Top Ten Topics Veterinarians Wish Pet Owners Better Understood, Part 2

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Updated: January 30, 2018
Published: June 05, 2012
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6. Reduce Reliance on Medications that Have the Potential for Serious Side Effects

Many veterinary prescribed medications are used to treat animal diseases. Although these drugs fight infection, reduce inflammation, minimize pain, and kill cancer cells, there exists potential for associated mild to severe side effects. Therefore, it’s vital that pet owners reduce their furry companions’ reliance on these medications to maintain or improve quality of life.

My holistic veterinary practice specializes in pain management, so my patients need medication to manage the discomforts associated with arthritis, degenerative joint disease (DJD, the sequelae of arthritis), trauma, surgery, and cancer. I recommend the appropriate use of medications, but their need can be reduced through:

  • Environmental modifications (making your home "pet-safer," etc.)
  • Nutraceuticals (omega fatty acids, joint support products, antioxidants, etc.)
  • Healthy weight management (dietary modification, exercise, etc.)
  • Physical Rehabilitation (massage, stretching, range of motion, etc.)
  • Acupuncture treatment (laser, moxibustion, electrostimulation, etc.)

If the healthiest possible state is maintained despite age, trauma, or disease, a pet’s medication requirements can be minimized.

7. Only Healthy Pets Should Be Vaccinated

I am not anti-vaccine, but I advocate the judicious use of vaccinations according to the UC Davis Canine and Feline Vaccination Guidelines.

Life threatening health consequences may be associated with vaccination administration. Even a single vaccine can elicit a hypersensitivity ("allergic") reaction, emergence of immune system diseases (including cancer), worsening of inflammatory conditions, organ system failure, seizure activity, and death.

Pets should be vaccinated only when they are in the best state of health; illnesses should be resolved to the utmost extent before a vaccination is given.

8. Vaccinate Individually

Regarding the administration of multiple vaccinations, pet owners must be less motivated by convenience and more concerned with the maintenance or improvement in their pet’s health. If more than one vaccine has been administered and a post-vaccination reaction occurs, determining which agents are at fault is impossible. Common post-vaccination adverse events include lethargy, anorexia (decreased appetite), hyperthermia (high body temperature), or a more serious reaction, like vomiting, diarrhea, shock, or death.

Receiving more than one vaccination in a single veterinary appointment will not make your pet healthier; it only saves an additional trip to the veterinary hospital. A three to four week interval between vaccinations is ideal. Health and safety should always trump convenience.

9. Alternatives to Vaccinations

If your pet has previously been vaccinated, adequate antibody levels may still exist in the blood. According to AVMA Vaccination Principles:

While there is evidence that some vaccines provide immunity beyond one year, revaccination of patients with sufficient immunity does not necessarily add to their disease protection and may increase the potential risk of post-vaccination adverse events.

Pending the pet’s the overall health status and the likelihood of exposure to a particular infectious organism, owners should ask their veterinarians to perform titers (antibody levels) before a subsequent vaccine administration occurs. Distemper, parvovirus, and rabies vaccinations produce antibodies that can be detected through a simple blood test. If the titer is adequate and the likelihood a dog will be exposed to these organisms is low, then the decision to hold off on the vaccination can be made under the guidance of the veterinarian providing care. If the titer is low, then the vaccine can be appropriately given.

As immunity is a complex process, merely having a sufficient titer does not guarantee resistance to infection by a particular organism. This is why an individualized, case-based approach is important.

My own pooch, Cardiff, has endured three bouts of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) in his seven years of life. A vaccination will induce Cardiff’s immune system to mount an inflammatory response to the administered antigens and put his own red blood cells at risk for destruction. The triggers for Cardiff’s IMHA are unclear, so I do my best to prevent him from suffering from another hemolytic episode by avoiding known immunostimulants (vaccination, hypersensitivity from insect invenomation, bacteria from ticks and fleas, etc.).

I do yearly antibody titers on Cardiff and his levels have been normal despite his last vaccination having been before his first IMHA episode.

A step in the right direction regarding the legality of rabies vaccination recently occurred when AB258 (AKA Molly’s Bill) was passed in California. The bill states:

This bill would exempt from the vaccination requirement a dog whose life would be endangered due to disease or other considerations that a veterinarian can verify and document if the dog received the vaccine, as determined by a licensed veterinarian on an annual basis.

Molly’s Bill will help veterinarians and pet owners pursue the best route of health maintenance, while abiding by state regulations aimed at minimizing zoonotic diseases affecting both people and pets.

10. Obtain Medical Information from Credible Sources

We live in a modern age where owners can easily seek advice about their pets’ illnesses or wellness. Therefore, veterinarians must be equipped to advise clients on the best web-based resources for medical information.

My preferred references for pet owners to seek reliable information include:


Veterinary Partner

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

Pet Poison Helpline

Veterinary News Network

Truth About Pet Food

Dog Food Advisor

As technology and information sharing are fully integrated into our society, I encourage my clients to research on-line and to share their findings with me so I can offer the best advisement on potential treatments for my patients.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Are you SURE we aren't going to the vet by Mary Louise Eklund / via Flickr