National Immunization Awareness Month does not sound like much to celebrate, especially if you have a fear of needles, but the science and practice of vaccination has revolutionized modern medicine for humans and pets alike. Because pet vaccines have been standardized, you may take your pet’s routine “shots” for granted. Mill Creek Animal Hospital explains the significance of pet immunization by answering some common questions about vaccines.

Question: How do vaccines protect my pet?

Answer: The immune system is your pet’s primary defense against germs, infection, and disease, and acts as 24/7 surveillance against the invasion of foreign substances, viruses, and bacteria. When the immune system initially encounters something foreign, the system gathers information on how to fight the invader, and creates antibodies that react to an antigen (i.e., a protein on the foreign substance). Vaccines are made of tiny amounts of specific antigens to stimulate this “learning” response, and help the body build a strong defense without the presence of true disease.

Q: Does my dog or cat need vaccines if they live inside or don’t encounter other pets?

A: Pathogens do not stop at the front door. Some infectious diseases, such as parvovirus, can be carried inside on inanimate objects, such as clothing, shoes, and pet care items. Dogs who go outdoors to urinate and defecate can be exposed to leptospirosis or rabies and spread the disease to other pets. Some pets’ lifestyle can minimize, but not eliminate, their risk of infectious disease.

Q: What vaccines are right for my pet?

A: Vaccines are divided into two major categoriescore vaccines and non-core, or elective, vaccinations. Core vaccines are central to your pet’s immune system, and build a foundation of strong immune response. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Guidelines make these recommendations:

  • Core vaccines for dogs:
    • Rabies
    • Distemper
    • Parvovirus
    • Adenovirus
    • Parainfluenza
  • Non-core vaccines for dogs:
    • Bordetella
    • Leptospirosis
    • Lyme disease
    • Canine influenza H3N8, H3N2
  • Core vaccines for cats:
  • Non-core vaccines for cats: 
    • Bordetella
    • Chlamydia

Local regulations mandate that all pets be vaccinated with rabies because rabies is a zoonotic disease (i.e., a disease that can be passed from animals to humans) and therefore a public health risk. Our veterinarians will help you determine which vaccines are necessary for your pet based on their lifestyle and  exposure risks.  

Q: How often does my pet need to be vaccinated?

A: Boosting vaccines is recommended at particular intervals to ensure sustained long-term immunity. For the adult dog or cat, vaccines are administered every one to three years. Puppies and kittens who nursed from their mother are protected by a temporary passive immunity, which begins to fade as they age. Puppies and kittens are routinely vaccinated every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old, to prevent a gap in protection as maternal antibodies fade. 

Some vaccines produce a level of immunity that lasts as long as five to seven years. While vaccines are generally safe, over-vaccination is not desirable. Titer testing can confirm a pet’s immunity by measuring the antibody level in a pet’s blood, and vaccination can be postponed if the pet’s antibodies are in the appropriate range. Titer tests are available for feline and canine core vaccines, but not for feline leukemia or rabies. Regardless of antibody status, rabies should always be administered according to state and local laws.

Q: My pet is allergic to vaccines. Can I decline them?

A: Vaccine-associated adverse events can occur after a pet has been vaccinated, and they should be closely monitored for any of the following hypersensitivity signs:

  • Swelling of the face, ears, or muzzle
  • Hives
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing

If your pet reacts to their vaccination, you should return to our hospital for treatment. We will ensure your pet’s vaccine reaction is noted in their record. Your veterinarian may elect to remove certain non-essential vaccinations from your pet’s protocol, or premedicate with an injection of diphenhydramine (i.e., Benadryl) to prevent a reaction.

Q: My pet behaves so badly for shots, is there another way?

A: Injections are never a pleasant experience, but some steps may reduce your pet’s fear and anxiety.

  • Discuss Talk to our team. We may be able to minimize your pet’s stress by adjusting our restraint, using smaller needles, or dividing your pet’s vaccines over several short visits.
  • Distract If your pet is not too anxious to eat, we can distract them with slow treats, such as peanut butter, spreadable cheese, or canned food.
  • Desensitize Help your pet accept restraint and touch by pairing the interaction with tasty food. The touch—such as a gentle pinch of the skin—precedes a yummy treat.
  • Drugs Anti-anxiety medication can assist extremely fearful or reactive pets.

While immunization gets special recognition this month, the protection that vaccinations provide against deadly diseases improves pets’ lives every day. If you have additional questions about vaccinating your pet, or to schedule your pet’s annual appointment, contact Mill Creek Animal Hospital.