With the impact of the pandemic still evident upon all of us, we wanted to focus this month upon the importance of vaccinating your pet.

What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is a biological tool designed to stimulate and elevate your pet’s natural immune system to effectively thwart particular disease-causing agents, such as viruses, bacteria and other microbes and parasites. Vaccinated pets are more likely to be immune to particular biological threats — or to be less severely impacted when exposed.


Happy and Healthy Pet

How do vaccines work?
At the cellular level, a vaccine stimulates the natural production of antibodies which identify and destroy disease-causing organisms that enter your pet’s body. A vaccine enables the body to prepare a response in advance of encountering the threat. Without a vaccine, your pet would become sick and their body would have to work to overcome the threat, producing antibodies reducing the likelihood that they would fall ill to the same agent in the future.

Are vaccines effective?
The science behind the development and testing of vaccines is nothing short of amazing. Vaccine candidates are developed or engineered in the laboratory, tested for basic effectiveness and then undergo large clinical trials to evaluate efficacy, safety and potential side effects. Today’s vaccines are proven, reliable and remarkably effective.

How are vaccines administered?
Most often, vaccines are administered using a small injection beneath the skin. However, some vaccines can be administered as nasal sprays or even orally.


Pet Vaccination

Are vaccinations necessary?
For your pet’s health and safety, we urge you to consider vaccinations based upon several factors, including:

  • Your pet’s risk of exposure to disease-causing organisms based on your pet’s environment and exposure to other animals
  • The health impact if your pet is not vaccinated
  • Your pet’s age and health
  • The effectiveness of the vaccine
  • The probability and severity of vaccination reactions


Beyond your pet’s health, many towns require vaccinations prior to obtaining a required pet license. Today, most pet boarding facilities require vaccinations and written proof thereof. Vaccinations protect your pet from highly contagious and deadly diseases and improve your pet’s overall quality of life.

Do vaccinations present any risks?
Any type of medical treatment has some risk which should be weighed against the benefits of protecting your pet, your family and your community from potentially fatal diseases

While the majority of pets respond well to vaccines, the most common adverse response to vaccination are mild and short-term with the incidence of serious reactions being low.

However, it is not uncommon for pets to experience several of the following mild side effects after receiving a vaccine, usually within hours of the vaccination.

  • 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 several days after your pet receives an intranasal vaccine


If these side effects last for more than one day, or cause your pet significant discomfort, please contact us. More serious, but less common side effects, such as allergic reactions may occur within minutes to hours after a vaccination. If any of these symptoms occur, please contact us immediately:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Itchy skin that may seem bumpy (“hives”)
  • Swelling of the muzzle or around the face, neck, or eyes
  • Severe coughing or difficulty breathing


When should my pet first be vaccinated?
During the first few hours after birth, kittens and puppies ingest antibodies contained in their mother’s milk. These antibodies protect young pets from infectious diseases until their own immune system is more mature.

Surprisingly, maternal antibodies interfere with a vaccine’s ability to stimulate a newborn’s immune system. To counteract this problem, we administer a series of vaccines starting when the animal is 6 to 8 weeks old and repeated at 3 or 4 week intervals until the maternal antibody wanes, usually between 12 and 14 weeks of age. Some initial vaccines, such as those for rabies, are not given until the maternal antibody disappears completely.


Puppy and Kitten

What are common vaccinations?
For dogs, core vaccines address canine parvovirus, canine distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies. Non-core vaccines, administered based upon the dog’s risk of exposure, include vaccines for Bordetella, Borrelia, Leptospira and canine influenza. For cats, core vaccines are administered for: feline leukemia, herpes rhinotracheitis, calici, feline distemper and rabies.

Do vaccinations last forever?
Unfortunately, they do not. The duration varies by the vaccine — typically ranging between one and three years. We will provide you with a schedule to keep your pet healthy and well protected.

We encourage every pet owner to ask us questions. Vaccinations play a critical role in maintaining the health and happiness of your pet which is our sole objective at Kirkwood Animal Hospital.