August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual campaign to improve public understanding of vaccines, and their vital role in the prevention of debilitating and deadly diseases. Pets worldwide now enjoy an extended quality and quantity of life, which is a testament to veterinary vaccination protocols. Vaccinations are easy and affordable, and can help ensure your pet’s health and wellbeing. 

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines contain a small amount of a disease pathogen that has been altered to prevent infection. Inoculating a pet with disease may seem counterintuitive, but the introduction of a modified pathogen stimulates the immune system to create antibodies against the foreign invader. In the future, the immune system will deploy the customized antibodies when your pet encounters the disease naturally, and fight off the pathogen. A vaccine is like giving your pet’s immune system the rival team’s playbook—your pet’s body will know every move the enemy will make, and can meet them head-on.

Why should you vaccinate your pet?

A vaccine not only positively affects the single pet who is vaccinated, but also has a ripple effect in your home, environment, and community. 

  • Vaccines prevent dangerous diseases in your pet The number one reason for vaccinating your pet is your pet, whose lifelong health is directly impacted by vaccination. Vaccines protect your pet from many major infectious diseases, or at least significantly reduce severity of signs. The prevalence of diseases such as canine parvovirus, feline panleukopenia, leukemia, and rabies virus has been drastically reduced since routine vaccination programs began, saving millions of pet lives.
  • Vaccines lower pet care costs Preventive care, such as routine veterinary examinations and vaccinations, significantly decrease pet care costs over time. Disease prevention is more affordable than diagnosis and treatment, which may include costly hospitalization, lab work, blood transfusions, or surgery—all of which, despite best efforts, pets may not survive. Tragic diseases, such as parvovirus and panleukopenia, have no cure, and can only be managed. Rabies virus is 100 percent fatal. Prevention through vaccination is always a pet’s best hope.
  • Vaccinating your pet protects your family and community Pets are routinely vaccinated against diseases with zoonotic potential (i.e., diseases that can be spread from animals to humans). Conditions in pets, such as rabies and leptospirosis, are transmitted through the saliva and urine of pets and wildlife, risking humans to exposure. Vaccinated pets control the spread of disease in their home and community, and contribute positively to public health.   
  • Vaccination protects pets against wildlife and feral populations Many infectious diseases in pets are carried and transmitted by wildlife through direct contact (e.g., bite wounds, and saliva) and indirect contact (e.g., urine or feces, and contaminated objects). Pets are commonly vaccinated against these severe, sometimes fatal, diseases found in wildlife and stray populations, including:
    • Canine distemper
    • Canine parvovirus
    • Rabies
    • Leptospirosis 
    • Feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Vaccination may be required by law, or pet facilities Rabies vaccination is a legal requirement in many municipalities to control the virus spread to pet populations, and to protect residents. Proof of vaccination may be needed to obtain a county or city pet license, so check your local government’s requirements. If an unvaccinated pet bites someone, rabies quarantine and observation protocols are often strict, requiring that the pet be kept at an animal control facility until the rabies danger has passed. 

Many pet care facilities, like boarding kennels, require that pet vaccinations, such as rabies, distemper, bordetella, and influenza, are current, to protect their facilities against infectious disease outbreaks. 

Why do puppies and kittens need vaccinations?

Puppy and kitten veterinary appointments can seem constant, but  a series of vaccinations is vital for their immune system development. Puppies and kittens are first protected by their mother’s antibodies through an inherited passive immunity. The effect of early vaccination is cancelled out by passive immunity, but that immunity fades at an undetermined point in time, leaving the young puppy or kitten vulnerable to disease. By vaccinating every two weeks, the young pet is given blanket coverage and any potential gaps are eliminated.

Discuss your pet’s disease risk factors

Talk to your veterinarian about which vaccinations are right for your pet’s lifestyle. Although rabies vaccination is required every one to three years, after completion of puppy and kitten vaccinations, some pets may go on a reduced vaccine schedule if they have minimal disease risk factors. 

Vaccination side effects in pets

Some pets experience hypersensitivity reactions to vaccines. Vaccine reactions will typically present after the first vaccine and can appear as:

  • Facial swelling, especially around the neck and eyes
  • Hives
  • Respiratory difficulty

Pets should always be closely monitored after vaccination and returned to the veterinarian for prompt treatment of any reaction. In the future, pets may be pre-medicated with diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl) to prevent any reaction, or an optional vaccine may be removed from the pet’s protocol.

The contribution that routine vaccination has made in the lives of pets is as immeasurable, as is our love for them. National Immunization Awareness Month is the perfect time to ask your veterinarian questions about your pet’s vaccination schedule, or what vaccines are recommended for your pet. For pet emergencies, please contact our team at the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center.