‘Anti-vax’ sentiment creeping into pet care, warn vets

17 April 2019

Vets are concerned that scepticism about vaccination is creeping over from human health into pet care as new statistics show that 98% of vets have been questioned by their clients on the need for vaccination.

Well-meaning owners may be putting their animals at risk by relying on vaccination information gleaned from websites and social media groups, according to new statistics from the British Veterinary Association (BVA), released ahead of World Veterinary Day on 27 April. This year’s Word Veterinary Day theme is vaccination and BVA is reminding pet owners of the vital role vaccination plays in protecting the health of animals across the UK.

Of the vets who had been questioned 95% said that their clients’ questions are influenced by their own internet research. And 90% of those felt that clients were finding their information about vaccinations mainly from non-veterinary sources. Commenting on these recent figures from the Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, British Veterinary Association Junior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said:

“Vets always welcome questions from their clients – we need to work together if we want to ensure the best health outcomes for animals. However, it’s concerning that almost every companion animal vet has been questioned on the need for vaccination and that vets feel this is so strongly influenced by what their clients read on non-veterinary websites.

“We know from the example of the MMR vaccine and its now disproven link to autism in children that scaremongering can lead to a loss of public confidence in vaccination and knee-jerk reactions that can lead to outbreaks of disease. We would hate to see a similar trend against vaccination of pets, based on no scientific evidence, take root in animal healthcare.

“Vaccination is vital. Pets in the UK have been amazingly well-protected from many terrible diseases such as parvovirus, hepatitis, distemper and leptospirosis, all of which used to be endemic here, through the power of vaccination and ‘herd immunity’. As a vet, it is hugely concerning to consider the future for pets in this country if owners begin to move away from regularly vaccinating.”

Social media sites are starting to address these issues in human health, with Instagram announcing last month that it will block ‘anti-vax’ hashtags in an attempt to stem the sharing of medical misinformation on its platform. But dozens of sites and social media groups dedicated to discussing these theories still remain and 79% of vets say that it has become more common for their clients to question the need for vaccinations.

In order to counter the rise of misleading information available online, BVA is encouraging vet practices to proactively discuss the importance of preventive healthcare, including vaccinations, with clients. The WSAVA guidelines for vets and owners provide evidence-based information may help with client concerns and discussion.

Ms Dos Santos added: “Only by working together to promote the value of pet vaccination to every client can we prevent a resurgence of these devastating and easily avoidable diseases.”

BVA Media Office