IThe AVA updated its policy on vaccination of dogs and cats in June 2009, which has since been re-ratified as a position statement. It reflects the latest scientific literature recommending less frequent vaccination for adult cats and dogs, and that pet owners need to discuss with their veterinarian the best option for their individual pet. Vaccination is no longer a simple one-size-fits-all proposition.

The policy states that once puppies and kittens have received a full course of vaccines, they may only require triennial vaccination for core diseases.

For dogs the core vaccines are parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis, and for cats they are feline panleucopaenia/enteritis, feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus.

All puppies and kittens need a series of vaccinations against three global disease threats - distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus for dogs and parvovirus, calicivirus and herpesvirus for cats. Usually the series concludes with a booster twelve months after the final vaccination.

After that, dogs and many cats may only need vaccinations for these diseases every three years or more.

However, many dogs and cats need vaccinations for other diseases too, and the frequency varies. For example, kennel cough vaccinations need an annual booster. In some parts of Australia, additional vaccinations for local diseases are necessary to protect our pets.

A number of other issues will also be taken into consideration like where the animal lives, how much time it spends outdoors, and its age and general health. While internet searches are good at finding out generalised information, a veterinarian will take all the individual factors into consideration when recommending a preventive regime.

Annual vaccination has traditionally been the cornerstone of preventive veterinary care for our animal companions. As dogs and cats age five to seven times faster than humans, good preventive health care is still vitally important, regardless of whether vaccination boosters are required.

Before the introduction of routine vaccinations in the early 1960s, veterinarians regularly treated canine distemper, an often fatal disease featuring a collection of nasty clinical signs affecting respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems leading to death. Now it’s virtually unheard of.

By contrast, today’s local vets still regularly encounter the suffering and deaths of loved family pets from preventable canine parvoviral enteritis. Outbreaks still occur in neighbourhoods where not enough animals have been vaccinated. The financial and emotional costs of a dog with a highly contagious parvovirus infection are a steep price to pay for inadequate preventive care.

Available evidence suggests the vaccines we currently use are very safe. An occasional contamination of a vaccine batch has led to some fatalities, but these accidents are rare. Some veterinarians believe that serious illnesses such as hypothyroidism and immune-mediated anaemia are caused by excessive vaccinations, but supporting evidence for this belief is not strong.

There is one well-documented adverse effect of vaccinations in cats. Fortunately it is fairly uncommon.  Certain types of vaccine have been known to cause cancers (sarcomas) at the injection site in a small proportion of vaccinated cats. This risk has been associated with the use of adjuvanted vaccines, which are available in Australia.  The risk of cancer from modified live vaccines, also widely available and used in Australia, is negligible.

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