Why should we vaccinate our pets?
- Veterinary vaccines prevent common infectious diseases that cause severe and life threatening illness.
- They benefit us as well by controlling diseases that can affect both pets and humans such as Rabies and Leptospirosis.
- IT’S ALSO FAR CHEAPER, MORE EFFICIENT AND MORE HUMANE TO PREVENT DISEASE RATHER THAN TO TREAT IT ONCE ESTABLISHED.
- This makes vaccination a very cost-effective procedure in veterinary medicine.
How do vaccines work?
- Survivors of a dangerous infection develop specific resistance to the same disease through a process known as “immune memory”.
- Immune memory prompts faster and stronger future attacks against the same microbe making the animal immune to its disease.
- Vaccines harness immune memory to prevent disease by pre-emptively inducing it BEFORE a natural exposure.
- This is accomplished with a high degree of safety by using harmless, altered versions of microbes to simulate a real infection.
Why are vaccinations especially important in puppies and kittens?
- Puppies and kittens have immature immune systems that make them highly vulnerable to severe infectious complications.
- At birth they receive limited protection from maternally derived proteins known as antibodies.
- These immune proteins are transferred by the placenta or in the mother’s milk.
- They provide significant protection by binding, inactivating and killing many disease-causing organisms.
- Unfortunately, they decrease progressively after birth and disappear by 16-20 weeks of age.
- As the mom’s antibodies wane, newborns become increasingly susceptible to infections.
- Vaccination helps them survive this critical period by safely “jump-starting” their immune system against the most dangerous diseases.
Why do puppies/kittens need a series of vaccines?
- Maternal antibodies in very young animals interfere with vaccines by binding to and hiding them from the immune system.
- Depending on the exact antibody level, this interference usually results in inadequate immunization after a single dose.
- Giving multiple vaccine doses (usually 3) during the critical period between 8 to 16 weeks of age helps each puppy and kitten reach an optimal level of protection.
Why vaccinate adult animals?
- Although puppies and kittens fare the worst, adult animals can also suffer significant illness from preventable infectious diseases.
- For diseases with strong public health concerns, such as Rabies, vaccination is legally required.
- For others such as Bordetella, (Canine “Kennel Cough”) vaccination is required by many groomers and boarding facilities.
Why are booster vaccinations required in adults?
- Vaccine-induced immune memory decays over time and may eventually fail to be protective.
- Adult vaccine boosters will bolster and amplify waning immunity to help prevent disease breakthrough in mature animals.
- In the case of Rabies, vaccine boosters at specified intervals (1 or 3 years) are legally required.
- In the case of Bordetella bronchiseptica, up to date-status boosters are required by many groomers and boarding facilities.
What vaccines should I get for my pet?
CORE VS. NON-CORE VACCINES
Core vaccines: Protect against life-threatening diseases with a high risk of exposure regardless of the pet’s lifestyle. With rare exceptions these are highly recommended for the vast majority of dogs/cats.
- For dogs these include: Canine Parvovirus (“Parvo”), Canine Distemper Virus, Canine adenovirus 1, Canine adenovirus 2 and Rabies
- For cats these include: Feline Panleukopenia virus, Feline Rhinotracheitis virus, Feline Calici Virus and Rabies.
Non-Core Vaccines: Protect against diseases whose exposure risk depends on a pet’s environment and lifestyle. These are considered appropriate for dogs/cats under specific circumstances. Examples of these include:
- For dogs:
- Bordetella vaccination for dogs that visit boarding and grooming facilities or other areas where many dogs congregate.
- Leptospirosis vaccination for dogs that make contact with contaminated water.
- Lyme vaccination for outdoor dogs in certain areas exposed to deer ticks.
- Rattlesnake vaccination for outdoor dogs in areas where rattlesnakes are prevalent.
- For cats:
- Feline Leukemia Virus for cats with outdoor lifestyles or in multi-cat environments.
- Feline Bordetella vaccine for cat’s that visit boarding facilities.
Are pet vaccines safe? Are there any side effects?
- Pet vaccinations have an excellent record of safety and tolerability.
- Most vaccinated dogs and cats suffer no symptoms or complications.
- However, ALL MEDICAL PROCEDURES (INCLUDING VACCINES) carry some risk.
- Awareness of possible side effects helps to assure an appropriate response if they occur.
- Most complications from vaccines are considered mild and self-limiting.
- VERY RARELY, THEY MAY BE SUDDEN, SERIOUS AND POTENTIALLY FATAL. See Emergency reactions and aftercare.
What are the most common vaccine-related complications? How should they be managed?
- Common symptoms are “flu-like” in nature and may include: lethargy, poor appetite, mild fever and injection site pain.
- These are not serious and tend to subside in a day or two. They rarely require treatment.
- It’s prudent to seek veterinary advice if symptoms are debilitating, worsen or last longer than 3 days.
What are some other complications? How should they be managed?
- Less commonly, a lump may form at an injection site.
- This occurs after variable time periods (usually weeks to months).
- Lumps may contain sterile fluid (seroma), inflammatory tissue (granuloma) or pus (abscess).
- Medical intervention may be required for diagnosis and/or treatment.
- Another rare local reaction is hair loss over an injection site that may be permanent.
What are the most serious vaccine reactions? How should they be managed?
- Serious to life-threatening complications are very rare and can be immediate or delayed.
- The most serious immediate complication is a severe allergic reaction.
- This can occur suddenly and may progress quickly to respiratory distress, shock and death.
- Although serious, it responds very well to prompt treatment.
- Most pets can make a complete recovery.
- Symptoms may include any or all of the following: facial or generalized swelling, hives (skin welts), breathing difficulties, repeated vomiting/diarrhea, marked lethargy and weakness, seizures and collapse.
- Any of these symptoms is serious and requires prompt veterinary attention.
Although definitive proof is lacking, some evidence implicates vaccinations with two very rare delayed complications: Autoimmunity and Vaccine Associated Sarcoma.
- Autoimmunity: Results from a misguided immune-system attack on the body tissues.
- Disease severity varies from mild to life threatening depending on the exact tissues involved and the strength of the attack.
- Autoimmune diseases possibly associated with vaccines include disorders of:
- Platelets (thrombocytopenia)
- Red blood cells (immune-mediated hemolytic anemia)
- Joint(s) (arthritis/polyarthritis)
- Blood vessels (vasculitis)
- Nervous system (neuritis/encephalitis)
- Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma: Is a very rare malignant tumor seen mostly in cats. It is estimated to occur in 1 to 2 out of every 10,000 vaccinated cats .
- It presents as a fast growing lump under the skin appearing months to years after vaccination.
- This is a life-threatening complication that requires extensive surgical and medical intervention. Despite treatment it is usually fatal.