There Are Now Anti-Vaccination Pet Owners

A glimpse into yet another way Americans treat their pets like children

photo showing a dog and a cat sitting side by side

Vaccinate Me!

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Be careful at the dog park! There are now anti-vaccination pet owners. Well, they've probably been around for a while, but today, New York magazine published a short story featuring a few veterinarians who have noticed increasing numbers of owners who are reluctant to get shots for their furry friends. Among the illnesses for which folks are refusing immunizations are canine distemper and parvovirus, both of which may be fatal. Luckily, in almost all states, rabies shots are required by law for pets, and some state laws say they'll impound those that go unvaccinated. So presumably cats and dogs are still getting those.

Unlike for children, however, no central U.S. agency tracks how many puppies and kittens get all their recommended shots. So it's not clear how severe the problem is; whether it's concentrated in certain areas, as it is with children; and whether pet illnesses have risen in response. New York mag notes seeming rises in cases of canine distemper, although that's not nationally tallied, either.

Overall, the story does show how issues in human medicine make their way into veterinary practice, and vice versa. Pet obesity has risen in recent years, just as human obesity has. Intense end-of-life treatments have recently made their way into veterinary medicine. And in general, medical advances on one side often make their way into the other.

A quick Internet search for no-pet-vaccination articles finds some of the same unscientific fears that non-vaccinating parents have: that the shots cause arthritis, cancers, diabetes, epilepsy, and a myriad of other diseases. One article even said vaccinated dogs could get autism. While dogs can develop some unhealthy, repetitive behaviors, experts say you can't diagnose a dog with autism because you can't get in the dog's head.

Anyway, these supposed vaccine effects have little basis in medical research in people as it is. They likely have even less support in research regarding dogs, which isn't as big of an enterprise as it is in humans. Dog vaccines, like all medicines, have associated side effects that show up in some—but not all—patients, and owners should weigh the side effects of each shot separately and in comparison to the risk of doggie and kitty diseases.