Fact vs Rumor: the dramatic change in pet vaccination

How often should I vaccinate my dog or cat? If you think the answer is ‘every year’, you could be wasting money & putting your pet’s health at risk.

The new standards for pet vaccination and how it applies to your dog, cat, kitten or puppy.
Curious to know more about the changes to vaccine recommendations? Read on.

Everyday we have pet owners coming to us thinking their pet is due for ‘yearly’ vaccinations. And they believe they’re doing the right thing – who wouldn’t want to provide the very best care for their animal family member?

The trouble is, these owners have been sadly misinformed.

Getting your pet’s vaccinations right is essential to their overall well being, giving them the greatest chance for a long and happy life. But getting their vaccinations right does not necessarily mean getting their vaccinations yearly.

We believe pet owners deserve to make informed decisions based on industry standards & guidelines. So we’ve taken the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) policy and broken it down for you, so you know exactly what to expect the next time you see your vet.

But first, a bit of background:

Hang on, when did things change?

You’ll be surprised at how old this information is.

The most common misconception is that every pet must be vaccinated on a strictly annual basis. However, in 2009 the AVA (the official governing body of all veterinary health in Australia) reviewed their policy, stating that:

 

‘… every animal should be immunised and each individual animal only as frequently as necessary. Current scientific consensus recommends that adult cats and dogs should be vaccinated with core vaccines triennially (3-yearly) where applicable.’

 

They go on to state that vaccinations should be ‘determined within a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, based on … an individual animal’s requirements.

What this means for you:

The AVA insists on the importance of ‘informed consent’’- this means an animal’s vaccinations should be given only after a joint decision between the owner and their vet has been reached, once the owner has been made aware of the information available.

You have the right to know what factors would contribute to your pet’s need to be vaccinated, and how often it should be administered.

So why the change?

By now, you’re probably bursting to know why the AVA standards have changed (and perhaps why you’ve still been paying for yearly vaccinations).

Here are the top 8 reasons why the AVA reviewed their policy:

  1. Modern vaccines have shown a great improvement in effectiveness. As a result, core vaccines can now be given every 3 years and still have the same effect.
  2. Evidence also shows they’re not only just as effective, but can provide your pet with a much longer period of immunity (referred to as DOI or Duration Of Immunity).
  3. We now understand that vets should aim to reduce the vaccine ‘load’ on individual animals wherever possible to minimize the risk of adverse reactions to the products.
  4. Scientific evidence for the change comes from a range of experienced individuals across all areas of veterinary health including primary care practice, vaccine manufacture and research, academia, shelter medicine, public health and veterinary law related to clinical practice. Any number of professionals are willing to stand by the use of 3-yearly (triennial) vaccines as they have seen it work for themselves.
  5. Many other developed countries – including America, Canada, England and New Zealand – have all moved away from yearly vaccinations since 2001. They all believe in a more individual approach to your pet’s health – and you should too!
  6. Universities have been teaching students 3-yearly (triennial) core vaccines for over 10 years now.

And I saved the biggest two for last:

  1. There has not been a documented increase in diseases where vaccine protocols have changed.
  2. In Australia, the vast majority of animals suffering from parvovirus are ACTUALLY VACCINATED – the vaccine has failed them due to vaccines being given at the wrong frequency and/or at the wrong age. (more on that here and below).

So what does that mean for you and your pet?

You as the owner are encouraged to play an active role in your pet’s medical health and are entitled to be well informed about the course of action before it’s acted upon.

At Windan’Sea Vet, that is exactly what we are all about!

Now that you know what the AVA standards are & why, you need to be armed with the knowledge that will allow you to speak confidently with your vet about your pet’s vaccinations.

Whilst these changes may seem like a big step away from what you’ve been told all along, don’t panic – we’ve summarised the top 3 things you need to know about ensuring your pet is vaccinated correctly:

#1: What kinds of vaccines are there?

Pet vaccines are divided into 2 groups, Core & Non-Core:

Dogs
Core (DAP or C3) Non Core
  • Distemper Virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Parvovirus
  • Parainfluenza (Intranasal)*
  • Bordetella (Intranasal)*
  • Leptospira (Intranasal or Oral)*

*Intranasal – this means delivered through the nose as it’s shown to be noticeably more effective when administered this way (95% effective), rather than via injection (73% effective). The only draw-back: your pet is 99.9% likely to be cranky afterwards!

 

Cats
Core (FV-RCP or F3) Non Core
  • Feline Parvovirus
  • Calicivirus
  • Herpesvirus
  • Feline Leukaemia (FeLV)
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
  • Chlamydia felis

As a general rule, your pet needs a yearly health examination and possibly non-core vaccines, parasite treatment and heartworm prevention. We routinely vaccinate for Core and Non-core Vaccines based on the individuals exposure or risk and medical conditions.

#2: How should I vaccinate my new puppy or kitten?

Puppies and kittens need to have their vaccines timed just right, otherwise we run the risk of vaccines failing to work due to Maternal Antibody Interference.

What is Maternal Antibody Interference (MAI)?

When puppies & kittens are born, they are given a great amount of protection to diseases through their mother’s milk. During this time, their immune system can fight off most diseases, however they will also fight off vaccines and potentially cancel out their effect. This risk of ‘cancelling out’ is called Maternal Antibody Interference.

As our puppies & kittens become weaned off milk and start feeding for themselves – with weaning generally finishing around 8 weeks of age – the protection also fades in the following weeks. That is why it is strongly recommended that puppy & kitten vaccination begins at this time – it has the least chance of being ‘cancelled out’ and the best chance of protecting your pet long-term.

However, you can’t always control when your new puppy or kitten has begun their vaccination – not all breeders and adoption centres are aware of, or operate according to the recommended guidelines. So here’s a good rule of thumb to follow, depending on where your furry friend is up to:

1st Dose 2nd Dose 3rd Dose 4th Dose
6 weeks 9 weeks 12 weeks 16 weeks
7 weeks 11 weeks 15 weeks 19 weeks
8 weeks
Preferred
12 weeks 16 weeks

As you can see, timing your vaccines correctly as per the preferred schedule can actually mean less vaccines are needed to achieve optimum results, which means less stress for your pet and less cost to you!

If your puppy or kitten has been raised on a bottle, this does not apply as they will not have had maternal antibodies and so will have no natural immunity. In this instance, early vaccination is critical.

#3: What other factors affect how my pet should be vaccinated?

  • Age: after the age of 10 years, or similar depending on your pet’s breed, all vaccines should be given at your vet’s discretion.
  • Risk of Exposure: certain lifestyle factors can contribute to whether your pet requires particular vaccines. For example, animals in rural areas where they may be exposed to lifestock, or who go camping with their families regularly, would benefit from receiving the Lepto vaccine. Whereas animals in predominantly urban environments who receive no contact with livestock may not need this. When in doubt, talk to your vet about what activities you have planned for your family and your pet.
  • Additional Health Factors: if your pet is currently experiencing, or being treated for, other conditions this will have an impact on when and how your pet is vaccinated.

My personal experience

Whilst working for 25 years in vet hospitals in the US a mere 20 minutes away from the Mexico border – a third world country whose animals often don’t enjoy the same level of care as ours – I have seen first-hand the effects of the diseases we work so hard to vaccinate against.

I wholeheartedly endorse triennial vaccination protocols, having followed them since 2001 when North America changed their guidelines. Even after witnessing the emergence of the new strain of parvovirus in North America before moving to Australia, I have never seen a dog who was appropriately vaccinated (strictly as per the guidelines above) present with any of these diseases.

Providing individualised care, including giving core vaccines triennially, is an approach that works -it’s not just in my humble opinion, but according to the guidelines that are recommended by numerous veterinary bodies worldwide.

And it is the best approach for vaccinating your pet.

How you can best protect your pet.

We all want to believe our vets have our pet’s best interests at heart.

However, many veterinarians are not up-to-date regarding current recommendations or – for whatever reason – still encourage their clients to over-vaccinate their pets.

At Windan’Sea, we believe in empowering our clients with knowledge so they can confidently make the best choices for their pets. We also believe in caring for our patients based on the most up-to-date research and guidelines handed down by the Australian Veterinary Association (links below if you’re eager to learn more).

We still recommend seeing our patients every year for a comprehensive health check, so next time you think your pet is ‘due’, take a moment to ask your vet about 3-yearly vaccines and whether your pet is getting the care that best meets their needs – who knows, you may just teach your vet a thing or two!

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Here are links to the AVA guidelines, the Vaccination Guideline Group (VGG) and WSAVA recommendations to support our protocol, position, methodology and your own research: