In the past couple of days, the Tampa and Orlando papers have reported on a spike in cases of a bacterial infection in dogs in Florida. This bacteria is Leptospira interrogans, causing the disease we call Leptospirosis. I wrote about Leptospirosis in my vaccine series. If you recall, this bacteria is present in the environment and is carried by animals including wildlife and domestic animals, which excrete the bacteria in their urine. People can also become infected, via abrasions in the skin or ingestion. Symptoms in mammals include fever, painful joints, and lethargy. The infection can be treated with common antibiotics, but if not treated, it can lead to kidney and liver failure and meningitis. Over 200 types (or serovars) of Leptospira have been identified; the current vaccine for dogs covers 4 serovars. [Read more…]
One of my blog readers shared last week that her daughter’s dog was recently diagnosed with tetanus and is undergoing treatment. Poor doggie! I am fervently hoping that her dog responds and will have a complete recovery! She asked if I could write about tetanus and shed some light on this infection in pets. In truth, I think we are much more aware of tetanus in ourselves than in our pets. We all know that we are supposed to get a tetanus shot at least once every 10 years, and if we get poked in the foot by a rusty nail, we need to get a booster shot. What’s the deal with this infection? [Read more…]
In keeping with the creepy-crawly theme for early Spring, today’s post highlights a news story from this week about Lyme disease. We probably all know people and pets that have had to deal with the debilitating effects of this disease. Did you know that ticks collected on Long Island in the 1940’s carried the Lyme bacteria? We tend to think Lyme disease is “new,” but it really has been around for a long time. Why does it seem like more and more infections occur now? It’s partly because the infection is being diagnosed and reported more often. But it’s also related to the deer population, which has rebounded from practically nil in Southern New England in the early 20th century. Human behavior is also a factor: we are increasingly building and living in previously rural areas, thereby increasing our contact with ticks. [Read more…]
My blog post from last week generated much discussion. Some of you shared that you had similar issues with a senior pet that became sicker following vaccination. (And I felt sad each time I read your story). One person said that she discussed skipping vaccines for her senior dog, and her vet was supportive of this decision. (Insert happy dance here!) There are a couple of points that were raised with which I’d like to spend more time because I’d like to be clear about where I stand. [Read more…]
Something troubling happened during one of my appointments last week. I was called to help a family say goodbye to their 14-year old dog, who was diagnosed with a heart murmur and enlarged heart about a year ago. In spite of using heart medications and improving her diet, her condition worsened. She had been experiencing seizure-like activity (actually I believe she was having something called syncope, which is loss of consciousness due to lack of blood flow to the brain). She had very low energy and stamina and was having frequent accidents in the house. Her family made the difficult decision to euthanize her, based on her poor quality of life. We sat and talked about her, how she loved to go for walks and had an uncanny ability to know when there was chocolate on the table. During this sharing time, I learned that she had received several vaccines only a few months ago at her regular veterinary clinic.
In the days since that appointment, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the fact that this geriatric dog with a serious heart condition received no less than three vaccines within the past three months. Why was this done? For what medical reason did this dog require vaccination? Was she at great risk of contracting any of these diseases?
The answer is that there was NO medical indication for any of these vaccines. She had a vanishingly small risk of contracting these diseases, because she was not in contact with other dogs. She literally had to be carried into the backyard during the day and wasn’t able to go for walks anymore. Furthermore, she had received repeated injections of these vaccines over her lifetime, meaning with great likelihood that she had immunity. Can I give you incontrovertible evidence that she was immune? No, because I don’t have that data.
My point is that vaccines are not water. When they are injected into a body, a whole series of events takes place in the immune system. There is growing evidence that many types of cardiovascular disease have an inflammatory component, meaning the immune system is ramped up and spitting out chemicals and cells with the goal of solving the problem. When we introduce vaccines into this pro-inflammatory environment, we are 1) taxing an already stressed immune system; 2) diverting the body’s limited resources to respond to foreign particles (all components of a vaccine are foreign); and 3) probably not even getting the expected response out of giving the vaccine in the first place (which is a boosted immunity).
I cannot predict how, or even if, things would have been different for this sweet little dog had she not been given vaccines. I do strongly believe in the adage “above all, do no harm,” which is part of the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians. We veterinarians don’t have anything quite so eloquent in our oath, which I have included below. I remember clearly reciting this on the day I graduated from veterinary school, with tears in my eyes and thanks in my heart that I had achieved my goal. Given that our oath does include the protection of animal health and welfare, I regret that I even have to write about this topic. My hope in doing so is that I can encourage you to speak up on your pet’s behalf.
The Veterinarian’s Oath
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.
One of the challenges of being the doctor is deciding what protocols you are going to follow with your patients. You start with what you learned in veterinary school. In my case, vet school was over 15 years ago, and the 3-year protocol for distemper, parvovirus, and panleukopenia was not on the radar screen. As a new vet working in my first job, annual vaccination was still the norm, and as an employee, I was obligated to follow the protocols set by the clinic owners. [Read more…]
Today’s blog is a mini-immunology lesson. Before you jump ship, let me say that this topic is actually really exciting, because it’s a break from the common practice of giving vaccines to our pets every single year. Before we dive into this issue for pets, I’d like to share an example of vaccination on the human side of medicine. We’re all pretty much familiar with the MMR vaccine, protecting against measles, mumps, and rubella. Children age 12-15 months receive their first dose, and we give a second dose to our kindergarten-age kids. After this, we aren’t given this vaccine again. EVER. [Read more…]
So what about the non-core vaccines for cats? The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has 7 vaccines on the non-core list: rabies, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Chlamydophila felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and dermatophyte vaccines. As I have done with the other diseases, I will briefly cover each one before sharing the AAFP’s vaccine recommendations. For information about rabies, please read my previous post about this disease. Remember, rabies is required for cats spending any time indoors in the state of Pennsylvania, so even though AAFP lists it as a non-core vaccine, the law here says otherwise. [Read more…]
What’s the latest in vaccine recommendation for cats? The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) released updated vaccine guidelines in 2013. Core vaccines for cats include feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1), and feline calicivirus (FCV). Interestingly, rabies vaccine is included under the non-core category; however, the report notes that in states where rabies vaccination is required by law, the vaccine is “essential.” Let’s look at the diseases caused by these viruses, which helps to understand why they are considered core vaccines. [Read more…]
Now that we’ve covered the core vaccines for dogs, let’s discuss the non-core vaccines. According to the 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines, these include Borellia (Lyme), Leptospira, Bordetella, Canine Influenza, and Canine Parainfluenza vaccines. Deciding whether your dog should get any one of them depends largely on his or her risk factors for exposure to the bacteria or virus. Below is a brief description of each organism and the related disease. [Read more…]