Protecting Your Pet: Vaccine Basics

by Petfolk

Medically reviewed by Dr. Jessica Taylor

Protecting Your Pet: Vaccine Basics

As pet parents, you see our pets as a part of your family - and you'd do anything to keep your family safe. What you might not know is that some diseases to which your pet may be exposed can also infect their humans! Some vaccines are essential for all pets, and some might be optional. Vaccine protection varies based on your and your pet’s unique lifestyle. As your pet care provider, we want to make sure you are receiving personalized recommendations to keep your pet (and you) as healthy as possible. 

Essential Vaccines for Pets

All pets are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies. Rabies is a virus that can be rapidly transmitted through saliva and blood, such as with a bite, putting both pets and people at risk. Almost every state has a significant risk of rabies exposure because wild animals such as bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, and even groundhogs can carry the disease. If your dog or cat encounters one of these animals, they could be exposed. Thankfully, rabies vaccines for pets are incredibly safe and effective and will prevent infections. Your care team will discuss with you when and how often your pet needs a rabies vaccine, as it may vary by state depending on the local laws. Read more from the CDC about rabies and World Rabies Awareness Day, which occurs on September 28th.

Vaccines such as the distemper combination vaccine (DHPP for dogs and FVRCP for cats) are “core” vaccines, meaning they should be administered to every pet. The diseases that these vaccines prevent are common and easily spread by other animals or the environment. Because the risk of disease far outweighs any side effects of the vaccine for most pets, we administer these vaccines to all puppies and kittens.

Leptospirosis (Lepto) is a bacteria that affects many animals, including humans. Lepto can be contracted through puddles, mouse poop, or exposure to farmland. Due to the potential risk to our two-legged family members, leptospirosis vaccines are routinely administered to dogs.

Lifestyle Vaccines

What are some of you and your dog's favorite activities? Do they play at the dog park or hang out at the local brewery? Do you take them to the pet hotel when you go out of town? Do you hike the AT? These lifestyle events can expose your dog to other preventable diseases such as Bordetella (kennel cough) and Canine Influenza (canine flu) and Borrelia (Lyme disease). Thankfully, some vaccines can prevent or significantly reduce the severity of these infections. Talk it over to decide what protection is best. 

Now, let’s talk about kitties. Does your cat like to escape or have a nearby outdoorsy friend? Feline Leukemia is a contagious virus that can be spread among cats. If your cat goes outside, they need this vaccine to stay safe.

Vaccine Risks

Vaccines work best when they are administered as part of a complete care plan. Your veterinary team will know when, where, and how to administer the safest vaccines. Once given, it usually takes several weeks for the body to be protected, so plan when possible. After a vaccine is given, there may be mild soreness or lethargy, similar to when you get a booster shot or immunization. While severe reactions are uncommon, you should monitor your pet for approximately the first hour after their vaccines and call your veterinary care team if you notice any swelling, gastrointestinal upset, or other severe symptoms. We can work together to treat any reactions should they occur. 

Vaccines are just one essential part of keeping your pet safe, and we want to make it as easy as possible. When you come in for your pet’s visit, we will use yummy treats and lots of care so that your pet usually doesn’t even notice the vaccine being given. Our gentle handling means happy pets and pet parents! Your pet’s health is important to you and us as your pet care team, and we can’t wait to see you and work to decide the best care for your best friend.

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