Kitten and puppy

Essential Vaccines to Protect Your Pet

Each August, the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) sponsors National Immunization Awareness Month and, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), works to deliver four key messages:

  • Vaccines protect against serious diseases.
  • These diseases still exist and outbreaks do occur.
  • Vaccines are recommended throughout our lives.
  • Vaccines are very safe.

These four points apply to pets as well as people. We join our veterinary colleagues to support this month-long human health care campaign to raise awareness among our clients of the many benefits of immunization for pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes, “Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals.” 

The AVMA offers these five reasons to vaccinate your pet:

  • Vaccinations prevent many pet illnesses.
  • Vaccinations can help avoid costly treatments for diseases that can be prevented.
  • Vaccinations prevent diseases that can be passed between animals and also from animals to people.
  • Diseases prevalent in wildlife, such as rabies and distemper, can infect unvaccinated pets.
  • In many areas, local or state ordinances require certain vaccinations of household pets.

That’s why we join the NPHIC, the CDC and the AVMA in strongly recommending vaccinating all pets in our care—including yours!

The Best Preventive Care You Can Provide

Vaccinations are essential to protecting your pet from contracting and spreading a number of dangerous, potentially deadly diseases. 

One disease in particular—rabies—is so dangerous and deadly to animals and people that Indiana law requires all dogs and cats to be vaccinated against rabies.

We require animals brought to our clinic to have current rabies vaccinations. If they are overdue for their rabies shots or we have no record of a current rabies vaccine on file, if their health permits, we will administer the vaccine during the visit.

Core Vaccines and More

Vaccines contain some or all inactivated proteins that cause a particular infectious disease. Following the vaccination, your pet’s immune system recognizes and creates antibodies to defend against any actual disease-causing pathogens. If exposed, a vaccinated pet may experience only a relatively mild illness or may not get sick at all.

There are several core vaccines all cats should receive: rabies, feline panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis and feline calicivirus infection.

Core vaccines for dogs include rabies, distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, hepatitis and parainfluenza.

Beyond the core vaccines, we customize our recommendations for each pet by asking about the pet’s environment and habits and adding other vaccines as needed based on the pet’s estimated risk of contracting various diseases. 

For example, if your dog spends time in boarding and grooming facilities, we will most likely suggest vaccinating against Bordetella or kennel cough.

We highly recommend the leptospirosis vaccine for nearly all dogs in our part of the country, as this serious disease can be passed along from pets to humans and can be deadly to dogs. See our post about leptospirosis in which we discuss the benefits and risks of this potentially life-saving vaccine.

While the Feline Leukemia vaccine is not considered a core vaccine for adult cats who live indoors, we highly recommend it for cats that spend time outdoors. 

If your dog spends lots of time outdoors in the woods, we will likely recommend vaccinating against Lyme disease. (For more information, see our post, “Lyme Disease, Your Pet and You.”)

Travel outside the Brownsburg area or likely contact with other pets or wildlife are factors that determine what additional vaccines your veterinarian may recommend. If we are aware of regional or seasonal disease outbreaks, we will also discuss available vaccines to protect your pet from those risks. 

For puppies and kittens, we give most initial vaccinations in a series of shots between six and eight weeks of age. We give booster shots to dogs and cats at one year of age, with boosters after that every one to three years, depending on the vaccine.

To be most effective, vaccinations should be given by qualified professionals. Despite what you may see on the internet, immunization is not a job for the do-it-yourselfer. 

Staying on the vaccination schedule your veterinarian recommends is important, too. Failing to complete your puppy or kitten’s initial vaccination series or delaying or skipping booster shots puts your pet at greater risk of contracting a serious, potentially deadly disease. 

Make sure there are no gaps in your pet’s protection by completing your pet’s initial vaccination series as scheduled and staying on schedule for boosters. 

But Do Vaccines Really Work?

No vaccine is 100% effective, but it’s rare for an animal that has received an appropriately administered vaccine to contract the disease the vaccine is designed to protect against.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, vaccines can fail for these reasons:

  • Failure of the vaccinated patient to mount an adequate immune response.
  • Exposure to the infection before being fully vaccinated.
  • Interference of maternal antibodies.
  • Improper storage or handling of the vaccine, including inappropriate administration.
  • Waning immunity (e.g., immunosenescence, or age-related deterioration of the immune system).
  • Vaccine manufacturing errors, such as lack of potency due to instability, expiration, or improper storage.

While some of these patient-specific factors are beyond our control at the clinic, we can promise you we stock only current, high-quality, properly-stored vaccines, and our staff members are well-trained on how to handle and administer them. 

Yes, There Can Be Side-Effects

As with any medical treatment, regardless of its demonstrated safety record, individual patients may experience side-effects with vaccines. Fortunately, serious adverse reactions to vaccinations are rare. 

The most common adverse effects of vaccinations include mild, short-term pain and swelling or soreness at or near the injection site.

Contact us if your pet has these post-vaccination side effects lasting more than a day or two:

  • Discomfort and swelling at the vaccination site
  • Mild fever
  • Decreased appetite and activity

Sneezing, mild coughing, nasal discharge and other respiratory signs may appear two to five days after your pet receives an intranasal vaccine. Call us if your pet experiences these symptoms.

A small, firm swelling may develop under the skin at the vaccination site. It should begin to disappear within two weeks, but if it lasts more than three weeks or seems to be getting larger, call us to schedule an appointment.

According to the AVMA, “An uncommon but serious adverse reaction that can occur in cats is tumor growth (sarcomas), which can develop weeks, months, or even years after a vaccination. Improvements in vaccination technology and technique have greatly reduced the occurrence of sarcomas.”

Less common, but more serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, can be life-threatening and should be treated as medical emergencies. If, after being vaccinated, your pet shows any of these signs, listed by the AVMA, get emergency veterinary care immediately:

  • 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

Remember, the vast majority of pets experience no adverse side effects at all, and unless your pet has a medical condition that makes vaccination especially risky, the many benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. 

We Welcome Your Questions

We are aware beyond our clinic, there are many outspoken critics of vaccines, eager to warn you of the perceived dangers of vaccinating your pet. 

From within the mainstream of science-backed veterinary medicine, the veterinarians at Brownsburg Animal Clinic assure you the benefits of the professionally supplied, handled and administered vaccines we recommend for your pet far outweigh the risks of the potentially deadly diseases they target. 

Knowing what we know, based on our many years of veterinary medical education and experience with vaccinating thousands of pets, we all choose to immunize our own pets using the vaccines appropriate to each pet’s individual situation and risks of exposure to the various diseases.

If you have read or heard allegations warning of the dangers of immunization, our veterinarians are happy to address your concerns with science-based facts. Just ask!