Health and Wellness
Did you know that something as simple as a vaccine-for diseases like rabies and leptospirosis that can affect both animals and people-helps protect not only the vaccinated individual but also reduces the risk of disease that might spread to the rest of the population as well?
Since vaccines were developed by Louis Pasteur well over a century ago they have helped eliminate or reduce the worldwide incidence of dozens of diseases from polio and measles in humans to rabies to “distemper” in dogs and cats.
Drawing from his experience acquired during more than 30 years as a mixed-animal veterinary practitioner, Robert M. Miller, DVM, had this to say about the importance of vaccines:
“If I was told that I must practice medicine using only one technique, which would I choose? Not surgery, not prescribing pharmaceuticals, not antibiotics, not physical therapy. I would choose vaccination, which has saved more lives, both human and animal, than any other technology.
In my lifetime, I have seen smallpox eradicated and poliomyelitis controlled. The childhood diseases I suffered-measles, whooping cough, and chicken pox-are now easily prevented.
. . . Rampant animal disease such as canine distemper and hepatitis, parvovirus, leptospirosis, anthrax, anaplasmosis, brucellosis, hog cholera, blackleg, and so many others are now effectively controlled by vaccination.
In the first half of my career, I saw many cases of tetanus, mainly in horses. In the second half of my career, I saw only one case. Vaccination!
I experienced countless cases of canine distemper. Today it is a very rare disease in my area. Vaccination!
Feline panleukopenia (distemper) was a plague when I started practice . . . Today it is a rare disease. Vaccination!”
What are vaccines?
Your veterinary team will decide which vaccine your pet needs and how often based on factors such as age, overall health, lifestyle, travel to other areas, and degree/frequency of contact with other animals, including wildlife.
Remember, not all pets need to be vaccinated for “everything.” There are literally dozens of vaccines available for a variety of diseases, many of which (like the “snakebite” vaccine) are rarely a risk for the average pet so we don’t consider use of these vaccines at all or may simply reserve them for use in certain “at risk” pets.
Puppies and kittens, just like human babies, don’t have strong immune systems yet. Their body needs to be “reminded” with a series of vaccine boosters, usually continued up to 4 months of age and then boostered one year later. Failure to complete that initial series of vaccinations can lead to incomplete protection, making them much more likely to get sick when one of those pesky viruses comes around.
For adult dogs, cats and horses most vaccines are boostered yearly, but some products are able to get the immune system to “remember” things for two to three years or more. Even so, the immune response for some individuals may be as short as six months; others may not even respond at all.
It’s natural to have concerns about safety; after all, it’s possible for any individual to have an adverse reaction, and some reactions can be life-threatening or result in lifelong problems. But all available vaccine products have been through intensive testing and found to be safe when administered as directed, and most pets tolerate vaccines very well. We encourage you to ask your veterinary team about any concerns you might have so we can help you weigh potential risks against the benefits (especially if you know your pet has a history of any reactions to prior vaccines).
The most common reactions are mild and short-term-these may include:
- low-grade fever
- acting “tired” or sluggish
- pain or mild swelling at injection site
- itchiness/or swelling at the face or legs
More serious “allergic” reactions that require emergency treatment may include:
- repeated vomiting and/or diarrhea
- trouble breathing
- sick animals
- unusual fever (even if not acting sick)
- puppies/kittens less than 4-5 weeks of age
- patients on high doses of steroids or other immunosuppressive drugs.
There is no question that the use of vaccines developed in the last century has prevented illness and death in millions of animals (and people!). Treating diseases that might have been prevented with a simple vaccine can be very expensive and, sadly, can still end in death for the unvaccinated or poorly vaccinated pet. Though breaks in protection can sometimes occur, most vaccines that are given appropriately are able to reduce the signs of illness or successfully fight off disease, underlining how very important these vaccines are in your pet’s overall preventive health care plan.