According to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, a holistic veterinarian considers the whole picture of an animal—environment, genetics, nutrition and medical history--to determine the best combination of conventional and alternative prevention measures and therapies. One area in which holistic practitioners differ from traditional veterinary practitioners is in disease prevention through vaccination. However, the two sides are gradually coming closer together in their approach to vaccinating, and that can be good news for both you and your furry friends.
Traditional Vaccination Protocol
For decades, the veterinary profession has steadfastly recommended that all dogs and cats receive a series of certain core vaccines starting as young as 6 weeks, then annual boosters thereafter. Canine core vaccines include parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus-2, and rabies. Feline core vaccines include herpesvirus 1, calicivirus, panleukopenia, and rabies. Except for the rabies vaccine, these vaccines are typically administered through one combination immunization. Depending on risk factors, your vet may recommend your puppy also be vaccinated against hepatitis, leptospirosis and kennel cough and your kitten be vaccinated against rhinotracheitis and feline leukemia.
This approach to vaccination has been successful in controlling disease outbreaks, providing a safer environment and greater life expectancy for your dogs and cats, and nearly eradicated some diseases, such as distemper and rabies.
The Holistic Approach
Most holistic veterinary practitioners recognize that vaccinations do play an important role in preventative medicine. However, they are also concerned about possible harmful effects of vaccinations. Some believe that vaccinations are the root cause of some chronic conditions, from gastrointestinal problems to allergies.
For example, according to the Healthy Pets website, feline panleukopenia and canine parvovirus vaccines are associated with an increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease. There also may be a correlation between vaccinations and canine autoimmune hemolytic anemia and some feline cancers.
Many holistic veterinarians believe in a "less is more" strategy when it comes to vaccinations. They contend that vaccinated dogs and cats retain much of their initial immunity for years, sometimes even for life. Therefore, annual booster vaccinations are unnecessary and may even be harmful.
A Possible Compromise
The gap between the traditional approach to vaccinations and the holistic approach is decreasing. The American Veterinary Medical Association is now acknowledging that a "one-size-fits-all approach to vaccinations is outdated. The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has produced new vaccination guidelines based on recent AVMA studies that show immunity may last longer than once thought and annual boosters may not be necessary. The guidelines recommend re-vaccinating for core diseases every three years.
Although, according to holistic veterinarians, that's a step in the right direction, many believe that the recommendations don't go far enough. Many holistic practitioners advocate using a titer approach. With this strategy, veterinarians do a titer test to check for antibodies for a disease rather than automatically vaccinate against it. Using titer testing standards, veterinarians can determine whether individual animals still retain enough immunity to protect it against the disease.
Holistic veterinarians also recommend customizing the type and frequency of vaccinations for each individual animal. By considering your pet's medical history, environmental conditions, risk factors, and titer testing, your vet can determine which vaccinations are most appropriate for your dog or cat. Many holistic vets advocate against combination vaccines because of possible interactions, so this customization strategy fits in well with that belief.
So next time you get that annual vaccination-due notice, talk to your vet about customizing your pet's vaccinations and schedule. Fewer vaccinations could be a healthier option for your furry friend as well as a benefit to your pocketbook.