Pet Vaccinations

Vaccinations are a critical component to the preventive care of your companion animal. Your health, as well as your pet’s, depends on it. While this may seem like common knowledge to some, the topic of pet vaccination can be quite controversial, making it a hot topic in veterinary medicine today.

Most veterinary professionals agree that vaccinating your pets is the best way to protect them from various life threatening illnesses. “Controversy about vaccinating your pet is usually centered around misinformation or the false concept in humans that suggest vaccinations cause autism,” said Dr. Bethany Schilling, Clinical Instructor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Choosing vaccinations specific to your animal’s health and lifestyle should be an informed decision made between you and your veterinarian.

Many pet owners believe that the possible dangers of pet vaccinations outweigh the positive aspects. One risk that worries pet owners is the chance that their pet will have a negative reaction from the vaccination. While this is a viable concern, Schilling and many other veterinarians agree that this occurrence is rare. “Vaccine reactions are usually non-life threatening, are easily treated, and can typically be prevented in the future,” said Schilling. “Reactions in dogs are typically swelling of the face or hives, and reactions in cats are typically vomiting or diarrhea.”

Vaccines do not guarantee that your pet will not become sick, just like a human getting the flu vaccine can still catch the flu, but it will likely minimize the seriousness of illness in your pet.

Vaccines help build up your pets’ immune system so that their chances of becoming ill when exposed to disease are much lower. They can prevent many upper respiratory diseases in cats such as herpes, calicivirus, and panleukemia, as well as feline leukemia and rabies. There are vaccines to prevent various diseases, such as parvovirus, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, Bordetella, and rabies, in dogs as well.  Bordetella is found to be one of the causes of “kennel cough,” a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs.

The two classifications of pet vaccines are core and non-core vaccines. “Core vaccines are things the entire pet population should be vaccinated against, due to universal risk,” said Schilling. “Non-core vaccines are recommended based on region of the country in which the patient lives and individual patient risk factors, like lifestyle and travel.” Core vaccines would include vaccines against common diseases, like rabies, whereas vaccines against Lyme disease or kennel cough are among the non-core vaccines. Non-core vaccines are not usually considered necessary, but are available to pets that are at risk for illness due to geographic locations or specific lifestyle needs.

Another debate among many pet owners is whether performing at home vaccinations on your pet is easier and more efficient than taking them to a veterinary clinic. When making this decision, it is important to keep in mind that vaccines are extremely sensitive to handling. Various factors such as extreme temperatures can inactivate them, and vaccines purchased at a feed store are not guaranteed to be effective. “Vaccines administered at a vet clinic are handled appropriately and care can be made to make sure the pet is vaccinated at appropriate intervals to ensure protection,” said Schilling. “The pet is examined prior to receiving vaccines each visit to make sure they are healthy.”

Companion animals today have the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives than ever before. This is partly due to the availability of vaccines to prevent them from many infectious diseases. There are always risks accompanying any medical procedure, but the chances of your pet having an adverse effect to vaccine are minimal. Just think, if we had stopped administering the smallpox vaccine after someone got sick from it, where would we be today?

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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