Vaccinations are only one part of the total veterinary health picture to prevent certain diseases in our pets. Many times the recommendations for annual vaccination protectionwas made based on manufacturer's recommendations. Veterinarians now know that the duration of immunity can last much longer based on new technology in vaccine production. But questions still remain:
-What should I vaccinate my pet for?
-How often should I vaccinate my pets?
-How do I know which shots my pets need?
-Is there a test that can determine whether or not my pets need to be vaccinated?
-What are the risks possibly associated with vaccination?
Your pets vet can determine the proper vaccination program to your pet's needs, the environment in which they live geographically, their lifestyle and potential exposure to disease. Vaccinations are generally divided into core and non-core (or optional) categories. The core vaccinations are generally recommended for all pets: Rabies and distemper virus protection for both dogs, cats, and ferrets would be examples. Optional or non-core vaccinations might include Bordatella (or kennel cough) vaccination for dogs that board, go to doggy day care, or who are groomed in commercial pet store or grooming parlor situations. Lyme vaccination protection is recommended for all our dog patients given the area risk factor for tick exposure. For cats, optional vaccination would include protection against Feline Leukemia virus which is transmitted through communication and grooming in indoor-outdoor cats.
Puppies and kittens are vaccinated in intervals to boost their protection that they hopefully received from their mothers: hence the name "booster" shots. These vaccinations are given every 3-4 weeks until they reach the age of 16-18 weeks or have 2 vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart if older and then again at one year of age. Some vaccinations last 3 years in the label protection assurance after the year booster.
As an advocate for appropriate vaccination, not over-vaccination, our veterinarians administer at most 2 vaccinations per healthy pet visit and have adopted the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommendations of vaccinating every 3 years after the inital vaccinations are received.
Sometimes we are interested in knowing the vaccination prortection status of dogs and cats when there is no previous history or a medical problem would make vaccination unwise. We can use a blood test called a vaccination titer test to assess vaccination protection. These types of tests are available for some but not all diseases and unfortunately may not always be as reliable as we'd like to believe.
As to the risks of vaccination, allergic reactions are uncommon but when they do occur they can be severe enough, if untreated, to be life threatening as in an allergic reaction. Mostly we see pain or swelling at the shot spots. In some cats there has also been an association with vaccination and tumor formation. Any and all vaccination reactions should be taken seriously and noted on your pets record as well as discussed and addressed by your veterinarian.
As always, it is essential to discuss any health procedures with your veterinarian who can provide and guide you in good medical decision making and choices for you and your pet. A physical exam at least annually and often more frequently with aging pets is imperative for detecting early warning signs and hidden diseases. You have your veterinarian's attention in the office visit to discuss your concerns and preventative care needs for your pets. Your pet's veterinarian is working to help protect your pets and will help you understand proper vaccination protocol for the risk factors your pets may face.