Annual check ups and vaccinations

There has been quite a bit of correspondence in the veterinary press recently concerning the perception amongst some members of the profession and students that being a GP and spending your day doing routine stuff is somewhat a very poor second to becoming a specialist.

Understandably GP have reacted against this suggestion, particularly as it completely misses the point of what the annual visit for vaccination really means. For a start an annual check up is a really good idea, whether you choose to vaccinate your pet or not.

While protecting a pet from infectious diseases such as Parvovirus or Feline Herpesvirus is important, the ‘jab’ is not the most important part of the visit. The health check up is. This allows the vet to check that all is as it should be for the pet, considering its age and breed; to pick up on the early signs of a problem and to discuss any concerns you may have. Your vet should be there to help and support you and if they don’t, ask or change vet!

More frequent, regular check ups become even more important as your pet ages. While age is not a disease their body changes with age, just like ours and those changes bring the need to adapt diet, exercise, management. The risk of age-related conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes etc increases, and it is important to catch these early, as early diagnosis and prompt treatment improves the pet’s chances for a happy and comfortable life as long as possible.

As I said age in itself is not a disease and if pets start to slow down, eating less, become unsettled, change behaviour then it is not because they are old but because they are developing or have an age-related condition. We can do a lot to help them. If you feel you don’t want your pet to undergo lots of tests or diagnostic investigations, it does not mean that something cannot be done to improve their quality of life.

Regarding vaccinations – this is really controversial territory.

Vaccination has eradicated some diseases (e.g. smallpox), is on the way to eradicating others (e.g. polio) and has reduced the incidence of many diseases. Reduction in vaccination rates in some areas/countries has resulted in the increase in some diseases (e.g. measles in Italy). So overall I would say it’s a good thing.

Of course nothing in medicine is 100% good for everyone. Adverse reactions do occur; their frequency and severity varies. And of course if you, your child or your pet has a severe reaction, that is what matters, never mind all the good it does or has done to others. So like anything in life it is a question of making a risk:benefit analysis i.e. consider the pros and cons before making a decision.

Many owners are worried about over-vaccinating their pet. There are vaccines now (depending on the manufacturer) that are not given every year and there is also the option to check the level of antibodies for some components of the vaccines. I advise clients to consider the risk to their own pet, weigh the pros and cons and then make an INFORMED decision, not a fashionable one. And also I remind them that vaccination is not only important for their own pet. If everyone stops vaccinating and relies on herd immunity to protect their pet, then the level of vaccinated individuals falls below a critical level and the protection is lost, just like it has happened in Italy with measles.

So not vaccinating your pet can have consequences not only for your pet but for the population at large. And it is worth remembering that not vaccinating your pet amy invalidate your pet insurance. Boarding kennels and catteries require – or should require – for all boarders to be vaccinated, and you may have to board your pet in an emergency.

Bottom line – if you have concerns about vaccinating your pet, discuss them with your vet. If they are not prepared to engage with you in this conversation, ask again. If they still unwilling to discuss the pros and cons, are they the vet for you?

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