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What are Vaccines?

Vaccines are products designed to trigger protective immune responses and prepare the immune system to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines stimulate the immune system’s production of antibodies that identify and destroy disease-causing organisms that enter the body. They provide immunity against one or several diseases that can lessen the severity or prevent certain diseases altogether.

Why is it Important to Vaccinate Pets?

Vaccinations protect your pet from highly contagious and deadly diseases and improve your pet’s overall quality of life.

5 Reasons it’s important to vaccinate:

  1. Vaccinations prevent many pet illnesses.
  2. Vaccinations can help avoid costly treatments for diseases that can be prevented.
  3. Vaccinations prevent diseases that can be passed not only from animal to animal but also from animal to human.
  4. Diseases prevalent in wildlife, such as rabies and distemper, can infect unvaccinated pets.
  5. Many areas, local or state ordinances require certain vaccinations of household pets. Many areas, local or state ordinances require certain vaccinations of household pets.

Are There Risks to Vaccination?

Any type of medical treatment has associated risks associated, but the risk should be weighed against the benefits of protecting your pet, your family, and your community from potentially fatal diseases.  The majority of pets respond well to vaccines. 

The most common adverse responses to vaccination are mild and short-term, and serious reactions are rare.

Vaccine Reaction/Side Effects

It is common for pets to experience some or all of the following mild side effects after receiving a vaccine, usually starting within hours of the vaccination. These symptoms are usually self-limiting and typically resolve without treatment in 1-2 days.  If these side effects last for more than a day or two or cause your pet significant discomfort, it is important for you to contact your veterinarian:

  • Discomfort and local swelling at the vaccination site
  • Mild fever
  • Decreased appetite and activity
  • Sneezing, mild coughing, “snotty nose” or other respiratory signs may occur 2-5 days after your pet receives an intranasal vaccine

More serious, but less common side effects, such as allergic reactions, may occur within minutes to hours after vaccination. These reactions can be life-threatening and are medical emergencies. Seek veterinary care immediately if any of these signs develop:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Itchy skin that may seem bumpy (“hives”)
  • Swelling of the muzzle and around the face, neck, or eyes
  • Severe coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Collapse

If your pet is non-responsive or lethargic, your pet may be experiencing hypoglycemia and veterinary attention should be sought immediately.  If you are unable to get to a veterinarian, give small amounts of honey or corn syrup by mouth until your pet is responsive.

A small, firm swelling under the skin may develop at the site of a recent vaccination. It should start to disappear within a couple of weeks. If it persists more than three weeks or seems to be getting larger, you should contact your veterinarian.

Always inform your veterinarian if your pet has had prior reactions to any vaccine or medication. If in doubt, wait for 30-60 minutes following vaccination before taking your pet home.

Why do Puppies and Kittens Require a Series of Vaccinations?

Very young animals are highly susceptible to infectious disease because their immune system is not yet fully mature. They receive protection through antibodies in their mother’s milk, but the protection is not long-lasting and there may be gaps in protection as the milk antibodies decrease and their immune system is still maturing.

In many instances, the first dose of a vaccine serves to prime the animal’s immune system against the virus or bacteria while subsequent doses help further stimulate the immune system to produce the important antibodies needed to protect an animal from diseases.

To provide optimal protection against disease in the first few months of life, a series of vaccinations are scheduled, usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most puppies and kittens, the final vaccination in the series is administered at about 4 months of age; however, a veterinarian may alter the schedule based on an individual animal’s risk factors.

Recommended Vaccines

Canine Vaccines

  • DHLPP:
    • Distemper: A very contagious and often fatal disease of the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system. Transmission is by direct contact with bodily secretions and by movement of airborne secretions. Puppies at highest risk but dogs of all ages especially with inadequate vaccination are susceptible.
    • Hepatitis: Infectious canine hepatitis is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and eyes in dogs.  It mostly affects young dogs under one year of age, though it can affect adults.
    • Leptospirosis: Is a serious bacterial disease of dogs, multiple animal species, and humans. In recent years, leptospirosis has become an increasing concern of pet owners and veterinarians, especially in cities and suburbs. The primary reason is growing populations of wildlife, like raccoons and skunks, which carry disease and infect dogs indirectly. Dogs can get sick even if they never come into direct contact with infected animals. All breeds and sizes of dogs are at risk. Lepto can be a very serious disease and can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. It generally attacks a dog’s liver and kidneys and can lead to organ damage or failure. However, if lepto is caught early, it responds well to antibiotics. ​
  • Parainfluenza: A common and highly contagious cause of infectious tracheobronchitis. Airborne transmission. Dogs of all ages are susceptible, unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated dogs at highest risk.
  • ​​​Parvovirus: A highly contagious, very aggressive and sometimes rapidly fatal gastrointestinal virus. Transmission is by direct contact with infected animals, feces and objects containing virus particles. Virus can survive in the environment for a very long time and can spread easily from contaminated surfaces. All unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated dogs are susceptible, v​ery young, sick or weak dogs at highest risk of death.​​
  • Bordetella: Is a contagious disease that can cause your dog to cough for up to three weeks. Bordetella causes a hacking, dry cough, but it is rarely life threatening. Nevertheless, it can cause your dog quite a lot of discomfort.
  • Canine Influenza: Also known as dog flu, canine influenza is highly contagious virus that occurs year-round and can affect dogs of any breed, age, sex, or health status.  Almost all dogs exposed to the virus become infected, and the majority develop flu-like illness.  Symptoms range from mild to severe: persistent coughing, sneezing, nasal or eye discharge, lethargy, reduced appetite and fever.  Secondary bacterial infection can develop and may cause more severe illness and pneumonia.
  • Rabies: Is a virus that may affect the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including dogs, cats and humans.  There is no treatment for rabi​es.  Once symptoms appear, the disease results in fatality.

Feline Vaccines

  • FVRCP:
    • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis: This virus is an extremely common cause of respiratory disease and often results in chronic, often life-long, infection with intermittent recurrences causing respiratory and sometimes eye disease. It is spread easily through airborne respiratory secretions and direct contact with a carrier cat or contaminated objects. Unvaccinated cats are most susceptible as well as the very young and the very old.
    • Calicivirus: A common viral infectious respiratory disease, can also cause mouth sores resulting in severe oral pain. Spread by direct contact with an infected cat or by contact with contaminated objects. The virus is very resistant to disinfectants and persists in the environment. Unvaccinated and inadequately vaccinated cats of all ages are at risk.
    • Panleukopenia: A severe, highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease of the gastrointestinal tract, the immune system and the nervous system. The disease is named for the characteristic severe decrease in white blood cells, the body’s defense against disease. The virus is very persistent in the environment. This virus spreads by direct contact with infected cats or by contact with viral particles in the environment. Unvaccinated and inadequately vaccinated cats of all ages are at risk.
  • FeLV:
    • Feline Leukemia: Is a disease that impairs the cat’s immune system and causes certain types of cancer.
  • Rabies: Is a virus that may affect the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including dogs, cats and humans. There is no treatment for rabies.  Once symptoms appear, the disease results in a fatality.