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Q&A: Make a case for veterinary vaccinations


Help hesitant veterinary clients understand the importance of vaccinations.

Q. A client refused vaccinations because she doesn't believe in them. How do we help her see its role in preventing viral infections, such as rabies?

Your first step is to gather information about actual cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, says Dr. Emily Beeler, zoonosis veterinarian with the Veterinary Public Health and Rabies Control Program of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. She recommends gathering this information in written form, so you can hand it to the client. Here's what Dr. Beeler says you need to know to educate your clients.

  • Rabies data. Every state in the nation except Hawaii has rabies in local wildlife. Contact your state or local health department to ask about the number and species of rabid animals detected in your area in the last year. And keep in mind that this is the minimum number of rabid animals in the area, not the maximum. Your local information may be available online.

"In Los Angeles County, we detected 38 rabid bats in 2011, more rabid bats than we've ever detected before," Dr. Beeler says. "Every year we have cases where rabid bats are discovered when they're being played with, or carried around by, pets. In the United States in 2010, there were more than 6,000 rabid animals detected, including 303 cats and 69 dogs." You can obtain links to national data at dvm360.com/vaccinationdata.

  • Local parvovirus, distemper, kennel cough, panleukopenia, and feline upper respiratory infection data. Unlike with rabies, most cases of vaccine-preventable diseases aren't officially counted, she says.

"Undoubtedly you've seen some of these diseases yourself in practice," Dr. Beeler says. "You've seen the suffering and expense involved. Consider writing up a handout that describes a case of each of these diseases in detail, in story-like

form, omitting the client's name to maintain privacy. Ask the client who owned the sick pet what their opinion is on vaccinations, and add the anonymous quote to your write-up with their permission."

You can also call your local animal control agency to ask how many pets with vaccine-preventable diseases are relinquished at their shelters, she says.

"There are many news reports of parvovirus outbreaks nationwide," Dr. Beeler says. "Look for some in your area and print them out for clients. In Los Angeles County, parvovirus, distemper, and panleukopenia are reportable diseases. Parvovirus is the easiest to track. In 2011, more than 800 parvovirus cases were reported."

  • Laws regarding rabies vaccination. Your client may be unaware that laws require rabies vaccinations because it's a public health issue. Ask your state or local public health agency or animal control agency for written copies of the laws. Most state laws follow national guidelines (find links to them at dvm360.com/vaccinationdata).

Obtaining a pet license generally requires rabies vaccination. While some states allow for exemptions, obtaining one often requires following a specific protocol. Simply refusing to get the rabies vaccination may cause your client to face legal liabilities or fees.

Your clients also may not know that their pet may be subject to a prolonged quarantine if they skip the rabies vaccine, Dr. Beeler says. In most states, after a pet is exposed to a rabid or potentially rabid animal, the law requires the pet to be quarantined and observed for the development of clinical signs of rabies.

If the pet is up-to-date on its rabies vaccination, the quarantine is usually 30 to 45 days. If not, the quarantine is six months. Consider this real-life example: When the pet interacts with wildlife that are considered rabies reservoirs, such as bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, or coyotes, the pet must be quarantined unless the wild animal tests negative for rabies.

"Vaccinations have led to a tremendous decrease in several infectious diseases in both people and animals," Dr. Beeler says. "The result is that fewer people have seen or experienced such diseases for themselves. This lack of knowledge can lead people to underestimate the suffering these diseases can cause."

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