As if the current measles outbreak isn't worrisome enough, there's a new health threat on the horizon--this time from pet parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their dogs. The rabies vaccine is required by law, but vaccines against a host of other illnesses that endanger pets, such as distemper, are not, and therein lies the problem.
Christopher Brockett, president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society, tells New York magazine that more and more pet owners are deciding to skip routinely recommended vaccines. This despite the fact that animal viruses such as distemper--which causes life-threatening respiratory and intestinal distress--have not been completely eradicated. Texas, for example, has seen a recent surge of distemper cases.
"The fewer animals that are getting the vaccine, the greater the likelihood that you're going to have a firestorm if something that is that highly communicable comes along," Brockett said in the New York story.
More than 100 cases of measles have been diagnosed so far in an epidemic that physicians blame on parents who decline vaccinations for their children because of a perceived link between vaccines and autism. No such link has been scientifically proven. Still, so-called vaccine denialist parents routinely hold "pox parties" to expose their children to diseases like measles and chickenpox, hoping the natural immunity they gain from suffering through the illnesses will somehow be safer than vaccination.
A handful of veterinarians have joined the antivaccine movement, advising dog owners to take their puppies to crowded dog parks rather than vaccinating them. This concerns mainstream vets like Tami Pierce, chief of the community medicine service at the University of California at Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. "It is impossible for a puppy to go to the dog park and pick up distemper in such a manner that would only induce natural immunity but not put that same pup at extreme risk of disease," she told the magazine.