Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rethinking the High Risk/Low Risk to Disease in our Pets

Have you ever held a belief, one which you always thought to be logical, and therefore, true... and then be confronted by a different view, which, in reality, resonates with your experience?

In the past, examples would be finding out the world was not flat, or that we are not the centre of the universe.  The belief which has been shaken recently in me, is (almost) as dramatic.

This belief is not religious or political - I won't go there in my blogs - but it is about how we think about our pet's risk to disease, especially those  such as Parvovirus and Canine cough.   These are two very highly infectious, highly contagious diseases which affect dogs in all areas, including our own beautiful Wollongong dogs.

Parvovirus can be fatal if severe and untreated, and Infectious Cough (Canine Cough), whilst not fatal, the cough can be severe enough to be debilitating - who likes to hear their pet sound like a goose, honking multiple times a day.

My previously held belief on the high risk / low risk pets to becoming infected or exposed to disease, was based on the premise of increased chance of exposure to these same diseases.

That is, if you were a social butterfly, ready to meet and greet the world, go to the Dog Park or beach or other area where dogs frequently visit, then you were a "high risk" pet. 

And those pets who were indoors more often than not, were rarely likely to see another dog, let alone pick up anything from them, were "low risk".  

I mean, if you never saw another dog (or rarely saw one), surely you were at a lower risk of picking up these infectious diseases - you wouldn't get within cooee of these bugs, thus, you wouldn't get sick? Right?


This is where I was challenged by an alternate view, by a Canadian (no less). Whilst he talked about views which I didn't agree with, such as he felt the three year vaccine (Triennial) was experimental, and therefore, we shouldn't be experimenting on our dogs, he did come up with some impressive quotable lines, such as "we are more likely to believe a simple lie than a complex truth".

What I am trying to talk about today is the concept of what is a high risk  or a low risk pet with regards to risk of disease.

The challenge was - a pet at high risk of infection or disease from preventable disease, or for that matter, any infectious disease, is actually the one that hardly ever sees another dog or cat.   The reasoning being that the pet is not exposing itself to enough environmental stimulation or "boostering" of their immune system.

 Therefore, their immune system is unprepared when it is attacked by a sufficient stimulus, and if they are unvaccinated as a result of the belief of "low risk", they were at an even higher risk of disease.

 Based on my original belief (which is held by many), this would be the "low risk" patient - that is, exposure to disease is unlikely or rare, and thus vaccinations are unnecessary and over-kill.

A true blue human example of when a "low risk" is really a "high risk" would be the toddler that goes to preschool for the first time -  don't they always end up snotty nosed a few days later, when they come down with whatever they have picked up at their daycare centre?  If they went rarely, their immune system would only get a sporadic boost to get the army ready to fight the virus/bug it needs to.  So, you the poor parent spends the remaining 6 days, getting a snotty nosed kid better, just to throw them back in, and start the process all over again.

Now what about the pet that is the social butterfly?. This would be child that goes two to three times a week to preschool.  Whilst they may be snotty in the first week or so, after that they seem to be "immune", in general to the bugs, and you, as the lucky parent, are dealing with a less snotty child in the long run (woo hoo!).   Under the new premise, this would actually be a "low risk" patient for becoming infected with disease, as the ongoing exposure to low levels, during their social activities, actually means that they are "auto-vaccinating" themselves.  That is, being exposed to lower levels of the virus, during the social outings, makes them less likely to get full - blown - pet-killing- disease, and, in theory, less likely to need vaccinations also. Under the old belief system, we had them in the "high risk" category, as they were more exposed to infection, and obviously, needed to protect them more.

I envy the old days, when ignorance was bliss - as vets, we vaccinated everything that moved, because we had seen the horrendous effects in those pets who suffered profound, protracted bloody diarrhoea and absolutely excruciating nausea and vomiting (Parvovirus),  or those pet's whose long mucoid snot and yucky eyes, if they did not die, often led to ongoing seizures and brain damage (as a result of Distemper).  And loving pet owners knew they needed to vaccinate or immunise, as this was the best thing to do.  Those were the simple times.

Now, we are in the "modern" times, and less pets are being vaccinated than ever before, because people read alot of stuff on the internet, based a simple lie, rather than opening their ears to the complex truth.

Why does this pose a risk for our pets? 

Because this Canadian vet made a very valid point -  if every pet owner vaccinated every pet as they should (assuming it was safe to do so) as puppies, and if every pet vaccinated their pet each three years as they should (assuming it was safe to do so),  then the "modern" vaccination recommendations of Triennial vaccinations could possibly work.

But as there are many unvaccinated or irregularly vaccinated pets in our community, and then we dilute the communal immunity even lower with a longer vaccine interval, then the risk of disease in our pets may change (i.e increase) , and this is something that the veterinary "powers that be" probably didn't consider in their projections.

Now I have to give a disclaimer -  Russell Vale Animal Clinic was the first veterinary hospital in the Illawarra to introduce Triennial Vaccinations in our dogs, and the first to introduce in-clinic vaccine titre testing (in accordance with WSAVA guidelines).   I say this to show that we practice in accordance with WSAVA guidelines.  But, I also have been a vet for over 20 years, and I remember clearly the animal wards full of puking puppies, and the seizuring dogs, and the blue eye (from hepatitis).  It is my biggest fear that we may fall back into those dark days because of  complacency, fear, and lack of compliance from owners.

As a vet, and pet lover, I will be monitoring this very closely, and amend my protocols accordingly.  So rest assured, that when I examine your pet, in my consultation room, and they have come in for their regular check ups (as all pets should twice a year), and when we assess their need for vaccinations (which I do all the time),  I will take all factors into account to do the right thing, for that pet, using the knowledge I have at that time.

This is what I love about my veterinary profession - we care, and we always try to do the right thing by our pets - because that is what we are all about.

I am Dr Liz, the vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.  We would dearly love to see you and your pet for their regular health checks, so why not come in and check us out.