What are vaccines, and why do they matter?

Vaccines are products with small amounts of inactivated or small parts of disease-causing viruses and bacteria designed to trigger protective immune responses. Vaccines stimulate the immune system's production of antibodies to these viruses or bacteria so it can identify and destroy them when they enter the body.

Vaccines provide immunity against one or several diseases that can lessen the severity or prevent certain diseases altogether. 

Experts agree that widespread use of vaccinations within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. These include brucellosis and anthrax in livestock, Newcastle disease in chickens, rabies in virtually all mammals including people! Vaccinations protect your pet from highly contagious and deadly diseases and improve your pet's overall quality of life.

5 reasons to vaccinate your pet

  1. Vaccinations prevent many pet illnesses -  canine parvovirus and distemper, feline herpes and rabies.
  2. Vaccinations can help avoid costly treatments for diseases that can be prevented, especially parvovirus in puppies.
  3. Vaccinations prevent diseases that can be passed between animals and also from animals to people. Rabies is the 10th biggest cause of death IN HUMANS worldwide. 
  4. Diseases prevalent in wildlife, such as rabies and distemper, can infect unvaccinated pets. There is no treatment for rabies and very little for distemper. 
  5. In many areas, local or state ordinances require Rabies vaccinations in household pets.

Do vaccinations ensure protection?

For most pets, vaccination is effective in preventing future disease or decreasing the severity of clinical signs. It is important to follow the vaccination schedule provided by your veterinarian to reduce the possibility of a gap in protection.

Are there risks to vaccinating my pet?

Any type of medical treatment has associated risks, but the risk should be weighed against the benefits of protecting your pet, your family and your community from potentially fatal diseases. The majority of pets respond well to vaccines. STVC uses Merial/Boehringer Ingelheim Recombitek vaccines which are subunit vaccines designed to give the most protection with the smallest amount of vaccine particles. 

The most common adverse responses to vaccination are mild and short-term. Serious reactions are rare. An uncommon but serious adverse reaction that can occur in cats is tumor growth (sarcomas), which can develop weeks, months, or even years after a vaccination. Improvements in vaccination technology and technique have greatly reduced the occurrence of sarcomas. We use the Purevax adjuvant free line for cat only vaccines to significantly reduce the chance of sarcomas. In fact, we haven't seen one since using these vaccines for the past decade. This vaccine comes in 0.5ml small dose administration and a 1 year or 3 year duration type.

Why do puppies and kittens require a series of vaccinations?

Very young animals are highly susceptible to infectious disease because their immune system is not yet fully mature. They receive protection through antibodies in their mother's milk, but the protection drops over the first 16 weeks of life. While the maternal antibodies are protective, they also interfere with a puppy’s or kitten’s vaccine response, so a series of vaccines at 8, 12 and 16 weeks is recommended. This is to ensure that the puppy or kitten immune response increases (boostered) with each vaccine as the maternal antibodies decrease over the first 16 weeks. An incomplete series of vaccinations may lead to incomplete protection, making puppies and kittens vulnerable to infection. For most puppies and kittens, the final vaccination in the series is administered at about 4 months of age.


Which vaccinations should my pet receive?

"Core" vaccines are recommended for most pets in a particular area or geographical location because they protect from diseases most common in that area. 

These include: Distemper, Hepatitis (Adenovirus2), Parvovirus and Parainfluenza = DA2PP combination vaccine

"Non-core" vaccinations are for individual pets with unique needs. Your veterinarian will consider your pet's risk of exposure to a variety of preventable diseases in order to customize a vaccination program for optimal protection throughout your pet's life.

These include: Bordetella, Leptospirosis, Lyme

Talk with your veterinarian about your pet's lifestyle, including any expected travel to other geographical locations and/or contact with other pets or wild animals, since these factors impact your pet's risk of exposure to certain diseases.

How often will my pet need to be vaccinated?

Many vaccinations provide adequate immunity when administered every few years, while others require more frequent schedules to maintain an acceptable level of immunity that will continually protect your pet. Your veterinarian will determine a vaccination schedule that's appropriate for your pet. STVC recommends, for virus causing diseases, 3 year core (DA2PP) vaccines and 3 year rabies vaccines whenever possible. Bacterial causing diseases of Leptospirosis and Bordetella are only available as 1 year vaccines. 

What are antibody titers, and do they replace vaccinations?

Antibody titers are blood tests that measure the amount of antibodies in the blood. While antibody titers do not replace vaccination programs, they may help your veterinarian determine if your pet has a reasonable expectation of protection against disease. Rabies titers are not recognized by the state or county as a replacement for a rabies vaccine.

Many factors are taken into consideration when establishing a pet's vaccination plan.  Your veterinarian will tailor a program of vaccinations and preventive health care that will help your pet maintain a lifetime of infectious disease protection.

Do vaccinations have side effects?

It is common for pets to experience some or all of the following mild side effects after receiving a vaccine, usually starting within hours of the vaccination. If these side effects last for more than a day or two, or cause your pet significant discomfort, it is important for you to contact your veterinarian:

  • Discomfort and local swelling at the vaccination site
  • Mild fever
  • Decreased appetite and activity
  • Sneezing, mild coughing, "snotty nose" or other respiratory signs may occur 2-5 days after your pet receives an intranasal vaccine

More serious, but less common side effects, such as allergic reactions, may occur within minutes to hours after vaccination. These reactions can be life-threatening and are medical emergencies. Seek veterinary care immediately if any of these signs develop:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Itchy skin that may seem bumpy ("hives")
  • Swelling of the muzzle and around the face, neck, or eyes
  • Severe coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Collapse
  • A small, firm swelling under the skin may develop at the site of a recent vaccination. It should start to disappear within a couple weeks. If it persists more than three weeks, or seems to be getting larger, you should contact your veterinarian.

Always inform your veterinarian if your pet has had prior reactions to any vaccine or medication. If in doubt, wait for 30-60 minutes following vaccination before taking your pet home. 

Here are more articles from the AVMA:

Vaccines and sarcomas: A concern for cat owners

Canine distemper

Canine parvovirus


Canine influenza pet owner's guide

Rabies and your pet

Feline panleukopenia

Want to learn more about vaccinating today? Feel free to get in touch with us at (813) 835-8500!

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