...roflmao! I brush Reagan at least every other day. I started doing it when he was a baby so that he wouldn't fight me later on. The breeder recommended a fine-toothed comb to attack mats, but he hasn't had any so far. If you ease the cat into it, he'll probably adjust to combing rather well. I'd start by brushing him on his back and such so that he associates it with petting and scratching. Then move on to his more defensive tummy area. Also, try giving him treats afterward :)
53 posted on 04/22/2002 7:20:21 AM PDT by Lizzy W
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Could be, but in my experience, talking to dog show people, immune disorders in dogs don't come up in conversation as a common disease, let alone causes... so if it is a side effect of shots, which those dogs all get, I think your daughters(?) pup is a rare case... And I have never heard of a cancer at the site of the shot in cats. It is interesting, and will be interesting to see what happens as more is learned. Like I said, here in Washington state, we are already on a three-year schedule for rabies after the first year.

Incidentally, there has not been one case of rabies in Washington in anything other than bats in 20 years (and only a few cases in bats). I had begun to wonder if eventually this vaccine may begin to be phased out, so I was surprised to see on a google search that rabies is still found commonly elsewhere in the country. The other diseases, parvo in puppies and feline leukemia in particular, are quite common in unvaccinated animals here. And parvo always will be I would imagine... it is a naturally found disease that is everywhere...

55 posted on 04/22/2002 7:52:43 AM PDT by HairOfTheDog
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To: HairOfTheDog
No, it's unlikely to ever be phased out, as you found. Here in New York, there's a huge reservoir for the disease in the wildlife population - bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, et cetera. There are still thousands and thousands of known cases of rabies per year among wild animals (85% of them are raccoons), and that's just in this state, and just the ones the Department of Health knows about.

I'm glad you guys don't have to deal with this out there - one case of bat rabies in twenty years is nothing. We've had two human fatalities from contact with rabid bats in the last ten - count your blessings....

56 posted on 04/22/2002 8:20:20 AM PDT by general_re
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To: general_re
Yes, I saw that New York still has quite a problem! - Hope everyone stays on top of it! The vaccines are a small price to pay if you have ever seen an animal suffering from one of these preventable diseases... especially parvo... Parvo is heartbreaking to watch, and I have seen it. I hope folks don't act on the one-in-a-million reports of reactions to vaccines. We take bigger risks walking across the street.

Maybe over time the time period between shots will be expanded as we learn that the shots last longer than we thought, but I hope people don't interpret that to mean the shots are not necessary.

57 posted on 04/22/2002 8:37:41 AM PDT by HairOfTheDog
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To: HairOfTheDog
Yes, it's quite a problem. But I went and looked it up - state totals were down last year to only 821 known cases of rabies among wild and domestic animals. So I might have overstated it a bit for recent years, but the peak was something like 2700 cases in '93. It was interesting to learn that for the first time in a while, NY was no longer number one in the nation - Texas was, oddly enough. The gory details can be read here - the 1993 and 1995 reports discuss the two fatalities.

Other than that, I'll just give you a bump for an extremely sensible position on vaccines ;)

58 posted on 04/22/2002 8:47:40 AM PDT by general_re
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To: general_re
Thanks! - I like it when I am thought to be sensible on something! ;~D

A "while you're at it, spay and neuter your pet everybody" bump!

59 posted on 04/22/2002 9:00:52 AM PDT by HairOfTheDog
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To: Central Scrutiniser
I think my 14 year old Labrador had a minor seizure about a month ago, not the violent type of seizure I think you witnessed in your dog, but a quiet, roll over on back and tense up every muscle for 30 seconds kind of seizure... It freaked me out, because something happened... he was all tense and contorted, and I couldn't rouse him out of it. Good vet did not have a clue, and it has not happened again that I know of. A mystery.
60 posted on 04/22/2002 9:08:41 AM PDT by HairOfTheDog
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