Vaccinations are an essential part of keeping your pet safe from illness. So, veterinarians throughout the U.S. recognize August as the National Pet Immunizations Awareness month to educate pet parents on the importance of vaccinations for their pets. Vaccines prepare your pet’s immune system to fight disease-causing agents by stimulating your pet’s immune system’s production of antibodies that identify and destroy disease-causing organisms that enter your pet’s body.
Reasons to vaccinate your pet.
- Vaccinations prevent many pet illnesses.
- You can avoid costly treatments for diseases that vaccines can prevent.
- Vaccinations prevent diseases that can be passed between animals and from animals to people.
- Diseases prevalent in wildlife, such as rabies and distemper, can infect unvaccinated pets.
- In many areas, local or state ordinances require certain vaccinations of household pets. For example, it is Texas law that all cats and dogs three months of age and older are required to have current rabies vaccinations.
Do vaccinations ensure protection?
For most pets, vaccination will effectively prevent future diseases or decrease a disease’s severity. However, it is crucial to follow the vaccination schedule provided by your veterinarian to reduce the possibility of a gap in protection.
What are the risks of vaccinating my pet?
Most pets respond well to vaccines. Some pets may experience adverse reactions. The most common side effects to vaccination are mild and short-term. Severe reactions are rare. While uncommon, a serious adverse reaction in cats is a tumor (sarcomas), which can develop weeks, months, or even years after vaccination. Improvements in vaccine technology and technique have significantly reduced the occurrence of sarcomas.
While vaccines have associated risks, you should weigh the risks against the benefits of protecting your pet.
Puppy and Kitten Vaccinations
Very young animals are highly susceptible to infectious disease because their immune system is not yet fully mature. They receive protection through antibodies in their mother’s milk. Still, the defense is not long-lasting, and there may be gaps in protection as the milk antibodies decrease and their immune system is still maturing. Maternal antibodies can also interfere with a puppy’s or kitten’s vaccine response, so we recommend a series of vaccines to ensure that the puppy or kitten receives a vaccine as early as possible after maternal antibodies subside.
In many instances, the first dose of a vaccine primes the animal’s immune system against the virus or bacteria. Subsequent doses help further stimulate the immune system to produce the antibodies needed for long-term protection.
Do I need to follow my pet’s vaccination schedule?
An incomplete series of vaccinations may lead to insufficient protection, making puppies and kittens vulnerable to infection. So, we urge pet parents to follow their pet’s vaccination schedule and ensure they finish the series for their pet.
We schedule vaccinations usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most puppies and kittens, we give the final vaccination at about four months of age; however, we may alter the schedule based on an individual animal’s risk factors.
Which Vaccinations Should My Pet Receive?
Core vaccines are vital to all pets based on exposure risk, disease severity, or transmissibility to humans. We recommended them for most pets in a particular geographical location because they protect from diseases most common in that area.
Non-core vaccinations are for individual pets with unique needs. Your veterinarian will consider your pet’s risk of various preventable diseases to customize a vaccination program for optimal protection throughout your pet’s life. We will ask you questions about your pet’s lifestyle, including any expected travel to other geographical locations or possible contact with other pets or wild animals, since these factors can impact your pet’s risk of exposure to certain diseases. We will work with you to help you determine a tailored vaccine schedule for your pet.
How often will my pet need to be vaccinated?
Many vaccinations provide adequate immunity when administered every few years, while others require more frequent schedules to maintain an acceptable level of immunity that will continually protect your pet. Your veterinarian will determine a vaccination schedule that’s appropriate for your pet.
What are antibody titers, and do they replace vaccinations?
Antibody titers are blood tests that measure the level of antibodies in the blood. While antibody titers do not replace vaccination programs, they may help us determine if your pet has a reasonable expectation of protection against disease.
Many factors are taken into consideration when establishing a pet’s vaccination plan. Your veterinarian will tailor a program of vaccinations and preventive health care to help your pet maintain a lifetime of infectious disease protection.
Do vaccinations have side effects?
It is common for pets to experience some or all the following mild side effects after receiving a vaccine, usually starting within hours of the vaccination. If these side effects last for more than a day or two or cause significant discomfort for your pet, you need to contact us:
- Discomfort and local swelling at the vaccination site
- Mild fever
- Decreased appetite and activity
- Sneezing, mild coughing, “snotty nose,” or other respiratory signs may occur 2-5 days after your pet receives an intranasal vaccine.
More severe side effects, such as allergic reactions, may occur minutes to hours after vaccination. These reactions can be life-threatening and are medical emergencies. Seek veterinary care immediately if any of these signs develop:
- Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Itchy skin that may seem bumpy (“hives”)
- Swelling of the muzzle and around the face, neck, or eyes
- Severe coughing or difficulty breathing
- A small, firm swelling under the skin may develop at the site of a recent vaccination. It should start to disappear within a couple of weeks. If it persists for more than three weeks or seems to be getting larger, you should contact us.
Important note: Always inform us if your pet has had prior reactions to any vaccine or medication. If in doubt, wait 30-60 minutes following vaccination before taking your pet home.
Do exotic pets need vaccinations?
For some exotic pets, the answer is “yes.” Because exotic pets are prone to different diseases than cats and dogs, they require different vaccinations to ensure immunity. However, some exotic pets, such as reptiles, do not need vaccines. If you have an exotic pet, please ask about vaccinations your pet may need.
There are a variety of diseases that affect our pets and other animals. Vaccination is vital to protect them from the many illnesses they are susceptible to. It’s essential to consult with us about the unique risks of living in our region. Don’t hesitate to contact us; we will be happy to discuss the benefits of protecting your pet with vaccinations and provide you with information on the required vaccinations for your pet.
Dr. Lisa Lowenstein
Braescroft Animal Clinic