Pet Talk: Vaccinating your Pets

Vet and Dog Chihuahua. The veterinarian exams the dog for checking its health. The dog gets an injection

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It is not uncommon for pets to be considered a part of the family, which is why they deserve to live the happiest and healthiest lives possible. While endless treats and belly rubs are some people’s idea of the perfect life for Fido, a more important factor plays into the quality of life your pet will have: their health. You may have already heard about the benefits of vaccinating your pet for common diseases, but educating yourself more on the subject is important before visiting the veterinarian’s office.

Allowing vaccines to be a part of your pet’s health care routine can protect them from some of the most common companion animal diseases. Rabies, distemper, hepatitis, Bordetella, parvovirus and feline leukemia are a few of the illnesses that your pet can be protected against through the use of a vaccine.

Dr. Brad Bennett, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains how a vaccine can be effective in reducing your pet’s chances of developing a disease. “In developing immunity, vaccines work by mimicking the infection. The infection usually does not cause illness (sometimes minor symptoms of the disease), but will allow the immune system to make antibodies and lymphocytes,” said Bennett. “After the resolution of the infection, the body will remember how to fight the infection through memory T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes. There are several different types of vaccines including modified-live (attenuated), killed (inactivated), and recombinant.”

Even if your pet is considered an “inside dog” or does not come into contact with other animals, Bennett still recommends having your animal vaccinated. “We know that when widespread vaccination is performed, we can reduce the prevalence of serious disease caused by highly pathogenic organisms. With this knowledge, we recommend most owners to vaccinate their pets,” he said. Though vaccinations are meant to prevent harm to your animal, they are not always risk-free. Before making the decision to vaccinate your pet, talk with your veterinarian about the potential risks and benefits of vaccination. “While vaccinating can be valuable, it is not always harmless,” Bennett said. “A discussion should take place between the veterinarian and the owner as to the probability of exposure, severity of disease being vaccinated for, and risk of adverse events,” he said. Owners should also discuss how often their pet should be vaccinated to effectively prevent disease, as this varies with age.

So what kind of negative side effects from vaccines should owners look out for? According to Bennett, swelling of the face, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, pruritus and hives are common allergic reactions to vaccines in pets. More serious reactions can even include shock and sudden death (anaphylaxis). Though there are some reported reactions lasting weeks, most reactions occur immediately after injection or up to 48-72 hours later. If an owner observes any of these side effects after their pet receives a vaccination, Bennett encourages them to seek immediate veterinary attention for the safety of their pet.

While veterinarians like Bennett encourage pet owners to vaccinate their pet as needed, some animal care specialists have argued that we are over-vaccinating our pets, causing more harm than good. “My opinion is that I do not believe we are over-vaccinating our pets. Every day, I see diseases in pets that could be avoided by vaccinating,” said Bennett. “But just as we discussed before, vaccinating is not always innocent. In some patients, vaccinations can be detrimental, such as those with immune-mediated diseases and in instances of feline injection-site associated sarcomas.”

As owners, we want our pets to live a happy life. With the help of regular check-ups and vaccinations against common pet diseases, your animal’s quality of life may be improved. Although vaccines are meant to protect your pet’s health, owners should be aware of the potential side effects that come with vaccinating your pet. Remember to discuss your concerns with your local veterinarian so they can determine the best vaccine plan for your animal to ensure a long and healthy life.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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