Millions of UK pets at risk of deadly diseases following dramatic decline in vaccinations

31 May 2017

New findings from the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2017 raises concern

The BSAVA shares concerns over new findings in the seventh annual PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, which monitors pet welfare issues across the UK.

Leading vet charity PDSA is warning that millions of UK dogs, cats and rabbits are at serious risk of deadly diseases as the number of owners vaccinating their pets has declined steeply.

The new Report reveals a significant decrease in the number of owners protecting their young dogs and cats with primary vaccination courses. The latest results show that just 75% of dogs (7.0 million) and 65% of cats (6.7 million) received a primary vaccination course when young. These are the lowest levels recorded by the Report and compares with 82% of dogs and 72% of cats in 2011. Furthermore, only 66% of owners (5.6 million cats, 7.3 million dogs, 500,000 rabbits) surveyed in 2017 have protected their pet with annual booster vaccinations.

Alarmingly, 2.3 million UK dogs (25%) received no vaccinations when they were young, a significant increase from just 18% in 2011. Cats are also being left at risk as 3.6 million received no primary vaccination course – this has increased from 28% in 2011 to 35% in 2017. Rabbit needs remain the most neglected with only 50% receiving a primary vaccination when young, a decrease from 63% in 2016, and 55% not receiving their annual booster vaccinations.

BSAVA President John Chitty, said the trend was a cause for concern for vets.

“The current vaccination levels in dogs, cats and rabbits are far below the levels expected to provide a ‘herd immunity effect’, with the consequence that significant reductions in these diseases are further away, and those pets not vaccinated are at even greater risk.

“In particular, it is deeply worrying to see the fall in vaccinated rabbits. The recent advances in myxomatosis vaccines mean that it is now much easier and cheaper to ensure more complete protection of pet rabbits from what is a common and lethal disease. The advent of RHD-2 virus in the last couple of years also seems to have failed to stimulate more owners seeking vaccination for their rabbits, especially given the publicity that this has generated.”

The PAW Report, produced in conjunction with YouGov, has surveyed more than 63,000 people since 2011, to provide the most robust insight into the welfare of UK pets.

Commenting on the troubling new findings, PDSA Head of Pet Health and Welfare, Nicola Martin, said: “The decreasing number of dogs, cats and rabbits receiving primary and booster vaccinations is a great concern for the health and welfare of the nation’s pets. Vaccinations protect pets from infectious diseases, which can severely impact their health, and can often be fatal. Early immunisation can prevent a long list of diseases that can affect our companion animals.”

Reasons behind the decrease 

Of those surveyed, owners expressed ‘cost’ as one of the top reasons for failing to vaccinate their pet. Twenty percent of both dog and cat owners and 10 percent of rabbit owners who hadn’t vaccinated their pets gave ‘too expensive’ as their reason for not vaccinating.

Nicola adds, “While the latest PAW Report confirms that many of us get pets for the companionship and love they bring to our lives, it also highlights many owners continue to misjudge the costs involved in owning a pet. Despite potential lifetime costs of dog ownership easily rising to £21,000, the Report revealed 98% of dog owners surveyed estimated that their dog would cost less than this over the dog’s lifetime. This shows that the veterinary profession and animal welfare organisations need to do more to raise awareness of the financial reality of pet ownership – including preventive care and veterinary treatment – before owners take on a pet.”

In addition to cost, the Report revealed that, of owners who hadn’t vaccinated their pets, 14% of dog owners, 22% of cat owners and 32% of rabbit owners felt vaccinations were unnecessary. 24% of pet owners who hadn’t vaccinated their pets said that this is because their pet didn’t come into contact with other pets.

Nicola continues, “These findings show there’s a real lack of knowledge of the devastating diseases pets are susceptible to if they’re not protected through vaccination.  It’s important we improve vaccination levels before we face a resurgence of pets suffering with vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Read the PAW report