Pet vaccines are not simply a rite of passage for puppies and kittens, or a mere obligation for adult pets. Regular vaccinations guard pets from unnecessary suffering and disease that could otherwise severely impact, shorten, or end their life. Dove Mountain Veterinary understands that making pet health decisions without information is difficult, so we are providing this guide for pet owners to understand the importance of regular pet vaccinations.   

Your pet’s immune system—the key to robust health

Your pet’s immune system is their body’s defense against viruses, bacteria, and harmful pathogens. The immune system’s primary job is to identify and eliminate foreign invaders, but when the system is compromised or fails to respond to a threat, the body is overtaken by sickness and disease.

When the body first encounters a new virus or bacteria (i.e., antigen,) immune cells analyze what is new, and develop specialized antibodies. The antibodies circulate in the bloodstream, ready to neutralize any future threat from that particular antigen. A strong immune system can respond swiftly and effortlessly, and sometimes without any external illness signs. 

The vaccine’s role in your pet’s immune system

A vaccine contains a tiny amount of inactivated virus or pathogen. When a pet is vaccinated, their immune system is mildly stimulated, and antibodies are developed for future use, without the pet becoming sick. If the vaccinated pet later encounters the virus naturally, the immune response will be immediate and effective. 

Vaccines protect pets

Countless pets’ lives have been saved by routine vaccination. Some may say that vaccines have done their job too well, because for the average owner, threats such as canine parvovirus and distemper, and feline panleukopenia (i.e., feline distemper) can seem vague and distant. To the contrary, these diseases are ever-present in the pet population, but effectively held in check by widespread vaccination. These infectious diseases are still seen in unvaccinated pets throughout the country.  

Pet vaccines protect public health

Keeping your pet up to date on vaccinations protects not only the pet, but also the entire community. Many pet diseases are zoonotic (i.e., transmissible from pets to people). For example, rabies is a significant threat to human and pet health and 100 percent fatal once symptoms appear, and rabies vaccinations are required by many state and local governments. 

Commonly vaccinated pet diseases

The vaccines that correspond to the most significant pet and public health risks are referred to as core vaccinations. Core vaccines are generally recommended for every pet, and rabies vaccination is mandatory, because of its potential transmission to humans. Core vaccines include:

  • For dogs:
    • Canine distemper
    • Canine hepatitis
    • Parvovirus
    • Parainfluenza
    • Rabies
  • For cats:
    • Panleukopenia
    • Calicivirus
    • Rhinotracheitis (i.e., feline herpesvirus)
    • Feline leukemia, which is often considered a core vaccination for young cats, but then elective, based on risk
    • Rabies 

With the exception of rabies and feline leukemia, core vaccines are typically given in a combination vaccine to minimize the number of injections for the pet.

Elective pet vaccinations

No two pets are alike, and neither are their exposure risks. Dove Mountain Veterinary assesses each pet’s individual lifestyle, age, and health to determine which elective vaccines, if any, should be added to their vaccination schedule. The following are considered elective vaccines:

  • For dogs:
    • Bordetella
    • Canine influenza
    • Leptospirosis
    • Lyme disease
  • For cats:
    • Bordetella
    • Chlamydia felis
    • Feline leukemia 

Activities such as boarding, grooming, and training may require specific elective vaccinations for attendance to prevent contagious disease outbreak.

Puppy and kitten vaccines

Nursing puppies and kittens inherit passive immunity from their mother, which begins to fade at an indeterminate point between 8 and 16 weeks of age, leaving puppies and kittens vulnerable to infectious disease. To prevent gaps in their immunity, puppies and kittens are vaccinated every three to four weeks beginning as early as 6 weeks old, until 16 weeks of age. Rabies vaccination is administered once to puppies and kittens between 12 and 16 weeks old. 

Vaccine frequency in pets

Adult pets are given booster vaccinations at 1 year old, to ensure appropriate immune system activation and antibody response. Thereafter, our veterinarians will design a schedule tailored to your pet’s needs based on their age, health status, exposure, and lifestyle. Recommendations are typically every one to three years for most pets.

Core vaccines are advised for indoor-only pets, despite their seemingly low risk. Pets may escape the home in an accident or emergency, and many infectious viruses can be brought inside on clothing and shoes.

Vaccine side effects in pets

Vaccines are largely safe in the majority of pets, but like any medication, can induce side effects in rare cases. Vaccines may cause a slight fever and lethargy for 24 hours after administration, or a more significant allergic reaction involving facial swelling, intense itching, and vomiting or diarrhea a few hours after vaccination. Any abnormal reaction should be reported to your pet’s veterinarian, who may advise that you return with your pet for treatment.

Routine vaccinations are more than a box to check off so your dog can attend training class or your cat can be boarded—they are potent weapons against invisible, everyday pet threats. If you wish to give your beloved pet everything you can, start with a life-saving defense—an exam and vaccinations at Dove Mountain Veterinary. Contact us to schedule your pet’s appointment.