Getting Vaccinated

Vaccines have allowed us to prevent epidemics of life-threatening diseases such as parvovirus and rabies. Courtesy Thinkstock.


Most pet owners know that their pets should be vaccinated, but not many know why or what these vaccines protect against.

By Maria Libonate, RVT

Today’s article is going to go over the importance of core vaccines for cats and dogs, why they need them, and other vaccines that a pet may need depending on their lifestyle.

First of all, what are vaccines and why do your pets need them? Vaccines are immunization against known viruses and diseases. The beauty of vaccines is that they have allowed us to almost eradicate deadly diseases such as smallpox, mumps, and measles. The same goes for animal diseases. Vaccines have allowed us to prevent epidemics of life-threatening diseases such as parvovirus and rabies. This does not mean, however, that your pet is safe from these diseases. Vaccines are just as important now as they ever were because they allow us to keep these diseases at bay and prevent your pet from getting sick.

Each species of pet has a set list of core vaccines recommended by veterinarians across the board. For dogs, these include rabies, DAPP, and Bordetella. DAPP is a combination vaccine that protects against distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza. Bordetella helps protect against Kennel Cough, which is often contracted through nose-to-nose contact with other dogs and is commonly seen in kennels and shelters. For cats, their core vaccines consist of rabies and FVRCP, which helps protect against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Now, I won’t go over all these diseases in detail, but, suffice it to say, they can be nasty and dangerous to your pet’s life.

Each species of pet has a set list of core vaccines recommended by veterinarians across the board. Courtesy Thinkstock.

Along with the core vaccines, there are other vaccines considered “lifestyle” vaccines that the doctor may recommend for your pet depending on their lifestyle and added risk factors.

For example, if you take your dog hiking or camping, your pet may be at risk of encountering more ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. They can also be at risk of contracting leptospirosis from bodies of standing or stagnant water, such as lakes or ponds. Or perhaps you take your pet to the desert a lot, where there are rattlesnakes. Your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating against Lyme, lepto, or rattlesnake venom. Let your doctor know what activities you involve your pet in so that they can properly assess what other protections they may need.

For outdoor cats, your doctor will recommend the FeLV vaccine, which helps to protect against feline leukemia virus that can be contracted from other cats through bites.

The latest vaccine out now is the canine flu vaccine, which has slowly started to spread out from the east coast into our neck of the woods. Similar to Bordetella, this respiratory virus spreads via nose-to-nose contact and can lead to life-threatening pneumonia. So if your dog is around other dogs often, such as in dog parks, daycare, grooming, kennels, or other boarding facilities, your doctor will recommend this as part of your regular vaccine protocol.

Some of you may be concerned about the risks of vaccinating your pet, but rest assured, the risks are rare and usually minimal. The main risk factors associated with vaccinating your pet are side effects that can be seen with any type of medical treatment or injection, and this is always dependent on the individual patient. These side effects are rare but can cause vomiting, diarrhea, pain, and swelling at the site of injection, allergic reaction, such as facial swelling or hives, and in very rare and severe reactions, can lead to anaphylactic shock.

Of course, with all vaccines, we in veterinary medicine always let our clients know the possible side effects of vaccinating their pet and what signs to look for after they have been vaccinated. If you are concerned how this may affect your pet, let your doctor know and they can go over options with you to minimize the risk of side effects.

Vaccines can be given staggered, meaning over the course of several weeks instead of all at once. If your pet has had a reaction in the past, we will always pre-medicate with Benadryl to minimize the reaction and monitor your pet after the vaccine is given to ensure that they are safe. There are also vaccine titers that can be done in lieu of actual vaccines to check your pet’s immunity against a given virus. Usually, this costs more than the actual vaccines but may provide you with peace of mind should you choose not to vaccinate regularly.

As with all recommendations we make for our pets, talk to your doctor or technician about any concerns or questions you may have. We are always happy to help educate our clients on how to keep their pets healthy. Pet health and client happiness are number one to us!

Maria Libonate is a Registered Veterinary Technician. She works at the VCA Venice Boulevard Animal Hospital at 12108 Venice Blvd. in Mar Vista. Ph: 310.313.9118. There is also a VCA clinic at 2506 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice. Ph: 310.306.8707.