This week, let’s start a fundamentally crucial conversation about vaccinating your pets. In my last column, I said that vaccinations are vital to the animals’ wellbeing and that the lack of core vaccinations for feline and canine parvovirus and distemper leads to high death rates among young animals.
Rabies – another core vaccine – saves not only thousands of animal lives annually, but could potentially save thousands of human lives in Cambodia as well (shockingly, the official number of human death from rabies is 1,000 annually) if it at least 70 percent of all dogs and cats are were vaccinated.
And yet, just a mention of “vaccination protocols” evokes such passionate response from the public that a heated and emotionally charged debate is often unavoidable.
Veterinary doctors and scientists globally are still in disagreement. Arguments persist among the researchers, vets, and the public about the correct vaccination schedule; about the obligatory vaccines and those, which are optional or unnecessary. There are arguments about vaccinations that have significant efficacy levels in protecting your pets; and of course, most the important question of all: can a vaccination be harmful or even deadly to your pet.
When I began my quest into animal vaccinations, I was rather confused. Having been a part of the scientific community myself and having been heavily involved in scientific research, I know that funding can and does influence which data reaches the wide global audience. As such, what the public gets to hear, read and accept as the standard much too often is funded or even conducted by the very manufacturers of the vaccines.
I found it particularly ironic that even the American Animal Hospital Association and its Vaccination Task Force (the organisation that publishes and revises vaccination guidelines) cautions us that “variance between manufacturer recommendations as they are published in the product package insert and Task Force recommendations occasionally occur. In each case, Task Force recommendations have been reviewed with the appropriate manufacturer(s).”
Yet, while all the debate is on-going and after much research, I have came up with several main point points to follow when you are making your decision about vaccinating your animals.
1. The initial set of core vaccinations is absolutely critical in building strong immunity for kittens and puppies; these consist of two vaccinations, three to four weeks apart – in other words: the initial vaccination and a booster.
2. The “booster” means the repeat injections of the core vaccine within four weeks from the first one. The booster is absolutely necessary to complete the vaccination cycle and provide necessary immunity.
3. The earliest age for the effective core vaccinations, based on the established immunological principles, practical clinical experience, and expert consensus is not earlier than 8 weeks of age.
4. Rabies vaccine is another absolutely fundamental vaccination, especially in Cambodia, where rabies is still rampant and kills 1,000 people a year, most of them under the age of 15. However, the earliest age for the rabies vaccination to be effective for a puppy or a kitten is 12 weeks and never ever earlier! This is the age where the immune system is beginning to mature and if the rabies vaccine is done earlier, the young animal may be unable to handle the immunological challenge, especially in combination with core vaccinations. As Dr. Karen Baker points out there is a difference between just shooting vaccination into the animals and building their immunity against diseases. Let’s practice the latter.
5. Annual boosters of the vaccines are highly advisable. However, there are disagreements over the frequency of the boosters. So, to avoid over vaccinating your animal, you may opt to conduct a titer test. According to the Dogs Naturally Magazine, “Titer tests are blood tests that measure the level of antibodies your animal has made. You pay anywhere from $200 to get it.” Given that the certified laboratories for these tests are not available in Cambodia the prices may be much higher. The titer test measures antibody levels in the blood and will indicate whether your pet requires the vaccination boost for their immune system. Alas, like all tests, the titer test has its limits. Talk to your vet whether titer test is right for your pet.
6. What includes “core vaccinations”?
For dogs, canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies are considered core vaccines. Leptospira, according to many researchers is not a core vaccine. Dog Naturally Magazine says that “a leptospira is technically a spirochete, a corkscrew shaped bacterium; it’s not a virus like parvo or distemper. So the injection given to prevent an infection with this organism is not really a vaccine, but rather a bacterin”. Many available vaccinations in Cambodia come as a “cocktail”, which include leptospira – you may choose to administer it as a part of the core vaccinations or ask your vet for the separate immunisation schedule for each virus. For cats, the core vaccines are feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, feline rhinotracheitis (also known as feline herpesvirus), and rabies.
Having a pet in your family is like having a child; you must constantly educate yourself about new findings in pet health care; stay consistently vigilant about your own individual pet, his or hers health requirements and challenges; and always make fully informed decisions regarding his/her wellbeing. There is no excuse not to – there is a wealth of easily accessible information out there. Remember: while public and animal health relies heavily on the herd immunity to eliminate epidemic outbreaks and needless deaths, you should not rely on herd mentality when making a right decision for you and your furry family member.
Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
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Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311