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Over 50% of all dog owners do not vaccinate their pets

The connections between public perceptions of human vaccines and the views on vaccinating pets have come under scrutiny. New research reveals that dog owners in the U.S. who are skeptical about the safety and efficacy of childhood and adult vaccines also display hesitancy towards canine vaccines.

This fresh insight, derived from a study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), throws a light on the possible wider repercussions of the declining trust in vaccines, especially during the era of COVID-19.

Throughout the pandemic, skepticism regarding vaccines, especially the COVID-19 shot, has surged. This new study, featured in the esteemed journal Vaccine, shows that this distrust doesn’t stop at human vaccines.

Dog vaccinations in the U.S.

Alarmingly, it seems to have pervaded the realm of pet vaccinations as well. After examining a nationally representative sample of US adults, the study discovered that a staggering majority — over half of dog owners, to be precise — harbor reservations about canine vaccines.

These vaccines, crucial in safeguarding pets against ailments like rabies, are now seen by many as either unsafe, ineffective, or even medically superfluous.

These findings carry tremendous weight given that 45% of US households are home to a canine friend. Delving deeper into the survey results paints an even more concerning picture: nearly 40% of these dog-owning households believe that vaccines for their pets are unsafe.

In addition, over 20% think the vaccines won’t work, while 30% deem them medically unnecessary. Perhaps most surprising of all, roughly 37% think there’s a link between canine vaccines and autism in dogs. This is a notion for which there’s no scientific backing, for either animals or humans.

Communities at risk from “spillover” effect

Dr. Matt Motta, the assistant professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH, emphasizes the gravity of the situation.

“The vaccine spillover effects that we document in our research underscore the importance of restoring trust in human vaccine safety and efficacy,” Motta states. He further warns that increased non-vaccination could mean exposing not just our pets, but our families and the larger community to preventable diseases.

Interestingly, these findings highlight a clear COVID vaccine “spillover” effect. Individuals skeptical of human vaccines display parallel reservations about canine vaccinations. Such dog owners often resist policies promoting rabies vaccination and show reluctance in getting their pets vaccinated.

But there’s a legal and public health paradox here. Almost every state in the US mandates rabies vaccinations for dogs. Given rabies’ near 100-percent fatality rate and the significant number of global deaths due to canine-transmitted rabies (over 59,000 annually), these vaccines are more than just a procedural norm; they’re a critical health measure.

Misconceptions persist over vaccinating pets

Yet, despite the overwhelming proof of the efficacy and safety of the rabies vaccine, misconceptions persist. Dr. Gabriella Motta, a veterinarian at Glenolden Veterinary Hospital (and Dr. Matt Motta’s sibling), confronts vaccine-hesitant pet owners daily.

She elaborates on the risks veterinarians face when dealing with unvaccinated animals. “When a staff member is bitten by an animal, the severity of the situation intensifies if the animal hasn’t been vaccinated,” she warns.

Such incidents are also mentally taxing for the victim and the entire veterinary team, already grappling with industry challenges like burnout and high job turnover. However, Dr. Gabriella Motta firmly reassures that the rabies vaccine is undeniably safe and effective. She advises cost-wary pet owners to explore affordable vaccination options available at local veterinary clinics.

It’s paramount that public trust in vaccines, both for humans and pets, is reinforced with robust scientific data. As Dr. Matt Motta cautions, the once-unthinkable opposition to essential vaccines like the MMR is now a reality. Thus, continuous research and dissemination of credible information have become crucial.

The study also credits Dominik Stecula, an assistant professor of political science at Colorado State University, as its senior author.

More about dog vaccinations

Every responsible dog owner knows that vaccinations play a pivotal role in ensuring the health and well-being of their furry friend. Just like human vaccines protect us from severe diseases, dog vaccinations shield our pets from various ailments. Here’s a concise guide to understanding the significance and types of dog vaccinations.

Why vaccinate your dog?

Vaccinations prepare your dog’s immune system to fend off disease-causing organisms. When we vaccinate our dogs, we introduce them to a mild form of a particular disease, often termed an antigen.

This doesn’t cause the illness but prompts the dog’s immune system to produce antibodies to fight it. If the dog ever encounters the actual disease, its immune system recognizes and combats it effectively.

Core vs. Non-Core Vaccines

Dog vaccines fall into two primary categories: core and non-core.

Core Vaccines

Veterinarians recommend these for all dogs, regardless of their location, lifestyle, or breed. They protect against more common and severe diseases.

Rabies: A fatal virus that affects the central nervous system. Most states mandate rabies vaccinations.

Distemper: A contagious and severe viral illness with no known cure.

Parvovirus: A highly contagious viral disease that causes severe gastrointestinal problems.

Adenovirus (Hepatitis): This virus affects the liver, kidneys, lungs, and eyes.

Non-core vaccines

These depend on a dog’s risk factors like location and activity level.

Bordetella (Kennel Cough): Especially recommended for dogs that board or visit dog parks.

Lyme Disease: Important for dogs living in or visiting tick-infested areas.

Leptospirosis: A bacterial disease that can also affect humans.

Canine Influenza: Protects against the dog flu.

Vaccination schedule

Puppies generally start their vaccinations at 6-8 weeks of age and follow up with booster shots throughout their first year. After this initial series, dogs typically need annual or triennial boosters, depending on the vaccine and the dog’s risk factors.

Side effects and concerns

While most dogs tolerate vaccinations well, some might exhibit mild symptoms like soreness at the injection site, mild fever, or decreased appetite. Serious side effects remain rare, but always monitor your dog after vaccinations and consult your vet if you observe any alarming symptoms.

Vaccinating your dog not only protects them but also contributes to the overall health of the pet community by preventing potential outbreaks. Regular check-ups and discussions with your veterinarian will ensure your dog remains updated on its vaccinations and stays healthy for years to come.

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