Pet Immunization – What Is It and Why Is It Important?
Ensuring that your pet is properly immunized from disease is one of the best and easiest you can help keep your furry loved ones healthy and strong.
Vaccines prepare the body’s defense system to fight invasion by disease-causing organisms by helping the body to recognize foreign invaders. Vaccines contain antigens, which are weakened or dead virus cells that do not produce symptoms of the disease or infection. When introduced into your pet’s system, these antigens mildly stimulate the immune system, causing the body to produce antibodies and memory cells of the disease in response. Now your pet’s immune system can recognize and fight off infection should they be exposed to the real disease in the future.
And just like for humans, our four-legged family members should have annual/regular health check-ups with a veterinarian as well as a routine of vaccinations and booster shots to help their immune systems prevent illness.
What Types of Immunizations Should I Consider?
In 2003 (revised in 2006 and again in 2011), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) released a set of timing guidelines and other best practices for veterinarians administering canine vaccinations. As outlined within these guidelines, there are two main categories of vaccinations that your pets can receive: core vaccines and non-core vaccines.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), core vaccines are considered vital to all pets based on “risk of exposure, severity of disease or transmissibility to humans.” These sets of vaccines include protections against such diseases as distemper, rabies, canine parovirus and canine hepatitis in dogs and distemper, feline calicivirus, rabies and feline herpes in cats.
Non-core vaccines may be recommended by your veterinarian based on the specifics of your pet’s lifestyle – such as the pet’s age, medical history, travel habits (e.g. whether are they outdoor or are boarded animals), environment (e.g. whether they are often around other pets or live in a more solitary environment), etc. – and can include protections against diseases such as influenza and Lyme disease in dogs and feline leukemia and other respiratory illnesses for cats.
When Should I get My Pet Vaccinated?
Similar to infant humans, puppies and kittens should receive doses of particular core infectious vaccines to help prime, immunize and boost their immune system response at an early age. It is recommended that puppies and kittens begin their vaccination routines between 8 to 16 weeks of age every 3 to 4 weeks, with the final dose being administered at 16 weeks of age. It is also worth noting that every dog and cat is different – so it is best to work with your veterinarian to determine a tailored vaccination plan that is right for your fur baby.
You pets will also need regular booster shots as they mature to ensure their vaccinations are up-to-date and still protecting their health. But it’s likely that your pet may no longer need annual booster updates as was previous best practice. According to the AAHA guidelines, pending that your puppy or kitten received their initial series of core vaccinations within the proper timeframe, your pet may only need booster vaccine shots every three years due to increased effectiveness and safety of routine vaccinations.
However, organizations like AAHA and the ASPCA stress the importance of continuing to schedule a routine annual veterinary check-up for your pet. Not only are these check-ups important for monitoring your pet’s health status for conditions such as cancer or heart disease, but your local veterinarian can also decide during these appointments whether your pet is due for a booster update. By running a blood test called a titer, your veterinarian can most effectively determine how much of the vaccine is still active in your pet’s system.
See below for the recommended core and non-core vaccination schedules for dogs and cats (as compiled and reviewed by WebMd professionals in 2016):
What Should I Do If My Pet Has An Adverse Recation?
Though most pets experience no ill effect from the vaccination process, there is always the possibility that your pet may have an adverse reaction to the injection. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it’s important to monitor your pet’s behavior within the first few hours following a vaccine injection for any adverse reactions.
Though these reactions are generally mild, you should plan to contact your veterinary professional if pet experiences any of the following symptoms for more than a day or is experiencing major discomfort from these symptoms:
- 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 reactions may occur within minutes or hours of the initial injection should you pet be experiencing an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Allergic reactions should be addressed immediately, so seek emergency medical care should you notice your pet experiencing of the following reactions following a vaccination injection:
- 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
For more information on pet vaccinations and immunizations, check out:
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: “Vaccinations for Your Pet”
- American Animal Hospital Association: 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines
- Prevention: Are Annual Pet Vaccinations Necessary?
- Dogtime: The Importance of Vaccinations