Keeping My Animals Happy

Answers To Some Common Pet Vaccination Questions

by Reginald Ruiz

Vaccination is an important part of your pet's preventative care. When it comes to human vaccines, concerns based on misconceptions prompt many parents to opt out of having their children vaccinated. Similarly, pet owners have questions and concerns when it comes to vaccinating their furry family members. It is perfectly acceptable to address your apprehensions about pet vaccines to your veterinarian. Educating yourself on the facts instead of the myths will enable you to make the best decision for your dog or cat. Find out the answers to some common questions about animal vaccines and how you and your veterinarian can work together to make your pet's vaccination experience as carefree as possible.

Why Is Vaccination Necessary?

The role of a vaccine is to promote your pet's immune system's ability to fight off a specific illness. Over the course of modern history, vaccines have shown success in dramatically reducing the incidences of some serious diseases that were once common. One example of this, according to Ron Hines, DVM, is canine distemper, which was once the most common fatal illness that dogs contracted. Today, thanks to a vaccine, canine distemper is rare. However, it remains fatal in roughly half of the dogs who contract the disease. Since canine distemper has such a mortality rate and, although rare, still exists in some areas, veterinarians continue to vaccinate their canine patients against this disease. This is similar to human measles, which was once a common illness until a vaccine was introduced and made part of the regular childhood vaccination protocol. The measles vaccine is still administered today because the disease was not eradicated entirely, as was demonstrated when an infected tourist recently visited New York. Those who are not vaccinated and were exposed to the same areas as this tourist are at risk of contracting the disease. Vaccination keeps people safe from illnesses, and they keep pets safe as well. There are numerous animal vaccines that are available today, but your pet does not need all of them.

Which Vaccines Will Your Pet Need?

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) periodically releases an updated set of guidelines for animal vaccinations. These guidelines include core vaccines, which are those that are recommended for all patients, as well as noncore vaccines, which are additional vaccines that are recommended only for patients who are at an increased risk of exposure to the illnesses. The core vaccines for dogs include:

  • Adenovirus-2
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Parvovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Rabies virus

Some noncore vaccines for dogs include the following:

  • Bordetella
  • Canine influenza virus H3N8
  • Canine influenza virus H3N2
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease

Core vaccines for cats include the following:

  • Calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus-1
  • Feline panleukopenia virus
  • Rabies

A commonly used noncore vaccine for cats is the feline leukemia virus vaccine.

There are many additional noncore vaccines on the veterinary market. Your veterinarian will be able to determine which noncore vaccines if any, your pet should receive.

How Is the Need for Noncore Vaccines Determined?

Your veterinarian may ask you some questions about your pets and their lifestyles. A Yorkshire terrier who lives in a high-rise apartment and is trained to eliminate solely on elimination pads will not have the same risks of exposure to certain illnesses as a Labrador retriever that joins the family on hiking and camping trips in the woods every weekend. The need for noncore vaccines is based on several factors. Some factors that are considered include the following:

  • The geographic location of your residence, such as whether or not you live in a heavily wooded area or in an area where there has been a number of cases of a particular disease
  • The age and overall health condition of your pet
  • Whether or not your cat goes outdoors
  • Whether or not your pet will be exposed to wildlife
  • Whether or not your dog will be exposed to other dogs, such as in boarding kennels, dog parks, doggie day care centers or grooming salons
  • Your pet's past medical history

These factors will all be considered as your veterinarian recommends a tailored vaccination protocol for your pet. Part of your pet's past medical history to consider is whether or not your pet has ever experienced a vaccine reaction.

What Are the Vaccine Reactions in Pets?

A common fear of vaccines is that of the potential for vaccine reactions. Some people believe that a vaccine actually makes a patient sick with the very illness that it is supposed to protect him from. Others have heard the anecdotal tale of a pet who died suddenly after receiving the vaccine injection. Vaccines can incite reactions, and so can anything else that is introduced into the body, from oral medications, injected drugs, and even food.

Side effects are not the same as reactions. After vaccination, your pet may be tired and experience soreness or slight swelling at the injection site hours after inoculation. Serious reactions tend to present within a short time after injection. Some signs of a vaccine reaction include the following:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the muzzle, face, neck or around the eyes
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing or respiratory difficulties
  • Collapse

If you notice any of these signs after your pet is vaccinated, seek emergency veterinary care at once. If your pet has previously experienced such a reaction, be sure to remind your veterinarian when it is time to revaccinate. For milder previous reactions, such as skin hives, your veterinarian may administer an injection of diphenhydramine before vaccination to prevent the hives from occurring this time. He may recommend leaving your pet at the hospital for a couple of hours after the injection to be monitored for any signs of a reaction. For more serious previous reactions, your veterinarian may recommend omitting the offending vaccine from your pet's future animal vaccination services protocol.

How Often Do Pets Have to Be Vaccinated?

The frequency of vaccine boosters is determined by various factors. The AAHA makes vaccination schedule recommendations for most vaccines, and state laws mandate the frequency for rabies vaccination. A puppy receives natural immunity against some illnesses from his mother's milk, and once the puppy is weaned from his mother, a series of vaccine injections must be given to prime his immune system and build up his own level of immunity. Once the series is complete, boosters are administered every one to three years, depending on the particular vaccine, on state rabies vaccination laws, and on your pet's individual needs.

Most veterinarians do not administer all available vaccines to all of their patients. On the contrary, your veterinarian will listen to your concerns, learn about your pet's lifestyle and weight the benefits against the risks to tailor a vaccination plan that will give your furry companion the best shot at staying disease-free. Be proactive in protecting your dog or cat by discussing pet vaccination services with a veterinary hospital like Columbine Animal Hospital & Emergency Clinic.