Gather your pets, and raise a biscuit or feather wand to National Immunization Month. August is officially dedicated as a time to recognize the significant role preventive vaccinations have played and continue to play in veterinary medicine and worldwide public health. To acknowledge our gratitude, and increase awareness, Leland Veterinary Clinic has put together a guide to understanding the importance of vaccinating your pet.

How pet vaccines work

Pet vaccines contain a tiny, inert piece of virus or pathogen within a carrier liquid known as an adjuvant. When a pet receives a vaccine, their body recognizes it as a foreign substance, which is analyzed by the immune system. The immune system can then produce antibodies specific to the injected virus particle or microorganism. If, or when, the disease is encountered naturally, the body will recognize it immediately and send the pre-designed antibodies to destroy the disease-causing invader.

Vaccinations benefit pet health

Vaccinated pets have a strong immune response to threats in their environment, and, thanks to the efficacy of vaccines through the years, it can be easy to overlook or underestimate these threats. Although widespread pet vaccination has decreased the prevalence of preventable disease, the following pathogens still exist and can infect unprotected pets:

  • Rabies
  • Parvovirus
  • Canine distemper
  • Canine adenovirus (i.e., canine hepatitis)
  • Canine parainfluenza
  • Canine influenza (H3N2, H3N8)
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Feline panleukopenia
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline leukemia
  • Feline herpesvirus

Exposure and infection to these diseases leads to unnecessary suffering, long-term damage, and in some cases, death. Vaccination ensures protection against infection in the majority of cases, and significantly reduces symptoms if a pet does become infected.

Vaccinations make pet care more affordable

Sick pets often need costly treatment and medication to restore their health, and some preventable diseases result in chronic conditions, requiring lifelong management. Vaccinations are the most economical way to ensure a pet’s health, longevity, and strong immune system while reducing unnecessary suffering and expense.

Vaccinations reduce disease transmission between animals and humans

When you choose to protect your pet, you are also protecting your loved ones and your community. Vaccines reduce disease transmission between animals, lessening the risk of exposure to unvaccinated neighborhood pets. Zoonotic diseases are ones that can be shared between animals and people, such as the rabies virus, which has a 100 percent fatality rate in animals. Rabies is equally deadly in humans who do not receive post-exposure vaccination before clinical signs appear.

Recommended pet vaccinations

To ensure your pet’s future health, vaccinate them according to veterinary recommendations. Puppies and kittens receive specific vaccinations every three to four weeks until they are 20 weeks old to ensure there are no gaps between maternally inherited passive immunity and their own natural immunity. Adult pets receive annual booster vaccinations at one year of age to enhance immunity, and then every three years thereafter for core (i.e., essential) vaccines. Leland Veterinary Clinic uses proven and effective three-year vaccines for core immunizations in adult dogs and cats. We adhere to the American Animal Hospital Association’s vaccine protocol guidelines:

  • Core vaccinations for dogs:
    • DAPP — A combination vaccine against distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza
    • Rabies virus
    • Leptospirosis
  • Non-core (i.e., elective) vaccinations for dogs:
    • Bordetella bronchiseptica
    • Lyme disease
    • Canine influenza

Non-core vaccinations are optional and encouraged for dogs who are considered at high risk of contracting disease. Boarding, grooming, training, and doggy daycare facilities may require specific vaccines to prevent an outbreak of contagious disease. Hunting dogs and dogs who are frequently outdoors may benefit from Lyme vaccination. Our veterinarians will evaluate your dog’s risk level and make appropriate recommendations.

  • Core vaccinations for cats:
    • FVRCP — A combination vaccine against herpesvirus (i.e., feline viral rhinotracheitis,) calicivirus, and panleukopenia
    • Rabies
    • Feline leukemia (FeLV) — Core vaccine for cats under one year old
  • Non-core vaccinations for cats:
    • Feline leukemia — Booster vaccination for feline leukemia is based on exposure risk. Cats who encounter or live with FeLV positive cats should be vaccinated annually.

Non-core cat vaccinations are also based on lifestyle and risk assessment. Our veterinarians will discuss your cat’s lifestyle and determine the safest vaccine schedule for your feline friend.

Routine vaccination is critically important to bolster the immune system and ensure your pet can mount a strong response when challenged with infection. Research has shown that vaccine-induced antibodies in the body last longer than originally thought, which is why our practice endorses vaccinating against core viruses only every three years for adult pets.

Vaccine reactions in pets

Rarely, dogs and cats may experience an adverse reaction to a vaccine. This commonly occurs minutes to hours after injection, and may include:

  • Facial swelling of the muzzle or neck, or around the eyes
  • Irritated, itchy skin resembling hives
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing

Let your veterinarian know if your pet has experienced sensitivity to medication in the past, and observe your pet closely after vaccination. For any post-vaccine complications, return to the hospital for evaluation—your pet may need an antihistamine or steroid to calm their system. Vaccine-reactive pets may be premedicated with diphenhydramine (i.e., Benadryl) in the future, or have non-core vaccines removed from their protocol.

Vaccinations have altered the course of history, revolutionized public health, and saved countless human and animal lives. Take a shot against devastating diseases and add years to your pet’s life by staying up to date with vaccinations. Call Leland Veterinary Clinic to schedule your pet’s exam, and discuss your pet’s vaccine schedule.