Reassure your clients: Ignore the anti-vaxxers, vaccinations won’t give their pets autism

Dogs cannot get autism.

The British Veterinary Association (BVM) took the unusual step of making that definitive announcement last week to counter the impact of the antivaccine movement led by “anti-vaxxers.” Although their views are widely refuted by the medical communities in both Great Britain and the United States, anti-vaxxers maintain that immunization can have harmful side effects that may cause autism in children.

The BVM isn’t so much worried about homegrown antivaccination fears as they are imported ones: “We are aware of an increase in antivaccination pet owners in the US who have voiced concerns that vaccinations may lead to their dogs developing autism-like behavior. But there is currently no scientific evidence to suggest autism in dogs or a link between vaccination and autism.”

The BVM issued the statement amid growing reports by British veterinarians that some clients are refusing to have their pets vaccinated, due in part to the antivaccination fears on the part of pet owners in the United States.

Not that those fears are widespread.

In fact, a lot of the news reports about the so-called pet anti-vax movement seems to be isolated to a relatively small section of Brooklyn, New York. Veterinarians there have reported a significant rise in the number of pet owners rejecting immunization for their pets. And the news stories indicate that that those pet owners rejecting immunization tend to belong to be a small minority of young, hip, urban Millennials.

Still, that small cohort of Brooklynites was vocal enough to move the BVM to issue their statement.

NEWStat asked AAHA’s Senior Veterinary Officer, Heather Loenser, DVM, to comment on the BVM’s assertion.

Loenser said, “As a parent and a veterinarian, I understand the drive to look to prevent behavioral issues in both our pets and our children. However, I support our colleagues’ concise, current scientific reasoning that not only can dogs not develop autism, but even if they did, it wouldn’t be associated with vaccines.”

“I also believe that vaccination protocols should be tailored to the risk factors and lifestyle of the individual patient,” Loenser added. “That is why I am so proud of AAHA’s Canine Lifestyle-Based Vaccine Calculator, which can be used as a bridge between pet caregivers and veterinarians when discussing vaccination protocols for individual dogs.”

If you ever wondered how the antivaccination movement made the leap from concern about children developing autism to concern about pets developing autism, some news stories about the phenomenon link to a 2014 study co-led by Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS, DVA, DACVAA, DACVB.

Dodman, Professor Emeritus of Clinical Science at the Cumming School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts, and his colleagues found that neurotensin (NT) and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) were elevated in some autistic children compared to children without autism.

Here’s the kicker that caught everyone’s attention: The researchers also found those same hormones (NT and CRH) were elevated in some bull terriers who chased their tails obsessively compared to bull terriers who didn’t. The tail-chasing bull terriers also demonstrated other behaviors similar to those observed in people with autism.

More significantly, the researchers noted that “Many owners of [bull terriers] in the aforementioned study reported that their dogs were ‘socially withdrawn’ and some spontaneously used the term ‘autistic’ to describe their personality.” [Italics added for emphasis.]

In other words, the owners of the dogs in the study were self-describing their dogs as autistic. That was not the finding of the researchers.

And the study certainly didn’t mention a link between autism and vaccinations.

So, tell your clients they can rest easy. And to keep their pets’ vaccinations up to date.

Photo credit: © iStock/ilona75

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