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Anti-Vaxxer Dog Owners Are Putting Their Pets At Risk By Avoiding Shots

The anti-vaccination movement has begun to extend to pets, with some owners risking their dog's lives due to unfounded autism concerns.

The trend of avoiding vaccination for pets emerged in the UK and the US several years ago, but has now reportedly reached Australia, with some pet owners opting instead for herbal remedies.

It's becoming an increasing concern amongst vets, Australian Veterinary Association president Dr. Paula Parker told 10 daily.

Parker believes that these anti-vaccination concerns are being driven by misleading articles distributed on social media, and whenever anti-vaxxer articles for pets are published, it is followed by a "flurry" of pet owners raising concerns with vets.

It's becoming a local issue in the eastern Sydney suburb of Bondi, as The Bachelor host Osher Günsberg found out.

His wife Audrey took their dog to a vet in Bondi for a booster shot on Tuesday.

"The vet told her that some Bondi pet owners didn't want their dogs vaccinated because they were worried about autism," Günsberg posted on Instagram.

"This is why we can't have nice things."

He added that anti-vaxxer views were "like a cult", and that "once a believer is past a certain point, any question of their position appears as heresy and drives them further towards irrational belief."

Pet owners are increasingly opting out of vaccinating their dogs due to autism concerns. Source: Instagram.

Sydney's eastern suburbs, including Bondi, have lower rates of full immunisation for five-year-old children than other areas of the city; just 92 percent of kids receive all their vaccinations, compared to 95 percent in Sydney's south-eastern suburbs and 94.2 percent in western Sydney.

Vets have asserted the concerns of autism in dogs are entirely unfounded -- much like the concerns that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism in humans.

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The connection between vaccinations and autism was first sparked by a 1998 paper published in the medical journal The Lancet, which claimed that amongst 12 children, many exhibited autism symptoms after being given the MMR vaccine.

Australia has seen dozens of measles cases in 2019 already. Photo: 10 News First.

The study was found to be fraudulent due to misreporting of results and altering of patient medical histories, and was later retracted by the prestigious journal. Lead author of the study, Andrew Wakefield, was de-licensed by medical authorities for his fraud and mistreatment of children under his care as a doctor.

Professor of Veterinary Microbiology from the University of Melbourne, Professor James Gilkerson, told 10 daily that even while disregarding the fraudulent basis of the anti-vaxxer movement, autism is not a disorder diagnosable in dogs.

"Given that autism is a very difficult thing to diagnose in people and it's around behavioural changes and how people interact with others, that's going to be very difficult to assess in dogs," Gilkerson said.

Dogs are generally given one shot to vaccinate against distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus. All of these conditions are acute infections that can cause wide-ranging medical issues and may lead to the death of dogs and cats.

Some dog owners are growing apprehensive about vaccinating their dogs due to vaccine concerns. Source: Getty.

To avoid these infections, vets recommend that pet owners vaccinate their animals early in their lives and then adhere to a regime of regular vaccinations for life.

Gilkerson adds that failing to vaccinate pets is even more risky for the pets than failing to vaccinate children, due to the different way the vaccines act in animals' bodies.

Animal vaccines do not stop vaccinated animals from spreading the infection. The vaccines are designed to increase immune reaction to protect the animal from the dangerous consequences of the disease but if a vaccinated animal is carrying the infection, it can still 'shed' the disease and transfer it to other animals through saliva, sneezing, or coughing.

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"The vaccines for dogs aren't designed to prevent infection, they're designed to protect the dog against the disease," said Gilkerson.

This means that even when dogs are vaccinated and have herd immunity, the viruses are still present in the community, and unvaccinated dogs are likely to become infected.

Outbreaks of parvovirus and distemper are seen when vaccination rates drop in a community. There have been several in regional NSW after periods of prolonged drought when farmers have failed to vaccinate their sheepdogs, Gilkerson said.

Pet owners who may have concerns about the health implications of vaccinations should simply speak to their vet, Parker advised.

"They should have an appointment once or twice a year where they discuss a whole preventive course of action for their pet," Parker said.

"If they do have questions or they do see something online, it's best to have that conversation with their vet."

Contact the author: elscott@networkten.com.au