Q&A with Dr. Anne Luther: Is Your Pet at Risk for Over-Vaccination?
by Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
Taking precautionary measures against the threat of disease is a main concern for the average person—a natural response that also translates into the care of our beloved feline and canine companions. In fact, most pet owners likely assume that annual vaccinations will keep their furry friends healthy, vibrant and safe from illness.
However, medical research indicates this—albeit well-meaning—defensive strategy could deteriorate, rather than bolster, an animal’s quality of life. Within the conventional medicine community, though, regular vaccination remains a standard procedure despite evidence pointing to its ineffectuality and harmful consequences.
Given the controversial nature of this issue, I sought out Dr. Anne Luther, a seasoned holistic veterinarian and founder of Sarasota Animal Medical Center, to expose the harsh realities of over-vaccination. So, how then can we protect our four-legged family members’ best interests? Below, Dr. Luther offers expert guidance on navigating through the informational minefield of this highly debated subject.
Natural Awakenings: What is your professional stance on vaccinating animals, and how often should people ideally get their pets vaccinated?
Dr. Luther: I believe every pet should be evaluated individually to determine which vaccines they need. Obviously, indoor pets exhibit much lower risk for infection than pets that are outdoors and exposed to other animals.
For the higher risk pets, I follow guidelines established by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). These recommendations were created in 2011, and they clearly state that adult dogs and cats do not need to receive the core vaccines more frequently than every three years. They further state the duration of immunity for these vaccines often exceeds five years.
For dogs, these core vaccines include Distemper, Parvovirus, Adenovirus-2 and Rabies. For cats, they include Feline Herpersvirus 1, Feline Calicivirus and Feline Panleukopenia Virus and Rabies. I do recommend using a recombinant vaccine on cats because there is some evidence associating this vaccine with a decreased risk of sarcoma formation. However, while several veterinarians still administer the traditional three-year non-recombinant vaccine, this is not recommended on cats.
There are other non-core vaccines which may be recommended for your pet, depending on their risk factors, such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) for cats. I recommend vaccinating young FeLV-negative cats that are allowed to go outdoors or have direct contact with other cats of unknown FeLV status. Vaccination is most likely to be useful in kittens and young adult cats because resistance to infection develops by one year of age.
NA: What would you consider to be over-vaccination, and can you explain the health risks associated with this methodology?
Dr. Luther: There are several ways to over-vaccinate pets. The first is to give vaccines too frequently. Although the core vaccines have been shown to last a minimum of three years, many veterinarians ignore the current guidelines and continue to vaccinate annually.
Another way to over-vaccinate is to give ineffective vaccines such as the Bordetella—or Kennel Cough Vaccine—which Dr. Ronald Schultz, professor and chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine, identifies as a non-vaccine preventable disease. Other ineffective and non-recommended vaccines include the Corona Virus, FIP and FIV.
A third way to over-vaccinate is to give unnecessary vaccines to pets that are not at risk. For example, giving Feline Leukemia to an indoor or older cat is not necessary or recommended. Feline leukemia is not highly contagious and requires prolonged direct exposure to an infected cat. Natural immunity to this disease is strong in most cats by the age of one year. Therefore, I do not recommend vaccination of adult cats for FeLV—even if they have access to the outdoors. If an adult cat is living with a FeLV-positive cat, then vaccination should be considered.
In addition, many local veterinarians recommend Lyme and Leptospirosis vaccines for dogs that are not at risk. These vaccines have potentially negative side effects, and their effectiveness is also questionable. I do not believe the risk of adverse reactions outweighs the risk of disease, as both illnesses are treatable if your veterinarian diagnoses the problem expeditiously. Also, vaccines should not all be administered at one visit. If your pet needs several vaccines, separate them at least four weeks apart.
There are numerous side-effects of vaccination, ranging from mild discomfort after the vaccine to death. Mounting evidence shows that vaccines lead to many immunologic disorders which we see on a daily basis in our practices. Chronic ear infection and skin allergies are among the most common side effects seen. Chronic seizures or encephalitis can occur from post-rabies vaccination, and autoimmune diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Hemolytic Anemia and Immune Mediated Thyroiditis have been linked to vaccination as well. Cancer, including Lymphsarcoma, occurs also more frequently post-vaccination.
In cats, the developments of locally invasive—and often fatal—sarcomas have become so prevalent that veterinarians are now advised to administer vaccinations on the legs, so they can be amputated if this sarcoma occurs. I have witnessed all these phenomena numerous times throughout my 30-plus years of practice.
Additionally, pets who suffer from a chronic disease or cancer should not be vaccinated under any circumstances, as vaccines will most definitely weaken the immune system. Rabies is the only vaccine required by law, but the federal government will accept a written waiver from a veterinarian if your pet is unwell since vaccinating a sick animal is contraindicated.
NA: In your experience, how long do immunization shots typically last, and are there drawbacks to these “booster” shots?
Dr. Luther: As stated previously, the core vaccinations last three or more years, and studies have even shown they can last from five years to a lifetime. Other vaccines such as the Lyme, Lepto and Bordetella vaccine last up to one year—if they work at all. So, the obvious drawback to booster shots is they increase the likelihood of adverse reactions.
NA: Why are pet owners still being advised to vaccinate their animals annually, and would you deem this protocol unethical?
Dr. Luther: In my opinion, the only reason to recommend annual vaccination is for financial gain. Any veterinarian, unfamiliar with the current recommendations which have been established for at least five years, honestly should not be in practice.
I believe it is both unethical and irresponsible to gamble with a pet’s health—or, even life—just to make a few dollars. These pets are family members and deserve the highest level of care we can provide. People trust their veterinarians to look after their furry friends’ welfare, so recommending annual vaccination for the core diseases is a betrayal of this trust. Therefore, I strongly feel that, if your veterinarian recommends annual core vaccinations, they are not competent or ethical—in which case, please find another veterinarian immediately.
NA: Does your practice offer any alternatives to vaccines, and how do they work? Are these options relatively cost-effective?
Dr. Luther: I would advise titer testing to determine whether or not your pet needs a vaccination. This simple blood test costs slightly over $100 and checks for protection from Distemper and Parvovirus. While vaccines are less expensive, I still consider the titer test cost-effective because, if your pet experiences any of the adverse reactions discussed previously, the subsequent treatments will far exceed $100, and your furry friend might never completely regain health. Since the Rabies vaccine is required by law, states currently do not accept the results from titer tests. However, if your pet is sick, vaccination is not required—and absolutely not advisable.
NA: In your estimation, why is the topic of over-vaccination becoming increasingly controversial in mainstream medicine?
Dr. Luther: Now that people can investigate risk factors on the Internet, they are discovering this information on their own. I find that many new clients already understand the dangers of over-vaccination. Unfortunately, both human doctors and veterinarians seem hesitant to change their practices despite this scientific literature, proving the dangers of vaccination. Big Pharma [pharmaceutical conglomerates] will do whatever they can to protect their profits, and it often appears that many veterinarians will do the same.
NA: Can you indicate any resources for pet owners to learn more about these adverse effects of over-vaccination?
Dr. Luther: There are numerous respected resources on the web. I will list a few here…
Dr. Anne Luther, DVM, has been practicing veterinary medicine for over 30 years and holistic medicine for 12 years. She is the founder of Sarasota Animal Medical Center, an alternative clinic that examines your pet’s nutrition, environment and lifestyle to determine the most effective and least invasive treatment options. Sarasota Animal Medical Center is located at 3646 Birky St., Sarasota. For more information, call 941-954-4771 or visit SarasotaAnimalMedical.com.
Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota-Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer, based in Southwest Florida. Her personal blog, HealthBeAHippie.Wordpress.com, features practical tips for embracing a fit, nutritious and empowered lifestyle.