Vaccines are health products that trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians. Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of dogs, cats, and other animals. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents continue to be present in the environment.
For most dog and cats, vaccination is effective and will prevent future disease. Occasionally, a vaccinated pet may not develop adequate immunity and, although rare, it is possible for these pets to become ill. It is important to remember that although breakdowns in protection do occur, most successfully vaccinated pets never show signs of disease, making vaccination an important part of your pet’s preventive health care. Although most pets respond well to vaccines, like any medical procedure vaccination carries some risk. The most common adverse responses are mild and short-term, including fever, sluggishness, and reduced appetite. Pets may also experience temporary pain or subtle swelling at the site of vaccination. Although most adverse responses will resolve within a day or two, excessive pain, swelling, or listlessness should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Rarely more serious adverse responses occur. Allergic reactions can occur within minutes or hours of vaccination. Signs of an allergic reaction include repeated vomiting or diarrhea, whole body itching, swelling of the face or legs, difficulty breathing or collapse. Contact your veterinarian immediately if any of these symptoms are seen. In very rare instances death could occur from an allergic reaction. There are other uncommon but serious adverse responses, including injection site tumors in cats, which can develop weeks or months after vaccination. Ask your veterinarian about any abnormalities you notice after your pet has been vaccinated. Remember that while vaccination is not without risk, failure to vaccinate leaves your pet vulnerable to fatal illnesses that are preventable.
Very young puppies and kittens are especially highly susceptible to infectious diseases. This is especially true as the natural immunity provided in their mothers’ milk gradually wears off. To keep gaps in protection as narrow as possible and to provide optimal protection against disease for the first few months of life, a series of vaccinations are scheduled, usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most puppies and kittens, the final vaccination in the series is administered at when they about 4 months of age.
Not all pets should be vaccinated with all vaccines just because these vaccines are available. Discuss with your veterinarian your pet’s lifestyle, access to other animals, and travel to other geographic locations, since these factors affect your pet’s risk of exposure to disease. “Core” vaccines are recommended for most pets in a particular area. “Non-Core” vaccines are reserved for pets with unique needs. Your veterinarian will consider your pet’s particulars, the diseases at hand, and the application of available vaccines to customize a vaccine recommendation for your pet.
For many years, a set of annual vaccinations was considered normal and necessary for dogs and cats. Veterinarians have since learned more about diseases and pets’ immune systems, and there is increasing evidence that immunity triggered by some triggered by some vaccines provides protection beyond one year. The immunity triggered by other vaccines may fail to protect for a full year. More than one successful vaccination schedule is possible. Talk with your veterinarian about what is best for your pet.