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Vaccinations For Our Pets

Dog receiving a vaccine
Dog vaccination

As the Memorial Day Weekend begins for many of us (Canadian friends excluded!), I am reminded about the necessity of asking for vaccination records of my furry friends. Luckily, we are fortunate to live in an area where dogs receive the medical attention they deserve so they are all current. This led me to questions about vaccinating our pets.  Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Are they really necessary? Which ones are not really required for our pets? Today we hear safety concerns about vaccines we give to our children and the debate goes on if they are necessary or are we blindly following our health care provider’s opinions?  Whatever your stance on these issues, I decided to research some answers to questions we should all consider before we head for our annual examination.

What are “core” vaccination and “noncore” vaccinations?

Top veterinary organizations (AVMA, WSAVA AAHA and AHVMA) define ‘core’ vaccinations as those that should be given. “Noncore” are those which should be given only when a specific risk exists.)  AAHA recommends puppies get 3 doses of the core vaccines (distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus) every 3-4 weeks starting at 8 weeks with the final dose 14 14-16 weeks of age. WSAVA offers new guidelines for puppies. Core vaccines for cats include panieukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotrachetis, and rabies.

Is my pet already immune from the disease in question?

After completing puppy or kitten core vaccinations, many likely have long term or even lifetime immunity for the important diseases (canine distemper and parvovirus; feline panleukopenia). Many labels on vaccines recommend annual or 3-year revaccination intervals and reflect the length of time the vaccine was tested before approval. Revaccinating an animal with pre-existing immunity will not result in making your pet more immune but rather increase the risk of an adverse reaction. Therefore, a blood TITER test can be performed to determine the immunity for most core disease. It is important to note that according to the USDA for Veterinary Biologics, rabies vaccine is responsible for more adverse reactions than any other vaccine.

If a ‘noncore’ (optional) vaccine is recommended, do I know my pet’s individual illness, the success rate of the vaccine and the risk of vaccinating?

It is important to note that noncore vaccines can be given alone or mixed with core vaccines (not recommended). A well-known vaccines Bordetella (kennel cough) is given as nose drops. This is mostly spread in close quarters or facilities with poor ventilation. Reputable pet care like All Fur Love Pet Care require evidence of vaccinations prior to entry. It should be noted, however, that this vaccine has limited effectiveness.

Is my pet ill?

All vaccine manufacturers recommend vaccinating only HEALTHY animals. What does healthy really mean? This can include allergies, ear infection, kennel cough, chronic illness) Often this vaccination can be postponed until health improves. Again a positive TITER test can be performed to determine the timing for a core vaccine. Vaccinating unhealthy pets only puts your pet at greater risk and also risks vaccine failure.

Does my pet have a personal, family, breed history of vaccine reactions?

All risk pets should be vaccinated only if a particular immediate or fatal risk exists. Perhaps a different brand may be required. Your veterinarian may be able to assist you in determining the risk for your particular breed.

Is my veterinarian recommending a combination vaccine?

A Purdue study of 1.2 million dogs shows that multiple vaccines given in one visit, especially small to medium-sized dogs greatly increased the risk of vaccine reaction. These combo vaccinations make it impossible to determine which vaccine caused any subsequent reaction. Perhaps your veterinarian can offer alternatives to this vaccinations.

Have I been fully briefed about the vaccine’s possible side effects?

Often we are warned about common reactions such as fever, loss of appetite but not about moderate and serious reactions. Ask what these risks are and evaluate the risks versus the benefits BEFORE vaccinating.

Have I been told how to react to and report a vaccine reaction?

Some reactions can be attended to at home while others while others require an emergency trip to the vet. Record injection sites and if possible, the manufacturer for your records. These sites should be rotated yearly. Ask your vet what circumstances require immediate medical attention.

After having been briefed by my veterinarian about a vaccine’s benefits and risks, can I freely give my informed consent or withhold it?

We all have the right to refuse vaccinations if you do not believe it is in the best interest of your pet. (Although rabies refusal could result in legal consequences unless your vet determines a medical exception). It is not easy to reject your vet’s recommendations, but ultimately, it is YOUR responsibility for your pet’s welfare. Take a copy of an experts report on vaccines if necessary to support your conclusions.

Ultimately, the choice of vaccinating or not vaccinating requires a frank discussion between you and your pet health care professional. This decision is complex and requires a joint discussion. The goal is to prevent adverse reactions to unneeded vaccinations.  An educated pet owner coupled with a top-notch veterinarian will offer peace of mind when determining which ‘noncore’ vaccines are beneficial to your furry friend.