Why does my pet need those shots?

Published 3:55 pm Monday, October 17, 2011

By DR. FRED SELF / Veterinarian

In recent years, and not just in Alabama, a lot has been made about whether pets should receive annual vaccinations.

Due to some very reliable research and the possibility of tumor formation, some scientists believe annual vaccinations should be stopped.

When this idea hit the media, it combined with “Why do I have to vaccinate my pet when I don’t even get a flu shot?” and “My pet never leaves the house so why do I have to pay for vaccinations?”

The result of this combination was the production of vaccines to be given at three-year intervals and changes in state rabies laws. While the science related to extended vaccination intervals is good, there is also equally good science that says annual vaccinations are better.

The start of any discussion on vaccinations should be the two reasons for vaccinations. First is to protect the pet and second is to protect the entire population of pets. These are the reasons whether we are talking about humans, goats or cats.

On the pet level, vaccinations keep diseases away. The question is for how long.

Each pet’s immune system is different and responds with a different duration of immunity.

Before starting veterinary school, my classmates and I were all vaccinated for rabies. Four years later, one of my friends and I were tested to see if we were still protected. I was, but she had no protection. This is the rule, not the exception.

Without testing, there is no way to know which pets are protected for days and which are protected for life.

On the pet population level, the goal is different. The pet’s duration of protection is less important. What is important is that a high number of the pets in a population are protected at any one time.

By keeping most pets protected, if a disease tries to enter a population, it is unlikely that it will come into contact with an unprotected pet and so will be unable to take hold and spread.

With the goals of vaccination in mind, it is important to keep each pet as well protected as possible so that the population of pets as a whole will be as well protected as possible.

If this can be done on a three-year basis, fine.

However, the greater the time between vaccinations, the more important it is not to delay or forget booster vaccinations. Help protect your neighbors’ pets by regularly vaccinating and protecting your own pets.

Dr. Fred Self is a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic in Columbiana, along with Dr. Charles Thornburg. You can reach them at 669-7717.