This month’s newsletter focuses upon the role vaccinations play in maintaining your pet’s health.

Should I vaccinate my pet?
Your decision to vaccinate your pet depends on 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 protective ability of the vaccine
  • The probability and severity of vaccination reactions
  • Any local laws requiring specific vaccinations (such as rabies, etc.)

Why do I need to vaccinate my pet?
The immune system plays a vital role in sustaining your pet’s health. One of the critical functions performed by this complex system of specialized cells and molecules is to protect against disease and infection from viruses, bacteria and other microbes and parasites.

Vaccines strengthen your pet’s immune system against disease-causing organisms. Vaccines contain antigens that mimic disease-carrying organisms to a pet’s immune system. When a vaccine is administered, your pet’s immune system mounts a protective response. With this response in place, your pet’s immune system can prevent infection or reduce its severity if your pet is exposed to a similar disease-causing organism.

Though vaccines play a critical role in controlling infectious diseases, most do not induce complete protection from disease or provide the same level of protection in all animals. For added protection, it is best to reduce your pet’s exposure to known infected animals or contaminated environments.

How are vaccines administered?
Depending upon the type of vaccine, they can be administered orally, nasally or through a simple painless injection. Regardless, your pet experiences no pain or discomfort through the process.

Importance of Pet Vaccinations

Why does my pet require a series of vaccinations?
During the first few hours after birth, kittens and puppies ingest antibodies contained in their mother’s milk. These antibodies protect kittens and puppies 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, veterinarians administer a series of vaccines starting when the animal is 6 to 8 weeks old. Vaccination is then repeated at 3 or 4 week intervals until the maternal antibody wanes, usually when the pet is 12 to 14 weeks old. Some initial vaccines, such as those for rabies, are not given until the maternal antibody disappears completely.

Must my pet be vaccinated every year?
The answer depends in part on the vaccine. For example, certain rabies vaccines provide protection for longer than one year. In this case, vaccination with a triennially approved rabies vaccine can be given every 3 years (after the initial series is completed and when consistent with local rabies vaccine requirements) is sufficient.

Recent research suggests that panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus vaccines for cats and distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza virus vaccines for dogs provide adequate protection for several years. As a result, many veterinarians now recommend these vaccines be boostered only once every 3 years.

Are vaccines dangerous?
Although vaccines are indispensable in fighting many infectious diseases, there is no risk-free vaccine. Like any medical procedure, there is a small chance that reactions can occur from a vaccination. To maximize the benefits of vaccination and minimize risks, you should vaccinate against infectious agents to which your pet has a realistic risk of exposure, infection, and subsequent development of disease. Inform your veterinarian about any vaccine reactions experienced by your pet in the past before your pet is vaccinated again.

What types of reactions to vaccines might occur?
While reactions are rare, they can best be placed into two categories. If you suspect your pet is having a reaction, contact us immediately.

Mild reactions usually start within hours to several days after a vaccination and typically last no more than a few days. Symptoms include:

  • Discomfort at the site where a vaccine was given
  • Mild fever
  • Diminished appetite and activity
  • Sneezing about four to seven days after an intranasal vaccine was given
  • Small, firm, painless swelling under the skin where the vaccine was given. The swelling usually goes away after several weeks, but if you notice such a swelling, contact us.

While rare, severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions can occur several minutes to several hours after administering a vaccine. Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Facial/throat swelling
  • Difficulty breathing

Ask Us Questions
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.

To best help maintain the health of your pets, our doctors were trained at the very best veterinary schools in the United States and collectively have more than one-half century of hands-on experience helping cats and dogs.

Kirkwood Veterinarians
We look forward to helping you.