All About: Infections, Immune Support & Vaccination
Microbes such as bacteria, fungi and viruses are common in the lives of our animals and in fact, many of these unwanted residents live normally on or in the bodies of our animals. Others are foreign and may be introduced into an animal population causing disease. “Dis-ease”, from a holistic perspective, is the body’s way of indicating that natural balance is out of harmony and either the immune system is compromised, the microbe causing the disease is severe, or both.
Why is Infection Present?
With any infection, which is the proliferation of microbes, there are two main factors allowing for progression. Firstly, the susceptibility of the host (animal) and secondly the virulence (ability to cause disease) of the microbe or pathogen (an organism which causes pathology or disease). Whilst there are some infections where the pathogen is extremely virulent, more commonly these days we see infections that arise from bugs which are common residents. This has a huge amount to do with the immune systems of our animals not coping as well as they should.
Avoiding pathogens with good hygiene and addressing environmental factors is important. Additionally, from a holistic viewpoint, the presence of an infection is the tip of the iceberg. Underlying this is the big question of why is the body out of balance and not managing to maintain health so that it naturally repels microbes and infection.
By supporting the immune system, the body’s natural defences are better able to help prevent and fight off infection. To facilitate this, allowance must be made for the body’s inherent healing wisdom to function optimally and do what it does best (heal!). There are three main tiers from which the body draws its resources. Firstly nutrition, providing the good fuel, secondly the healing mechanism must be running smoothly, and thirdly the presence of toxins will act as “spokes in the wheel” of healing. An analogy would be running a car; you may put in all the best fuel but if the engine is faulty or it is clogged up with waste then it won’t run smoothly or go at all.
Stress of any kind will impair the body’s ability to heal and limit an animal’s general vitality. Limiting stress by avoiding stressful situations such as overcrowding or adverse weather conditions and making use of remedies such as Emergency Essence or Rescue Remedy will go a long way to supporting the immune system indirectly.
As always, good nutrition with a well-balanced wholesome and biologically appropriate diet that is free of chemicals and preservatives as well as high in optimal amounts of nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants can make a huge difference to the body’s ability to naturally combat infection.
Extra nutrients such as Vitamin C and proanthocyanidins are anti-oxidants that are superb at helping to boost the body’s defences as well as mop up damage caused by free radicals (which cause cell damage) and thereby allow the body’s resources to be freed up to support healing and maintain health. Intra-venous vitamin C, used by your vet can work wonders to assist with severe infection.
Herbs such as Golden Seal and Garlic have superb anti-microbial properties and Echinacea used as a preventative aid can be very helpful to ward off infections. Echinacea is a bitter herb and cats don’t tolerate dosing well. There are many herbs that have incredible therapeutic properties and are best used under the guidance of a herbalist.
Homeopathy is also a wonderful tool and is best used under the guidance of a qualified homeopath for an individual’s specific requirements. However, complex formulations are available that may be used easily in high risk situations such as in catteries or kennels to assist in preventing infection.
Complementary therapies such as Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, NIS, Bowen Therapy, Acupuncture, Massage and many more can also be very supportive tools to assist the body’s natural defences.
For certain diseases, vaccination can be a useful tool to help prevent infection, especially where diseases are highly contagious and can be life-threatening. As with any medication, there are potential negative effects associated with vaccines such as vaccine reactions. There is also evidence that over vaccination contributes to the development of autoimmune conditions and other degenerative diseases. It’s therefore important to carefully consider which vaccinations are important for your pet and use them appropriately.
What is a Vaccination
A vaccination is a means of giving the body a much less severe form of a disease than it could potentially contract. This primes the immune system to be prepared for the disease thus enabling the body to mount an effective enough defence so that the animal doesn’t become severely ill when exposed to the real thing.
Any vaccine is only as good as the host’s response to it and this requires an animal to have a healthy immune system. This is an important reason why vaccines sometimes fail to provide immunity. Further to this, although for some diseases we can do antibody titre tests to get an idea, it is very difficult to accurately quantify how well a vaccination has worked or how protected an animal is against any given disease. For this reason, predicting the best vaccination protocol can be an educated guess and previously most vet’s best guess was to use these vaccines annually as suggested by vaccine manufacturers, whose label recommendations vets are obliged to adhere to.
Research has shown that many pet vaccines have a much longer term of effectiveness against disease than previously thought. Subsequently, recommendations on the frequency of vaccination for our dogs and cats have changed and many of them no longer require annual boosters for “core diseases” which are the main vaccinations used for pets. For “core diseases”, different vaccine manufacturers may have different label claims on their vaccines to allow for longer duration of immunity. Generally, vaccine manufacturers for dogs and cats now recommend initial puppy and kitten vaccination followed by a booster one to three years later and then three yearly boosters.
Diseases Vaccinated Against
The main or “core diseases” that are vaccinated against are parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis for dogs and calici (rhinotracheitis), herpes and panleukopenia viruses for cats. Some other diseases that may be vaccinated for and may be considered as core diseases depending on the area and risk of disease are rabies, leptospirosis, tetanus and canine cough (parainfluenza and bordatella) for dogs and rabies, FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or Aids), chlamydia and Feline Leukaemia for cats. Some vaccines are highly effective at preventing disease while others are less effective but may still be helpful.
Homeopathic nosodes also known as homeopathic vaccines are available but don’t carry the scientific weight that our conventional vaccines do in terms of efficacy, however negative reactions to these gentle remedies aren’t an issue.
From a holistic point of view, by respecting natural principles and supporting the body’s immune system, many infections may be prevented adding quality of life and helping to increase longevity. Vaccination has its place, but each animal needs to be assessed individually. Their owners must be educated on the benefits of a vaccination protocol versus potential negatives. Pet owners should then come to an informed decision that they’re comfortable with and have the support of their vet.