Vaccinate or Veto? Shots or Titer for Your Pet – Part 1

The $150-300 bill for shots makes you groan every spring. But do these shots hurt your pet (or large animal) more than they wound your wallet? Some studies have shown that animals may build enough immunity to skip their annual vaccinations. Testing that immunity every year or so is enough, and preventative measures such as shots may be unnecessary. But what’s best for your pet?

In this two-part series, we’ll explore the options of vaccinating (injecting live or dead versions of diseases into the blood stream or muscle of an animal) vs. a titer (measure of the level of antibody produced to fight against a disease). Here in Part 1, we’ll explore vaccinations. For information about titers, check back for Part 2.

Vaccinations – Which Ones, How Many?
As kids, we all usually get the same shots: measles, mumps, and rubella; tetanus; and, nowadays, chicken pox and meningitis are popular too, along with a host of others. Shots are required for admission to many educational institutions, right up to graduate school. Still, there is a debate about human vaccines. How much is too much? This same question applies to pets and larger animals.

Standard shots for small animals include rabies, tetanus, kennel cough (dogs), Lyme disease, leptospirosis (dogs), feline leukemia (cats), distemper, influenza, and more. Standard shots for horses vary based on geography, but can include rabies, tetanus, equine western and eastern encephalitis, Potomac horse fever, Lyme, rhino encephalitis, influenza, and strangles.

Choosing which vaccines to give depends on many variables. Usually, the deciding factors come down to the following.
1. Rules and regulations – laws require proof of some shots, like rabies; boarding kennels or show venues have their own requirements
2. Geographic location – diseases are more prevalent in some areas
3. Recommendation – vets strongly recommend prevention in years when certain virus rates are high
4. Personal preference – some owners prefer to administer more shots, while others prefer to give less

How Often? How Do We Know?
All shots require an initial dose followed by different numbers of boosters. Most vaccines require annual or semi-annual boosters. Some veterinarians prefer not to give too many shots at once and might ask that three be given in one visit and two in another. If you have a dog or cat, that means two trips to the office (another hour or two out of your busy schedule). If you have a horse or other large animal, that means a second call charge to your farm ($20-75).

But do pets really need shots on an annual basis? Canine rabies vaccines are good for three years. Equine rabies vaccines are only good for one year. Both are required by law, especially for animals that travel.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends that horses receive an equine influenza booster every six months, or even more frequently if they are traveling on the show circuit. But has this been proven to be necessary? The answer is unclear, and some researchers have said “not really”. The influenza shot doesn’t always prevent infection – just as with the human version. It can, however, reduce the severity of clinical signs.

Although we know that vaccinations do help prevent deadly diseases or at least lessen the effects of illness on our pets, is vaccinating the best thing for them? Do they need all of those injections each year? Check back for Part 2 to learn more about titers, an alternative to frequent vaccinations, and how titers check the level of immunity an animal has built up against certain illnesses.






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