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Vaccinating Your Pet
Even though they may be taken for granted, pet vaccinations are
vital for your pet's health. Properly vaccinating your pet is an
important part of pet care because vaccines can potentially help
protect your pet against some serious health conditions and
"Vaccines are a suspension of altered microorganisms which will
prevent, lessen, or treat disease without causing the disease,"
said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas
A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Vaccines are considered the cornerstone of preventive medicine.
Knowing the different types of vaccinations and how they work can
help pet owners provide the best care for their animals.
"There are live, killed, modified live, and recombinant
vaccinations," said Stickney. "By exposing the immune system to
bacteria or viruses that are genetically similar to the ones that
will cause disease, the immune system will develop antibodies that
protect the body when it encounters the actual disease-causing
"Some pet vaccines can be purchased over-the-counter and given
by non-veterinarians," said Stickney. However, there may be quality
control issues with vaccines if you are not familiar with the
correct way to store and use them.
"By law, certain vaccines, like the rabies vaccine, can only be
given by your veterinarian," said Stickney. "Your veterinarian is
also the best person to determine which vaccines your pet needs and
how frequently they should be administered."
"All puppies and kittens should receive the rabies vaccine at
three months of age and again at one year of age. Vaccination
schedules vary depending on the area of the country you are in and
the prevalence of different diseases in that area," said
Puppies should be vaccinated for distemper virus, adenovirus,
parvovirus, and parainfluenza, while kittens should be vaccinated
for viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Other
vaccinations may also be recommended depending on the lifestyle of
"Booster shots are necessary in puppies and kittens to overcome
'maternal immunity', where the antibodies that the puppies and
kittens acquired from their mother provide some protection but
eventually break down," said Stickney. "Vaccines are ineffective in
the face of maternal immunity; therefore the puppy and kitten
vaccine series is necessary to protect the pet during the time when
the maternal immunity disappears. Booster shots remind the immune
system of diseases it is supposed to protect against."
The frequency at which adult animals should receive booster
vaccines has been a topic of debate among veterinarians for years.
Increasingly, we have evidence that most vaccines do not need to be
boosted every year and that the risk of an animal catching certain
diseases decreases with age. Your veterinarian will be able to
tailor a vaccine protocol to the specific lifestyle of your
"No vaccine is 100% effective," said Stickney, "It is possible
to overwhelm any vaccine and immune system with exposure to enough
Additionally, adverse reactions can occur from vaccinations.
These reactions are most likely to occur the second time an animal
receives a vaccine. They usually occur within a few minutes to six
hours of vaccination.
"There are two types of reactions commonly seen, anaphylactic
and delayed hypersensitivity," said Stickney. "Delayed
hypersensitivity reactions are more common and less serious. The
pet becomes itchy and the face and ears swell. These reactions can
usually be treated with antihistamines."
"Anaphylactic reactions are less common, and are serious and
life-threatening," said Stickney. "The animal collapses and goes
into shock. Epinephrine and intravenous fluids are necessary to
treat the animal."
If your pet ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine, it is
important to let your veterinarian know. Even pets that are
allergic to a specific vaccine typically have no problems if they
are treated with antihistamines before vaccinations.
Remember, vaccines are health products that signal protective
immune responses in your pet. Your veterinarian can best guide you
in the use and scheduling of vaccinations for your pet.
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