Are vaccinations really necessary?
Every pet’s lifestyle, environment and owner preferences are different so vaccination recommendations and decisions are made collaboratively by pet owner and veterinarian on a case by case basis. Vaccinations help protect your pet from a number of potentially serious and even fatal diseases, such as Rabies. Not only that, vaccinations cost considerably less than the treatments available for the diseases pets are normally vaccinated against. Every pet should be vaccinated – even indoor dogs and cats can be exposed to a rabid bat. Rabies vaccination is mandatory in all municipalities for human and animal protection. Many people believe that vaccines are not necessary as disease becomes less prevalent. In fact, the reason why diseases have become so rare is that the majority of pet owners vaccinate their pets causing the actual rates of disease to do down. If we stop vaccinating, disease rates will increase causing more pets to become sick from these easily preventable diseases.
How do vaccinations work?
Vaccines contain viruses or bacteria that have been modified so that they will not cause disease. When an animal is vaccinated, it stimulates two parts of the animal’s immune system. One is the production of antibodies, the other is the stimulation of cell mediated immunity, which, in combination, mount a response against the bacteria or virus in question. If the dog or cat is later exposed to that disease, the two parts of the immune system will react quickly to destroy the disease-causing agent.
Why does my pet need regular booster vaccinations for the same disease?
The protection provided by a vaccine gradually declines over time. Your pet needs regular “booster” vaccinations to ensure ongoing immunity from disease.
Do I need to get my pet vaccinated every year?
This is a topic which is currently under investigation within veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, the duration of immunity for each vaccine is not currently known.
While pet owners can have blood tests done on their pets to assess the pet’s antibody level, this does not test the level of immunity currently provided by the pet’s cell mediated immune system. Until more is known about the duration of immunity, the frequency and type of vaccines administered will vary. Talk to your veterinarian about the risk of viral and bacterial diseases in your area, and the need for one, two or three year vaccines.
When considering what is best for you pet, please remember that pets age faster than people. Pets can’t talk, and because “survival of the fittest” meant that only the healthy and strong survived in the wild, animals will try to hide any evidence of illness as long as possible. This means that there may not be any outward signs that your pet is ill until the disease is quite advanced.
That’s why, in addition to having regular vaccinations, it is extremely important that your pet has an annual physical examination. By performing a yearly physical examination, your veterinarian can detect early signs of organ dysfunction and illness. With early diagnosis comes early treatment. Early treatment in turn leads to an increased life span and an improved quality of life for your pet.
Are vaccinations 100% safe and effective?
Although your veterinarian cannot guarantee that a vaccine will fully protect an animal against a given disease, vaccinations have proven to be the simplest, safest and most effective means of preventing a number of diseases in pets.
It is important to administer vaccines only to healthy animals. If the animal is already suffering from an illness, or is receiving certain drugs, its immune system may not be able to respond to the vaccine. For that reason, prior to vaccinating your pet, your veterinarian will ask you about your pet’s medical history and perform a complete physical examination.
Puppies and kittens require a series of vaccinations during their first four months of life. Nursing pups and kittens receive antibodies from their mother’s milk (maternal antibodies) which protect them from disease during the first months of life. These same antibodies can prevent a vaccine from being totally effective. Consequently, as maternal antibodies decrease, your veterinarian will give your pet a series of vaccines spread over a period of 6 to 16 weeks of age, to provide your pet with the best possible protection.
It is very important that you follow the vaccination schedule provided by your veterinarian. Missing a vaccine booster or being more than a few days late could put your pet at risk of contracting disease.
Puppies and kittens should not be exposed to unvaccinated dogs and cats, sick dogs and cats, or places where dogs and cats roam (public parks etc.) until they have completed their puppy or kitten series of vaccinations.
Despite your veterinarian’s efforts to design a safe vaccination protocol for every pet, vaccine reactions can and do occur. Thankfully, they are not common. Like a drug or a food, a vaccine is capable of causing an adverse reaction. Some of these reactions are mild (some discomfort at the injection site, lethargy or loss of appetite for a day or so). Some of these reactions are more severe (allergic reaction, immunologic reactions). If your pet has reacted to a vaccine in the past, inform your veterinarian.
There is a lot of misinformation circulating in the pet world these days. Just as in human medicine, vaccinations have been implicating in causing or contributing to many diseases (i.e. measles vaccine as a cause for human autism). Usually, these suspicions are merely associations and there is no strong scientific evidence to suggest or prove causality. Of course, we understand one’s decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate and we are here to help with any questions or concerns you may have! Since anyone can post information on the internet, it can be difficult to tell what conflicting ideas are scientific facts and what is instead “pseudoscience”. Misinformation can go viral and usually predominates over solid evidence-based fact. The link below is very helpful and, of course, be sure to discuss your vaccine questions concerns thoroughly with your veterinarian!
Veterinary Vaccines-Fact and Fiction