What are Pet Vaccines and Why are They Important?
VACCINATIONS: AN OVERVIEW
The importance of pet vaccinations cannot be emphasized enough. They prevent many illnesses that affect pets. Apart from helping to keep your pets safe and healthy, vaccines also work against the transmission of dangerous (and some deadly) diseases not only to other animals but also to humans.
VACCINES AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Vaccines are designed to prevent disease rather than treat a disease. A vaccine trains the body’s immune system so that it is prepared to fight the “invasion” of disease-causing organisms that it has not previously encountered.
Vaccines contain antigens which are substances that look like the disease-causing organism to the immune system but don’t actually cause disease. When the vaccine containing the antigen is introduced into the body, it stimulates the immune system. If and when the pet is exposed to the real disease, the pet’s immune system is prepared. This preparation allows the immune system to either recognize and fight the disease off or reduce the disease’s severity.
There are different vaccines for various diseases and different types and combinations of vaccines. Consult with your veterinarian for a vaccination protocol that’s customized for your pet. Age, medical history, environment, travel habits and lifestyle are some factors that need to be considered. Most veterinarians highly recommend administering core vaccines. These are vital to all pets because of exposure risk, severity of disease or transmissibility to humans. Your veterinarian may also recommend non-core or optional vaccines depending on the exposure risk based on your pet’s lifestyle. For example, if your dog is frequently outdoors or boarded often, non-core vaccines may be considered.
VACCINES FOR DOGS
Dogs should receive core vaccines to fight against highly contagious viral diseases that include canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies.
Depending on the exposure risk, dogs can also receive non-core vaccines. These include vaccines against Bordetella bronchiseptica, Borrelia burgdorferi and Leptospira bacteria.
VACCINES FOR CATS
Cats should receive core vaccines to fight against panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis) and rabies.
Cats can also receive non-core vaccines to fight against feline leukemia virus, Bordetella, Chlamydophila felis and feline immunodeficiency virus.
WHEN SHOULD VACCINES BE ADMINISTERED?
Vaccination is a procedure that has risks and benefits that must be weighed for every pet relative to his lifestyle and health. Your veterinarian can determine a vaccination protocol that will provide the safest and best protection for your individual animal.
In the past, veterinarians recommended yearly pet vaccinations for the following reasons:
- Core vaccines offered immunity for at least a year (confirmed by vaccine manufacturers)
- During an annual vaccination visit, veterinarians can also perform a general health check
Annual general check-ups are essential for the early detection of health problems, including:
- Skin disease
- Heart disease
- Renal disease
During the visit you can talk to your veterinarian about spaying/neutering or other concerns such as behavioral changes. You can even discuss parasite management and the latest recommended options for pets.
Certain later studies showed that SOME core vaccines (for cats and dogs) can provide protection for 3 years against:
- Canine parvovirus
- Canine distemper
- Feline panleukopenia
- Infectious canine hepatitis
Still, not all manufacturers offer identical vaccines and not all pets respond the same to vaccines in general. You should consult your veterinarian to determine the best vaccination program for your pet.
LOCAL LAWS REGARDING MANDATORY VACCINES
Each state has its own laws governing the administration of the rabies vaccine. Some areas require yearly rabies vaccination. Other areas call for vaccines every three years. In almost all states, proof of rabies vaccination is mandatory.
Vaccines cannot completely prevent your pet from getting a disease. It is administered to provide resistance, if the disease is contracted. There are too many factors, including environmental factors, that hinder complete prevention.