By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst
Health care trends make the news and can even change how medicine is conducted. Popular thought in medicine sometimes saves lives, but it can also be detrimental and, in the worst scenarios, life-threatening. The recent trend to stop giving dogs vaccinations has veterinarians treating more preventable diseases and questioning why anyone would risk their dog’s life when a cheap solution exists.
The anti-vaccine trend seems to have begun with the concern raised in human medicine that autism might be linked to childhood vaccines. When the possibility of a connection was raised, reports struck fear in parents. And despite the medical community’s research to prove otherwise and the investigation into fraudulent reporting, the scare has not calmed.
Dog Vaccinations Save Lives
Internet hype now has dog owners concerned about vaccines being harmful. Some owners are going as far as to avoid vaccinations altogether. Not vaccinating animals is a recipe for disaster, both on an individual level and as a public health risk.
Today, Americans and their dogs have the good fortune to live in a time in which vaccines are widely used and diseases such as parvovirus, distemper and rabies are scarce. However, I still see a handful of dogs die each year from these diseases. The pathogens we vaccinate against are lethal to dogs, which is why the vaccines were originally developed. Before dog vaccinations were developed, canines died horrible deaths and owners were sometimes forced to end their animals’ suffering. Remember Old Yeller?
Science Doesn’t Back the No-vaccine Movement
There are a few veterinarians, even one or two specialists, who claim all dog vaccines are harmful. I classify these people as “extremist.” Like most extremists, they use fear to motivate their audience because they lack the science to prove their claims.
Dr. Keith Hnilica, a veterinary dermatologist in Knoxville, Tenn., says no research to date validates the claims that vaccines cause allergies in dogs. The latest theory being discussed is that vaccines might actually help allergic animals by redirecting the immune system, explains Hnilica.
People want answers and are sometimes willing to believe false information if it fits the need. They will accuse a vaccine of causing an allergy, metabolic problem or chronic disease based on a heart-wrenching anecdotal story.
Vaccinate Your Dog
The non-vaccine coalition claims that vets who promote vaccines do so only to line their pockets. Medicine is not perfect, but years of scientific research versus scary stories seems like a no-brainer to me. I work in an evidence-based world in which veterinarians spend a lot of time evaluating the risks for dog vaccinations, drugs, diagnostic tests and medical procedures so they can help animals live healthier lives.
The advice I give to dog owners who are considering not vaccinating their pets is to steer away from extremes. There is a reason why dogs live longer now than in any other time in history: vaccines.
Visit AAHANet.org to read the most recent vaccine recommendations by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.