Importance of Vaccines

      Vaccinations are an important component of pet healthcare and also play a key role in the control of disease at the national and global level. Vaccines are designed to strengthen an animal’s immune system against a certain disease, to either prevent or minimize the effects of that infection, should the animal later be exposed. They consist of either modified or killed forms of the microorganism. Vaccine guidelines have been created for our pet population and generally consist of “Core” vaccines, which every animal should receive, and Non-Core” vaccines, which are given depending on life style. However, the most important component in vaccine management is consulting with your veterinarian so they can create a vaccination plan specifically tailored to your pet.

      You may have wondered why puppies and kittens receive a series of vaccinations. Young animals have naturally occurring immunity to disease, which they receive from their mothers during pregnancy and while nursing. This natural immunity begins to breakdown over the first few months of life, putting the puppy or kitten at risk for disease. For an animal to mount their own immune response, and for a vaccine to be effective, the naturally occurring immunity must be gone. We don’t know the exact point that any given animal will lose their natural immunity, and be ready to mount their own individual immune response, so a series of vaccines are given to ensure we don’t put a young animal at undue risk for disease, but also are able to impart long term immunity. For this same reason it is important not to exposure your puppies and kittens to animals with uncertain vaccination history, or environments where sick animals may have been, until their vaccine series is completed.

      There are two “Core” vaccinations given to dogs. The first is rabies, which is required by law due to its potential to spread to human beings. The second is DAP, which is a combo vaccine which protects dogs from some very serious viral diseases, including parvovirus and distemper. Several “Non-Core” vaccines for dogs exist which you and your veterinarian can decide upon based on your pets lifestyle and the diseases they may be at risk of contracting.

      “Core” vaccinations for cats include rabies, and the combo vaccine FVRCP, which primary is designed to cover cats for upper respiratory infections. One of the primary “Non-core” vaccines for cats is Feline Leukemia Virus, a life threatening disease which outdoor cats are at risk of contracting.

      Veterinarians would agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks. About 1 in every 200 animals will have an adverse vaccine reaction, but most reactions are very mild. Most vaccine reactions are limited to pain at the injection site, but they can also include facial swelling, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and in rare causes anaphylaxis and shock. Some cats can also develop cancer at the site of injection years after their vaccination, but this condition is rare (about 1 in 10,000) and modern vaccines put cats at less risk.

      Although there are risks associated with vaccinations, they are an important tool available to your veterinarian to prevent serious and often life threatening disease in your pet. Vaccines are also largely responsible for controlling and even eradicating several of the world’s most serious infectious diseases, in both people and animals. By working with your veterinarian a vaccination plan can be made to minimize risk and keep your pet protected.

Trevor Miller, DVM