Dog owners and veterinary associations across Britain are warning of the dangerous and even deadly side effects from a popular vaccine designed to protect dogs from a rare and mild illness.
Thousands of dogs are dying or suffering with severe allergic reactions after being treated with a vaccine which was meant to protect them against mild bacterial infections, according to their owners.
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Fears over the safety of the vaccine against leptospirosis – a bacterial infection spread to dogs through rats and wild animals – have now led veterinary organisations to issue warnings about its side effects.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is urging owners not to use Nobivac L4 vaccine on puppies under 12 weeks old.
However, the Telegraph can reveal that is still being administered in veterinary practices across Britain to dogs from seven weeks old, with little warning of the potential side effects.
According to reports made to the Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) by pet owners, more than 120 dogs are feared to have died after receiving a dosage in the three years the product has been on the market.
In the last two years, regulators have received 2,000 reports of dogs having suspected adverse or fatal reactions.
Whilst leptospirosis can cause kidney problems and death in extreme cases, it is not recommended as a “core” vaccine to be given routinely.
Owners that have opted for the L4 vaccine, which is registered for use across Europe, have reported adverse effects including epileptic fits, swollen glands and blindness.
Carol Blackburn-Harvey, a breeder who has sold dogs to the likes of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, told the Telegraph her rare Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka – which has featured in adverts and the Sky documentary Unnatural Selection – died weeks after being vaccinated.
Mrs Harvey said that within three weeks of the vaccine her dog became “overbalanced” and struggled to walk.
After numerous attempts to treat the deteriorating condition – including chemotherapy costing £6,000 – Mrs Harvey’s dog was revived from a coma, but died days later after contracting meningitis.
The vaccine, which is manufactured by MSD Animal Health, a subsidiary of American conglomerate Merck Sharp & Dohme, is currently being monitored by the VMD.
The regulator has however refused to reveal the total number of animals that had been affected since the product came onto the market, prompting concern among dog owners that the scale of problem is being kept hidden from the public.
The VMD also declined to say whether it will consider taking the product off the market, because its researchers have so far failed to find enough evidence linking the vaccine to dog fatalities.
MSD Animal Health says that L4 is one of the most widely used vaccines for dogs – with more than a million doses annually – and reports of adverse effects are “rare” and fully investigated.
In 2014 the European Medicines Agency requested that warnings be added to the vaccine so that the “risks of the product are fully understood”, highlighting that “signals were identified mainly relating to anaphylaxis and various immune-mediated conditions such as anaemia, thrombocyte-penia and arthritis.”
It has advised the manufacturer to compare reactions to those recorded from the previous leptospirosis vaccine. No conclusions have yet been reached and L4 remains on the market.
The WSAVA also ruled that leptospirosis vaccines “can be associated with adverse reactions” and are “associated with as many or more adverse reactions than occur for any other” optional vaccine on the market.
It advises that puppies should not be vaccinated with L4 before the age of 16 weeks, but Nobivac L4 is licensed in the UK for use on puppies from just seven weeks and is often offered without warnings.
Bridgette Evans, an accredited spaniel breeder with over 25 years’ experience, claims that every dog she has taken to be vaccinated with L4 had suffered adverse effects.
A litter of six pups Mrs Evans vaccinated developed swollen glands and inflammation around the injection site within 48 hours of treatment, with some lesions swelling up to the size of “tennis balls”.
She said that one of her dogs had died within three weeks of treatment, adding that L4 had caused “defects” in the animal’s immune system “to flare up”.
“Vets are not willing to admit or are in denial about the risk posed by the vaccine – it can kill perfectly fit and healthy dogs,” she claimed.
n at least one instance, the manufacturer also paid for a customer’s veterinary bills, after one of their dogs became ill after being vaccinated.
Gudrun Ravetz, Junior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association said: “It is critical that pet owners report any suspected adverse reactions to their vets so they can be thoroughly and scientifically investigated and reported to the veterinary medicines regulators.”
A spokesman for the Veterinary Medicines Directorate said: “VMD monitors information on adverse events reported after using medicines continually for all the medicines authorised in the UK.”
A spokeswoman for MSD said: “It is important to critically examine the facts relating to adverse events vs. anecdotes that are not substantiated by science and medical evidence. A report does not mean causation.”
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