Pet care with Dr. Sandi Sawchuk

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show
Larry Meiller finds out whether the human anti-vaccination movement is having an impact on pet health. Plus, the detective work necessary when a pet is just not herself.

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  • Veterinarian: Pet Vaccinations Offer Huge Benefits, Pose Slim Risks

    The reluctance to vaccinate children can have far-reaching results, as evident from this year’s measles outbreaks. According to a veterinary expert, it appears that anti-vaccine sentiments are making their presence felt in the area of pet health as well.

    Dr. Sandi Sawchuk is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. She said that while pet vaccination is not tracked on a national level, the anecdotal evidence is that there are more pet owners than before who are opting out of vaccinations or deciding to go with fewer shots.

    Just as in the area of human health, Sawchuk said the fact that vaccinations have been very effective means that many previously widespread diseases are rarely seen today. That means owners may feel less of a sense of urgency about preventing them.

    “People are saying, ‘If we never see a case of parvo, why do we have to vaccinate against it?’” she said.

    Sawchuk said that she was deeply impacted by a canine parvovirus epidemic she witnessed early in her career.

    “When I first graduated, this was not even a disease that we knew anything about, and I can’t tell you how many dogs lost their lives because we didn’t have a vaccine available to help prevent this disease,” Sawchuk said.

    Unlike a disease like measles in humans, which has been under control for a long time thanks to vaccinations, the parvovirus can live in the environment and is highly contagious. That means the virus is still out there, and unvaccinated dogs are at high risk.

    “So even if you think that you keep your dog isolated, and you just walk him on the sidewalk, they are still at risk for getting some of these diseases,” Sawchuk warned.

    The additional risk with many of these diseases that are preventable with vaccination is that if a pet is ill and survives, there can be life-long debilitating results.

    “I am a huge believer in vaccinating, because those diseases are still out there and I just don’t want to see an epidemic again. That was not a happy time in my career, and it’s wonderful to say that I’ve gone for 10 years without seeing a dog distemper case, or a year without seeing a parvo case. And I hope to keep it that way,” Sawchuk said.

    Sawchuck noted that a lot of pet owners encounter misinformation regarding vaccinations, such as with the risk of possible adverse effects.

    “When we start looking at how many dogs actually have adverse reactions to vaccines, about 16 out of 10,000 vaccinated animals had an adverse reaction,” she said. “And that adverse reaction could just be something like a low-grade fever, maybe vomiting or a little injection site pain or swelling. So it can be very minor.”

    She added that only 2 out of those 16 animals who experience adverse affects have a serious enough reaction to warrant veterinary care or assistance.

    Ultimately, Sawchuk said she hopes that concerns about possible side effects will not deter owners from having their pets vaccinated.

    “It’s pretty low odds considering that you’re preventing diseases that are almost always fatal for dogs unless they’re in the hospital getting intensive treatment and in isolation,” Sawchuk said.

    The American Veterinary Medical Association has lists of diseases that are common in cats and dogs that can be prevented with vaccination. They also have a page with frequently asked questions about pet vaccinations.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Dr Sandra Sawchuk Guest

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