In 2000, human health officials were relieved to declare that measles was eliminated from the United States. But a recent measles outbreak has now spread across more than 20 states. Those most affected appear to be people who weren’t vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attributes the reappearance of the virus to “inaccurate and misleading information about vaccines.” This same misinformation has led some people to forgo vaccinating their pets, mistakenly believing that vaccines are dangerous, unnecessary or even a cause of autism in dogs.
The truth is, vaccinations are safe, effective and necessary to prevent pets and people from becoming seriously ill. Dangerous pet diseases that have almost disappeared but – like measles in people – could return if owners continue to abandon vaccinations. For your pet’s safety, it’s important for you to be informed about the true benefits and risks of vaccinations.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines contain infectious organisms that have been killed or weakened so they can be injected into the body without causing disease. The vaccines stimulate the immune system to make cells that recognize these organisms as foreign invaders. The next time the body is confronted by the real organisms, it will be able to respond faster to help fight off disease.
Why is it necessary to vaccinate pets?
Vaccinations help prevent numerous diseases that could be deadly to pets. Other diseases such as rabies, which is usually fatal, can be spread to people, so vaccination is required by law in all 50 states. If an unvaccinated pet is bitten by a wild animal, or if an unvaccinated pet bites a human, the pet may need to be quarantined or euthanized.
The cost of vaccines is generally pretty small when you consider what it could cost to hospitalize and treat your pet if it became ill.
What vaccinations does my pet need?
Your veterinarian can tailor vaccinations for your pet’s age, health conditions and lifestyle as well as the infectious agents in your area. Core vaccinations are those recommended for ALL dogs and cats.
For cats, core vaccinations include rabies, feline viral rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia and calicivirus (the last three are often combined into one vaccination). An example of a non-core vaccination would be one for the feline leukemia virus, typically recommended for outdoor cats.
Core vaccinations for dogs are rabies, distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and possibly parainfluenza. An example of a non-core canine vaccination is one for Lyme disease.
Non-core vaccinations are those that may be recommended in certain circumstances, depending on the pet’s risk of exposure at places such as the dog park, the neighborhood, the groomers, the boarding facility or even the woods.
Can vaccines hurt my pet?
As with any medical procedure, there can be some risks associated with vaccines. However, the risk of catching a serious disease by not vaccinating the pet is far greater than the risks of vaccination. Mild side effects that can occur a few hours after vaccination include swelling and inflammation at the vaccine site, lethargy, mild fever and sneezing after intranasal vaccines.
A minority of pets can have more serious allergic reactions, which happen minutes to hours after vaccinations. Signs may include facial swelling, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing or collapse. Allergic reactions can be medical emergencies so you should go to your veterinarian immediately if these signs occur.
Finally, feline fibrosarcoma, a type of cancer, can develop at the injection site in 1 to 10 of 10,000 vaccinated cats. If you notice a firm swelling at the vaccination site that persists for a few weeks or longer after vaccination, ask your veterinarian to examine your cat.
Can my pet receive fewer vaccinations?
Many core vaccinations provide protection for three years, but the non-core vaccinations are often effective only for about a year. If you are concerned about vaccinating your pet, your veterinarian can split up vaccinations so your pet doesn’t receive them all in one day.
As an alternative, ask your veterinarian about a test that measures the antibody levels, or titers, against certain infections in your pet’s blood. A certain level of antibodies may indicate a vaccine is still providing protection against certain infections, so your pet may not need a vaccine booster yet. Titer testing is also available only for some infections, and it tends to be expensive.
Your veterinarian is always happy to answer any questions or concerns you have about vaccinations and can recommend the vaccines that are right for your pet.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.