Pet Insurance Company Worried Anti-Vaccination Beliefs Could Be Affecting Pets and Their Health

Healthy Paws Pet Insurance says they have seen a decrease in the number of dogs getting their core vaccinations, including the rabies vaccine

Anti-vaccination sentiments among humans have made waves, and led the Center for Disease Control to label anti-vaxxers as the top threat to global health.

Healthy Paws Pet Insurance is concerned this threat might be affecting pets as well.

The American Veterinary Medical Association states that “experts agree that widespread use of vaccinations within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. Vaccinations protect your pet from highly contagious and deadly diseases and improve your pet’s overall quality of life.” But Healthy Paws CEO and co-founder Rob Jackson told PEOPLE the company has still seen a decrease in dogs that have their “core” vaccinations – vaccinations, according to the ASPCA, that “are considered vital to all pets based on risk of exposure, severity of disease or transmissibility to humans.”

Jackson talked to PEOPLE about how Healthy Paws, and the vets they work with, believe anti-vaccination sentiments are affecting pets, what this means for humans and animals, and how the company and their vets view vaccinations.

In your opinion, how has the anti-vaccination movement affected pets?

Anti-vaccination sentiments are spilling over into pet parenting. For example, vets are seeing more dogs that don’t have their core vaccinations (parvovirus, rabies, distemper and adenovirus-2), which vets consider medically necessary, and they’re also seeing more dogs with these health issues as a result.

Are owners asking to forgo vaccinations for pets?

There isn’t a lot of hard data around pets and the anti-vaccination movement in the United States, but based on anecdotal evidence from vets and research from other parts of the world, we can reasonably conclude this is a growing issue. In the U.K., for example, a recent survey by the Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) indicated that 25 percent of dogs were not vaccinated. The biggest reason why? Twenty percent of those pet parents said “it’s not necessary.”

What reasons do people have for not vaccinating pets?

Much like the human anti-vaccination movement, pet parents’ reasons run the gamut, but at the core they all lead back to a belief that vaccinations can be harmful to pets. Some are concerned that vaccines trigger immune disorders and life-threatening side effects, while others think pets can gain immunity much like humans can – through exposure. Finally, some pet parents say that titer testing, a blood test for antibodies of a disease, can prove that a pet doesn’t need the vaccine.

Should pets be vaccinated?

Vaccinations keep pets healthy and help prevent many illnesses that affect pets. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, vaccinations trigger protective immune responses and prepare the immune system to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccinations can protect your pet from highly contagious and deadly diseases and improve your pet’s overall quality of life. And, in the case of rabies, vaccination is crucial for human health too!

We consulted JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, who says: “Like human babies, newborn pets receive passive immunity from their mothers in the form of protective antibodies passed through their mothers’ milk. These maternal antibodies provide temporary protection from disease. After the end of passive immunity (a few weeks), pets need to be vaccinated (‘active immunity’) to remain protected. It is ideal to begin vaccinating pets as the maternal antibodies are wearing off (determining this timing is impractical, though) to prevent pets from being exposed to a disease.”

How does your pet benefit from vaccinations?

A pet benefits from vaccinations in a variety of ways, such as: illness prevention; avoidance of costly treatments for diseases that can be prevented; prevention of diseases that can be passed between animals and from animals to people; and, prevention of wildlife diseases, such as rabies and distemper. Additionally, vaccinations prevent long-term health problems and improve the overall quality of life.

How do other pets in your home benefit from your pet getting vaccinations?

Just like newborn babies, very young animals are highly susceptible to infectious diseases. And just like babies, young pets are put on a vaccination plan to receive a series of immunizations, typically about 3-4 weeks apart. During this time, pet parents should talk with their vets about their pet’s lifestyle, including: other pets in the home, travel to new geographical locations, and contact with other animals, as these all impact your pet’s risk of exposure to certain diseases without having their specific vaccinations.

Ms. Pendergrass also considers herd immunity: “When enough pets are vaccinated within a community, those pets provide protection to the entire community of pets.”

How do the humans in your home benefit from pets getting vaccinations?

According to Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, vaccinations are designed to protect both pets and pet parents. Some diseases, such as rabies, are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to people. Vaccinating your pet helps reduce the risk of human infection, particularly if there are vulnerable members like the younger, elderly or immunosuppressed patients in your household.

What can happen if a pet is not vaccinated?

Besides putting your pet’s health at risk, in some areas it’s simply illegal to skip certain types of vaccinations, like rabies, because the exposure and/or contraction of the disease is untreatable.

What are the most important vaccinations for cats?

Pets’ vaccines are divided into core and non-core. Essential, medically necessary vaccinations are considered core, while non-core vaccines are optional but may be beneficial for many pet parents. The core cat vaccinations include: panleukopenia, herpes virus, rabies, feline leukemia, and calicivirus.

What are the most important vaccinations for dogs?

The core dog vaccinations include: parvovirus, rabies, distemper and adenovirus-2. However, there are non-core vaccination needs that vary according to geographic location. For example, a dog that lives in a rural area with exposure to wildlife or in area with heavy rainfall may need the leptospirosis vaccine, given that Leptospira (a spirochete bacteria) thrives in standing water, mud, and general dampness and can be spread from the bite of an infected animal.

Asking your vet which vaccinations are legally and medically necessary for your pet is the best way to approach vaccination decisions. Additionally, veterinarians are the ultimate decider for which non-core vaccines are medically necessary.

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