Vaccines and pets

 

Vaccines and pets are a hot topic that has made many headlines during the past several years. Traditionally, we correlated current vaccinations with the health and safety of our pets. As medicine evolved, we saw changes in trends and a myriad of opinions that for the most part are not evidence based upon medicine. Pets are being vaccinated periodically according to common practice, subjective judgment and multi-source guidelines.  

We all agree that vaccines are pet lifesavers. They effectively protect our pets from deadly infections and devastating diseases. Vaccinations are especially important in young animals, which lack good immune systems and are vulnerable to infections. Vaccines are also important for animals in crowded places such as kennels, dog shows and events, etc. Without vaccinations many pets may die or get severely ill and undergo prolonged agonizing suffering. Some fatal diseases, such as rabies, are transmitted also to people (zoonosis) and vaccination against them is a matter of public health and safety. In many places rabies vaccination is required by law. 

Vaccines boost the immune system and, when properly applied, are very beneficial to the overall health of the animal. The body's surveillance is alerted and sensitized not only specifically to the vaccine components, but also generally to other dangers. Breeding females are able to mount high levels of maternal antibodies, which are transferred in the milk to their newborns during the first hours and days of life and immediately protect them from diseases. 

But the most important and extensive benefit of vaccines arises from the collective immunity of the pet population. As all pets are vaccinated over the years, the disease agents cannot find susceptible substrate and diseases can be eradicated or nearly so. At this point, the individual vaccination becomes less critical and even unvaccinated animals do not encounter the diseases. So, skipping or delaying vaccination because of a justifiable medical reason, like reactions or medication interference, is possible. 

Puppies and kittens are born with immature immune systems.  During the first few days of life they receive ready to use antibodies from their mother's milk. These antibodies provide protection from diseases until their immune system matures and they produce their own antibodies. Mothers that are current on vaccines are assumed to have high level of antibodies in the milk and transfer better protection to their offspring. 

Vaccination of puppies and kittens should start at six to eight weeks of age and should be boostered several times in order to build good immunity. Also, the antibodies they acquire from the mother interfere with the vaccination process and multiple vaccinations at early age are used to overcome that interference. Depending on the circumstances, vaccines are administered until the age of five to six months in order to ensure solid immunity. 

The frequency of vaccination and the diseases to vaccinate for vary among dogs and cats, depending on the breed, life style and the veterinarian's judgment. Several vaccination protocols may be applied; the vaccines are divided into "core" and "non core" vaccines. Core vaccines are used routinely and include vaccines against Rabies, distemper, feline upper respiratory diseases, canine parvovirus and canine hepatitis. The rest of the vaccines are classified as non core and are used only upon individual risk assessment. 

Vaccines are not all equal. The market is flooded with products of variable cost, quality and safety. Animals sometimes have adverse reactions to vaccinations. They may vary from mild fever and local swelling to life threatening anaphylactic reaction and vaccine site cancer in cats. Do-it-yourself vaccination is not a good idea and might culminate tragically. It is very important to use only vaccines of high quality and safety characteristics under close veterinary supervision. 

It is important to properly vaccinate your pets to ensure a long and healthy life. Your veterinarian can custom design a vaccination plan that is best for your dog or your cat. Like many other things you do for your pets, do vaccinate them and do it right!

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Yuval Nir
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Veterinarians, Animal hospital