woman with white dogPet Vaccinations: Needed or Not

The debate over vaccinations extends beyond the human element with pet owners wondering if vaccines are safe or necessary for their pets. Vaccinations are designed to reduce disease for your pet and to stop the spreading of deadly diseases in general. As with most things, there are both pros and cons of getting your dog or cat vaccinated.

What Vaccinations for Dogs and Cats Protect Against

syringe with three vials

Pet vaccinations are to prevent your dog or cat from getting sick or from creating a public health crisis in shelters or among social animals. Many vets contend it is less expensive to vaccinate regardless of the small risk of adverse reaction than it is to treat an animal that contracts a disease (if it is treatable).

  • Distemper: The distemper vaccination helps prevent the spread of the airborne virus that can lead to many serious health issues including permanent brain damage.
  • DHPP: the DHPP is a mixed vaccine containing distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus in one shot for puppies and also contains leptospirosis
  • Parvovirus: Left untreated, parvo is a deadly virus. It is highly contagious causing severe vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
  • Parainfluenza: similar and often associated with Bordetella, parainfluenza leads to a high fever and cough
  • Rabies: This disease is transmitted through saliva and causes madness and convulsions in animals. There is no treatment for rabies and is always fatal.
  • Bordetella: Also known as kennel cough, Bordetella is more dangerous to puppies than adult dogs though can be dangerous in pets with compromised immune systems.
  • Lyme Disease: often recommended for dogs with high exposure to Lyme disease-carrying ticks that can lead to kidney failure and death in some instances but most often leads to arthritic symptoms

The additional risks for felines that vaccinations protect against are:

  • Feline Herpesvirus: a highly contagious virus resulting in upper respiratory infections in cats
  • Calicivirus: leads to upper respiratory infections and oral disease in cats including ulcers
  • Feline Leukemia: this is a serious condition that is the second leading cause of death in cats second only to traumatic injuries

white puppy laying on bricks

The Vaccination Schedule

The vaccination schedule for dogs and cats starts around six weeks of age and continues throughout their lives. Over the course of a puppy’s first year, he will have approximately five sets of vaccinations.

The shot schedule looks something like this for dogs:

  • 6-8 weeks: distemper, measles, parainfluenza
  • 10-12 weeks: DHPP, parainfluenza and parvovirus
  • 12-24 weeks: rabies
  • 14-16 weeks: DHPP
  • 12-15 weeks: rabies, DHPP
  • Every 1-2 years: DHPP, Bordetella
  • Every 1-3 years: rabies (as required by state law)

The shot schedule looks something like this for cats:

  • 6-8 weeks: feline distemper, feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, Bordetella
  • 8-12 weeks: rabies, feline leukemia virus
  • 12-14 weeks: feline distemper, feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, Bordetella
  • 1 year: rabies, feline distemper, feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, feline leukemia virus, Bordetella
  • Annually: rabies, Bordetella
  • Every 2-3 years: feline distemper, feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, feline leukemia virus

grey kitten in basket

Your Pet’s Ability to Hold the Vaccine

It is widely known that dogs and cats can hold the protective immunity of the vaccination for some time. The problem is your veterinarian has no way of knowing exactly how much your dog or cat is holding unless and expensive blood titer is ordered. This means that the veterinarian needs to follow protocol for vaccinations as indicated by the vaccination manufacturer or be liable for animals that get sick that were delayed in booster schedule.

I’ve moved three dogs to Hawaii over the years. Only one was able to have blood titer work done to demonstrate his body had enough of the rabies vaccination protective immunity in his system to not have to be in quarantine for an extended period of time. There are ways to do this but it is time-consuming and expensive.

The Question of Not Vaccinating

Some holistic veterinarians believe that vaccines prevent a dog or cat from being able to develop the proper immunities naturally. This is not substantiated by facts that show unvaccinated animals become sick more often. In fact, animal shelters must deal with strays that lead to epidemics within the shelter, often resulting in animals that must be euthanized or otherwise not adaptable for health issues.

rabid wild animal

An Increase in Rabies

The Center for Disease Control found that rabies cases reported in dogs increased by almost 14 percent from 2014 to 2015. Dogs can get rabies from a variety of wildlife that enters even a secure backyard such as a squirrel or raccoon. Pet owners admit to not vaccinating their dogs because they felt they were secure from exposure. Rabies vaccines are not common practice in many countries around the world; the result is nearly 59,000 human deaths worldwide annually.

Potential Bad Reactions from Vaccines

The most common side effects from vaccinations for dogs and cats include irritation at the injection site, mild fever, low energy and appetite, sneezing and flu-like symptoms that go away within a few days. In rare instances, a dog may develop an allergic reaction to vaccinations or boosters. It is always important to keep an eye on your animal after any vaccination or booster.

Hives, labored breathing, swelling around eyes, nose and throat and coughing that persist suggest your dog is having a serious reaction.

Boarding, Doggy Daycare and Vaccinations

Most boarding and doggy daycare facilities will not allow a dog or cat to stay without current vaccination records. The boarding facility can’t risk an epidemic getting all the animals sick. If you are concerned about vaccinations and boarding your dog, talk to your veterinarian and the boarding facility to see what the absolute necessities are. You may need to consider an in-home pet sitter if you are not comfortable with vaccinations.

Aging Dogs and Vaccinations

It is possible that your vet will lengthen the booster schedule as your dog ages or develops other medical conditions. Dogs with autoimmune diseases, canine lupus or cancer may not get regular boosters. Our experience was as our elder girl developed Cushings Disease at age 12, her veterinarian actually recommended fewer vaccinations. She lived a full life to 18 years old getting about half of the boosters she was normally getting when younger.

Final Thoughts on Pet Vaccinations

There is a risk in all we do. Even getting your dog or cat spayed or neutered will have some risk even though it is done every day. While we can hope for better transparency and titer testing for dogs and cats, we should make the effort to keep our pets and other animals safe with vaccinations. Check with your veterinarian if you are concerned about vaccinations for dogs or cats based on your pet’s specific medical history. Just remember that it is easier and less expensive to vaccinate than to treat a potentially lethal disease.

Be Safe Smart

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