Do you recommend vaccinating animals?

Yes, I recommend puppy/kitten vaccinations for young pets. Dogs need to be vaccinated for rabies (and cats should be as well) and licensed by six months of age in our state—that is Oregon State Law. The earliest you can vaccinate for rabies is three months of age. The rabies vaccination must be given by a veterinarian that carries a valid license Oregon. You will be given a certification that carries an original signature for which you should keep to prove vaccination status.

Your question regarding vaccinating animals is the center of much debate, both in the veterinary community and the human community. There are a lot of ideas and misconceptions that surround this topic, which are beyond the scope of this article. Nonetheless, I recommend both puppies and kittens receive their series of shots to help prevent diseases that may cause sickness and/or death.  I also recommend both puppies and kittens be vaccinated for rabies according to Oregon law and the vaccination manufacturer’s label and recommendations.

What is a vaccination?  A vaccination is an injection given to an animal to help prevent disease.  These diseases can come in many forms, but most common are bacterial or viral. So a vaccination is an altered form of the disease-causing agent (pathogen) such that it retains the properties that stimulate our immune system to react against it, but cause much less or no disease. What this does, in effect, is primes our immune system to be ready if the full disease is encountered.

In young mammals, when they are nursing they get some immunity from mother’s milk. This gives them immunity for a while, however it usually has declined significantly by about eight weeks. Also at about eight weeks the nursing stops and the young animal starts to eat and drink adult food. Because they are eating normal food, they are not getting the constant infusion of nutrients and immunity from their mother. What happens to these young animals at about seven to nine weeks of age is that they have a real low point in their immunity, which makes them very susceptible to disease. Without assistance from your veterinarian in the form of puppy/kitten shots, they can succumb to serious diseases. So most vaccination protocols start at eight weeks of age. The injections are repeated every three to four weeks until the series is completed. It is a good idea to ask your veterinarian to initiate a parasite management program at this time.

What diseases can young animals get? Well the truthful answer is the list of diseases is very long.  In order to give your pet the maximum protection, your veterinarian learns the diseases that are most common in the area in which they are located and try to vaccinate for those. Puppies and kittens can be affected by different pathogens; therefore the vaccines that they receive are different.

It is advised by the veterinarians worldwide, to have your vaccines done at a veterinary hospital and not to do them yourself. In fact, in many communities vaccines that are given at home or by breeders are considered unvaccinated. This has to do with the official records that are kept, and the health exam that occurs prior to the vaccine injection. Because vaccines are so important, I recommend you take your new pets to your veterinary doctor, this way he/she can determine if your pet is healthy enough for vaccination on that day. If the animal is not healthy enough, a care routine will be discussed on order to get your animal ready. Your veterinarian can also advise you on the correct diet, parasite management, spay/neuter, and any problems that are found during the examination. In kittens, it is advised to run a FIV/FeLV test prior to vaccinating. This is because there are two viral diseases that are common worldwide, and it is a good idea to learn if your kitten or cat is positive before you get too attached, as these diseases generally do not carry a good prognosis.

If your pet passes its initial health examination, and receives its vaccines, then your pet will likely experience some side effects for the next few days. Most often the side effects are mild, such as sleeping a lot, acting tired, and eating little. Occasionally, your pet will vomit, have diarrhea, and very occasionally will show more dramatic signs like welts all over its body or have a hard time breathing. I generally recommend that if you are uncomfortable with how your pet is reacting to vaccines, contact your vet immediately and they will give you appropriate instructions. If for some reason your pet has a serious reaction, it is important you mention this to any vet you see subsequently, to let them know that a reaction has taken place and appropriate action can be taken prior to giving an injection.

There is also debate on when or if to stop giving vaccines to your pet as it ages. There are two trains of thought here, and I will try my best to explain. Most of the diseases we vaccinate for affect young animals, because their immune system is still developing (i.e. learning). Adult animals can be, but are generally not, affected by these same set of diseases, so after your animal has had a number of years of vaccinations, should vaccines be continued into the elderly years? Well some say no and some say yes, and I say it depends on the animal and the situation. The trains of thought are these: if your pet is elderly and unlikely to succumb to disease then why continue giving vaccinations? The other train of thought is this as your pet ages its immune system is not as strong and immunity doesn’t last as long, therefore it is a good idea to continue with vaccinations.  So my advice is, make this decision with your vet and only your vet, never make that decision on your own or have someone other than you and your veterinarian make that decision. Note, this does NOT include the rabies vaccination—this is law and your pet should ALWAYS be current on this vaccination. ALWAYS.