As they are for humans, vaccines are an important part of a pet’s healthcare. They stimulate an animal’s immune system to produce antibodies that fight off disease. The process is similar to an antivirus program on a computer. If the animal is ever exposed to the real disease, it’s able to fight it off entirely or lessen its severity. Not only do vaccines protect the animal that’s vaccinated, they also reduce the transmission of disease within the animal population. And some vaccines even protect people. Rabies, for instance, can be easily passed from animals to humans.
But not every pet needs to be vaccinated against every disease. Your veterinarian will recommend a vaccination protocol that’s right for your pet. Factors s/he’ll consider include age and general health, medical history, environment, lifestyle, and travel.
The American Animal Hospital Association has identified certain core vaccines which every pet should receive. Exceptions should be made only when there is a serious health concern – such as a previous adverse reaction – that makes the risk outweigh the benefits.
Your veterinarian may recommend other, noncore vaccines, depending on the risk of exposure given your particular pet’s lifestyle. For dogs, these might include vaccines for Lyme disease, Bordetella, leptospirosis, and canine flu. For cats, it might include the feline leukemia virus vaccine.
For puppies and kittens, a series of vaccinations is required because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. The first dose is typically given at 6-8 weeks of age and the last at 16-20 weeks. Once the series has been started, it’s crucial to complete the entire course on schedule.
For an older pet that has been vaccinated regularly throughout its life, there is a good possibility that a lifelong immunity has developed. And, given that the risk of exposure for a senior pet is smaller due to a less active or more indoor lifestyle, pet owners may want to discuss with their veterinarian the need to continue vaccinating an older pet. (It should be noted, however, that in most counties in Ohio, including Hamilton and Clermont, a rabies vaccine is mandated by law for both cats and dogs.)
Some pet owners may be concerned about the risks and side effects of vaccinations. The reality is, most pets experience absolutely no side effects. And, if a pet does have a reaction, it’s usually minor and self-limiting – a low grade fever, soreness or swelling at the injection site, loss of appetite, or sluggishness. Very serious or life-threatening side effects are rare. Always report to your veterinarian any changes in your pet after vaccination.
Fear of side effects shouldn’t be a deterrent to vaccinating. The risks associated with vaccines are very small compared to the risk of disease and the cost of treating it. Nor should cost be a barrier; vaccines are a relatively inexpensive part of veterinary care. Low-cost vaccine clinics are now widely offered at many vet practices. And for pet parents living on a fixed or limited income, Pets In Need makes them even more affordable.
Please vaccinate and give your pet the best chance for a long and healthy and happy life!