Do not vaccinate your pet pooch every year! It may even be bad for your furry friend!

Published On : 2017-03-16

In the last five years or so, veterinarians are slowly moving away from the annual practice of vaccinating dogs. According to Dr Richard Ford, a member of both the Association of Feline Practitioners feline vaccination advisory panel and the American Animal Hospital Association canine vaccination task force, certain new patterns are emerging. There is a growing tendency to include core vaccine triennial booster doses in dogs and cats for parvovirus, adenovirus-2 and distemper in the case of the former and herpes virus, calicivirus and panleukopenia in the case of the latter. Approximately half of the vaccine sales representatives in the U.S. include the core vaccine three-year recommendation now. This is definitely a good thing as the science on this subject could not be clearer. While a few vaccines need to be administered yearly to sustain a certain level of immunity, the core vaccines are able to provide years of immunity in most dogs or cats that are given the vaccine. It is quite difficult, if not impossible, to give any medical justification for continuing to administer core vaccines to pets on an annual basis.

A lot of veterinarians opine that if cats and dogs are given the required vaccines as kittens and puppies respectively, they do not need annual booster doses thereafter. An exception can be considered only for cases of clinical viral diseases such as dog parvovirus or canine distemper or feline panleukopenia virus in felines. In these situations, serum vaccine titer measurements or additional boosters after a year may be required. After the first vaccine, both the booster interval and the serum vaccine titers rechecking can also be put on a three-year cycle. For these three viral diseases along with adenovirus-2 that protects dogs from hepatitis, immune memory is typically for a lifetime if the cat or dog has been vaccinated. Thus, it is not only unnecessary but also unsafe to give annual booster vaccines to companion animals as it can potentially introduce elements such as tissue culture remnants, vaccine antigens, fetal calf serum and other materials in them.

When the American Association of Feline Practitioners Guidelines was first published more than 20 years ago, the association recommended FVRCP vaccines to only be administered once every three years as opposed to every year. There was strong resistance from veterinarians as they were concerned with the fact that they wouldn’t be able to examine cats every year. A few practitioners saw this as an opportunity to turn the attention towards other facets of preventive health care. It was even considered a potential opportunity to make the shift from vaccines being the financial backbone of medicine to focus on training and education. Through several guideline revisions the most recent that was in 2013, veterinarians realised that there are plenty of additional vaccines required by pets. For felines, the leukaemia virus booster dose needs to be administered every year and rabies is advised if the cat lives in endemic areas or where the law mandates it. Thus, most cats need some antigen dose every year anyway.

The AAFP has the following goals for medicinal practitioners. They should vaccinate –

  • every cat against only those infectious agents that can realistically affect it
  • against infectious agents that could be the reason for significant disease
  • only when the benefits outweigh the potential risks
  • each cat no more frequently than required
  • the maximum cats in any given population that are at risk
  • adequately to protect the human population / public health

While the shift in thinking towards three-year vaccines began in the mid-2000, many veterinarians are still not entirely on board with this practice. There are several reasons for this. It could simply be a resistance to change as many veterinarians have continued annual vaccinations for a long time and they have a kind of ‘practice preference’. For others, it could be the financial aspect as annual booster doses compel pet owners to bring in their companions every year. A few vets or pet owners may even distrust the vaccines being able to provide the required immunity for longer than a year. A lot of this can be attributed to either distrust or ignorance. However, professionals have begun to take medical guidelines a lot more seriously because of strong vaccine manufacturer support, various education seminars conducted and veterinary school education provided. The advancements in both vaccinology and vaccine technology will also go a long way to dispel any kind of veterinary doubts.