Plunge in vaccinations is a ticking time bomb for UK pets, vet charity warns
Over 7 million pets at risk of suffering and disease through lack of vaccination, PDSA’s latest PAW Report finds
Latest findings from leading vet charity PDSA reveal a record decline in the number of young pets receiving their vaccinations, leaving millions of much-loved pets unprotected and exposed to potentially fatal diseases.
The 2019 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, the largest report of its kind, found the number of pets receiving their primary vaccinations when young – which protect pets from deadly diseases and viruses – has dropped dramatically from 84% in 2016 to 66% in 2019, an 18 percentage point decrease in just three years. This could leave over 7 million pets unprotected.
Findings from the 2019 PAW Report also show that one third (32%) of pets aren’t receiving regular booster vaccines, which keep them protected from potentially fatal diseases.
Of those pet owners who hadn’t vaccinated their pet, 17% said that they deemed it ‘too expensive’, an additional 17% said their pet didn’t come into contact with other animals. Other explanations included 16% who felt it was ‘unnecessary’, while other pet owners (13%) said that their ‘pet found going to the vets very stressful’.
The worrying findings coincide with growing hesitancy towards vaccinations in children, renewing One Health concerns that an “anti-vax” phenomenon – scepticism towards the safety and efficacy of vaccines – could be directed towards pets as well as children. Falling vaccination rates have been cited by the World Health Organisation as one of the top ten threats to global health**. In 2019, the UK lost its measles-free status, three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.
Basic pet needs are not being met
Commenting on the findings, PDSA Senior Vet, Sean Wensley, said: “It’s extremely worrying to see such a decline in the number of young pets receiving their primary vaccinations.
“Vaccinations have helped to protect millions of pets from serious diseases such as parvovirus, cat flu and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. If people don’t vaccinate we risk seeing a rise in extremely unpleasant, preventable, diseases that can cause considerable animal suffering and death.”
Sean adds: “In addition to the vaccination findings, the PAW Report found there has been a decline in owners who feel informed about all of their pets’ 5 Welfare Needs – the five things that all pets need to be healthy and happy*** - contributing to millions of our much-loved pets not having their basic needs met. For example, 1.9 million dogs (19%) are left alone for five or more hours every day and 1.3 million dogs (13%) aren’t walked every day, increasing the risks of obesity and poor mental wellbeing linked to isolation and boredom.
The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report has monitored pet welfare issues across the UK for the last nine years, surveying over 73,500 people in this time. Produced in conjunction with YouGov, the PAW Report provides a robust insight into the lives of pet dogs, cats and rabbits across the UK. Key findings from the 2019 PDSA PAW Report:
o 18 percentage point drop in proportion of pets who’ve received a primary vaccination course when young over the last three years
o 3 in 4 pet owners don’t realise the true cost of keeping a pet (75% of pet owners guessed lower than the estimated minimum monthly cost for their pet)
o 2 in 10 dogs left home alone for too long (19% of dogs left alone for five or more hours every day)
o Half of all rabbits live in ‘solitary confinement’ (49% of rabbits live alone with no other rabbit for company)
o 99,000 dogs (1%) never get walked
PDSA is calling for owners to complete their online survey to share their thoughts on the health and happiness of their own much-loved pets. There’s also a chance to win a hamper worth £200: https://bit.ly/2luGzE7
Other concerning findings from PDSA’s latest PAW Report, which the charity believes is leading to unnecessary misery for the UK’s pets, include:
• 31% of dog owners, 56% of cat owners respectively aren’t aware of their pet’s current weight or body condition score, meaning millions don’t know if their pet is overweight and suffering in silence
• 43% of cats live in a multi-cat household, when cats generally prefer to live alone.
• Bunnies are highly misunderstood pets and 25% are homed in inappropriate, small hutches where they are unable to exercise and show natural behaviours.
• 26% of owners fail to feed their rabbits hay as part of their main diet, and 21% are fed inappropriate ‘muesli-style’ food, both of which can cause serious dental and weight problems in the UK’s bunnies.
A seven-month-old Rottweiler’s life was left hanging in the balance after catching a deadly virus. Luckily, a simple vaccination can stop other pets suffering like poor Bruno.
Owner Chris Smith (32) and his partner Sam from Cobridge, Stoke-on-Trent, woke up one morning to find their normally energetic puppy lethargic and depressed. He wouldn’t eat, began suffering from sickness and had blood and mucus in his poo.
Bruno’s owners knew something was desperately wrong so they called for advice and rushed him to Stoke PDSA Pet Hospital.
Vets gave Bruno treatment, but when he wouldn’t eat or drink and couldn’t stop vomiting, they knew it could be something much more serious – life-threatening parvovirus.
Bruno was taken to PDSA’s out-of-hours service, run by VetsNow, after his condition meant he couldn’t keep any fluids down and vets were worried he might not pull through.
Chris said: “We couldn’t believe how quickly he deteriorated. We were devastated to see him so sick and when we left him at the vets for treatment we feared it was going to be the last time we saw him.”
PDSA’s veterinary team did all they could to stabilise him and to stop him getting too dehydrated. After he had medicine to help his tummy and a drip giving him fluids, he was finally able to keep his food down and started to improve. He needed lots of care, but Bruno was able to return home to continue his recovery.
Bruno is now much brighter and back to his bouncy ways, but tragically, many dogs with parvovirus don’t get the same happy ending as Bruno. A simple vaccination is the only way to protect them and can make the difference between life and death.
Chris said “It was such a traumatic time - I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting your pets vaccinated.”
Bruno is now fully vaccinated and Chris wants to tell Bruno’s story to help raise awareness of the vital importance of keeping up-to-date with injections.
Mr Meowgi’s Story
A tiny eight-month old kitten, named Mr Meowgi, is one heart-breaking example of a pet who fell victim to a deadly disease that could have been prevented by a simple vaccine.
Owner Alice Jackson from South Belfast, noticed her excitable kitten wasn’t his usual self after he came back from a spell of going missing for a few days. He ate very little and didn’t seem himself. In just a matter of hours, Mr Meowgi deteriorated rapidly, becoming extremely weak.
Alice rushed him to Belfast PDSA Pet Hospital where a vet nurse rapidly assessed him and immediately alerted the vets to start treatment, as he was so unwell. His bloods were taken, revealing he was severely anaemic. Further tests diagnosed a disease that his owner hadn’t known existed: he was suffering from Feline Leukaemia virus (FeLV) – an incurable, fatal disease.
Tragically, despite the best efforts of PDSA’s veterinary team, Mr Meowgi was so ill that he couldn’t be saved, leaving his loving owner and her son distraught.
PDSA Vet Julie Dauncey explained, “Mr Meowgi’s anaemia was one of the worst we’ve seen at the hospital. Unfortunately, FeLV is incurable and once they are infected it leads to serious conditions like anaemia, blood cancer or immune problems. The virus can strike quickly or sometimes lies dormant in their system for some time before causing these conditions. Even with treatment, cats usually die of complications associated with the virus within three years of first contracting it. Sometimes, with serious symptoms, like those shown by Mr Meowgi, cats succumb to FeLV much quicker.”
Owner Alice said: “It’s been incredibly distressing and one of the hardest things I’ve experienced.
“He was an indoor cat and never usually went outside, but one day he escaped and went missing, even though we’re always careful not to let him get out. We can’t say how he caught it, but there are lots of other cats around our area and I’ve since learned it can be picked up from any close contact with other cats.
“If I’d have known a vaccination course would have saved his life I would have had this sorted immediately. Seeing him deteriorate so quickly so traumatic. My son is autistic and had developed a close bond with him, and having to say goodbye to him has broken all of our hearts.
“I want to tell his story to urge everyone to get their pets vaccinated and ensure they are kept up-to-date with their boosters, so other families don’t have to go through what we have.”