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Vaccinations have probably done more to increase the health and longevity of our pets than any other development in veterinary medicine. In parts of the country where dogs are not routinely vaccinated, parvovirus and distemper are still major killers. In parts of the world where Rabies vaccines are not customary, Rabies is a major killer of dogs and cats (and people!). However, concerns about the safety of vaccines have arisen in the past 10-20 years. Vaccines, like any medical treatment, can cause unwanted side effects in a small percentage of dogs and cats and should be selected and used with caution and care.
There are dozens of different dog and cat vaccines available for veterinarians to purchase and use. At Sunset Pet Hospital, we select the vaccines we use only after extensive research into their safety and efficacy. For cats, we use only adjuvant free vaccines, as research has indicated that adjuvants (chemicals added to vaccines to make the immune response stronger) can be associated with tumor formation in some cats. Our Feline Leukemia Virus vaccine is both non-adjuvanted and given transdermally (without a needle) as this appears to be the safest and most effective way to deliver the vaccine to the immune system. Our feline Rabies vaccine is made using recombinant DNA technology to create the safest vaccine available for cats. For dogs, we use a Leptospirosis vaccine that covers the greatest number of strains of this disease that is available.
Many vaccines have traditionally been given yearly, but studies have shown there is little science backing this convention. At Sunset Pet Hospital, we base our recommendations regarding frequency of vaccination on the most current research and on the recommendations of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). Some vaccines produce a strong and long lasting immunity to a disease that lasts 5-7 years or longer. Other vaccines produce only a weak, partial immunity to a disease that lasts only 3-9 months.
Which vaccinations to give your dog or cat is a decision we will help you make after reviewing your pet's lifestyle and their risk factors for various diseases, as well as any chronic health issues that your pet has. There are core vaccines, that all dogs and cats need, and non-core vaccines, that are only indicated for dogs and cats who have specific risks and lifestyle factors. There are also quite a few vaccines on the market that are not recommended by AAHA or AAFP for any dogs and cats and that we do not use with our patients. There are a few vaccines that are still in the evaluation phase which likely are beneficial for certain patients but are still too new to have been studied extensively.
Although the advantages of vaccines far outweigh the risks for most patients, it is important to be aware of potential side effects or complications from vaccines. The most common side effects are mild and require no treatment. These include mild lethargy and/or soreness at the vaccine site that can last for up to a day. More significant side effects occur in less than 1% of dogs and cats. These can include lumps at the vaccine site, facial swelling, hives, vomiting, and, in the most severe cases, anaphylactic shock (a life threatening allergic reaction). If your pet has any problem after a vaccine is given, please call us immediately. For some reactions, emergency treatment may be needed. Do plan to observe your pet for several hours after any vaccine is given. The risk of side effects from vaccines is higher in very small dogs and when more than one vaccine is given at a time, so we may recommend separating vaccines if you have a very small dog or if your pet has a history of vaccine reactions. It is very important that you let us know if your pet has had any past bad reactions to vaccines. In most cases, these can be prevented by giving medications before vaccination and/or by modifying the vaccines given.
For more information on our vaccine recommendations, please see our recommendations for puppies, kittens, adult cats, adult dogs, and senior cats and dogs as well as our vaccine assessment forms.