Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Are you skeptical about yearly pug vaccines? You should be

Pug on his deck looking skeptical

Does opening up your mailbox make you feel a little disgusted, like Liam the pug here? It might, if your mail is packed with helpful "reminders" from your veterinarian about yearly vaccines. As much as I love my veterinarian and all of the work his office has done for me (particularly when Sinead had a mast cell tumor), that office does send me a postcard reminder for shots every year.

If I didn't know better, I might be tempted to make shot appointments. I do know better, but here's the problem: Coming up with an alternate shot schedule isn't easy.

In the past, the thinking was that animals should have a vaccine each and every year, regardless of age or breed or size or risk profile. I grew up in a household in which the dog went to the vet once a year on her birthday and had her core vaccines boosted. We didn't question it. When her birthday came around, we trundled her over to the vet for her shots. When I got pets of my own, I followed that same plan. It seemed natural to me.

In the mid-2000s, I became aware of the very real risks involved with yearly vaccines. My first Boston had a very rare form of cancer diagnosed when he was only 2. The next year, his beloved kitty friend was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, and she was only 5 and living in a non-smoking house. Cancers like this could, in theory, come up from almost anything. But vaccines often came up as a risk factor in my research.

When I got Liam the pug, I wanted to try something different. Putting together the right plan at the right time is my duty to him. But fulfilling that duty isn't simple.

Liam the pug next to bright red flowers

Many people worried about vaccines, as I am, stick with a plan that involves:
  • Core vaccines only (nothing like giardia or flu)
  • Staggered vaccines, so dogs don't get two shots on one day
  • Vaccines only every 3 years, not yearly
As it turns out, one of the pillars of this plan can't be supported. Research cited here suggests that there is no clinical evidence that points to a 3-year vaccine plan. That number was sort of tossed out there in meetings between people who wanted to vaccinate every year and people who wanted to vaccinate only during puppyhood. That means vaccinating him every 3 years could be--and probably is--much too frequently.

This is usually the point in a blog post at which I dispense advice. Sadly, I don't have any to give. In articles about vaccines, owners are encouraged to "be informed" and to "advocate." But when there's no firm science about vaccination timing, it is hard to make a scientific choice. There is no research, and no data, to help owners craft a decent plan. The numbers simply do not exist.

 At this point, I will be putting Liam on a 5-year plan. But I'm thankful I have 3 years to put that plan into action. He doesn't need shots between now and then, on any plan that I can find. And I may do my research on titer testing. That test is designed to determine if an animal has antibodies to a specific type of infection circulating in the bloodstream. Sadly, those tests are often inaccurate, according to this very technical but reliable source. Again, the data eludes us.

In the interim, I'm hoping the titer testing field will expand, grow and become much more sensitive to quick and easy decisionmaking. The more of us who ask for it, the more reliable the tests might become.

And I'm also using the vaccine reminder cards as coasters.

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