Updated 11 April 2013

Why should I vaccinate my pet?

Vaccination remains the single most effective method for protecting against infectious disease in healthy animals. Here's why you should do it.

At some time in its life, your pet may be exposed to a serious or even fatal infectious disease like parvovirus, often referred to in layman’s terms as “cat flu”. Having your pet vaccinated is the best and least costly way of preventing disease. Without proper vaccination, he is left unprotected.

How does vaccination work?

When your dog or cat is vaccinated, its immune system produces special substances called antibodies. The antibodies work against viruses or bacteria that cause disease and can be regarded as the body’s “fighter pilots”. It is important to note that vaccines are preventative rather than curative. Vaccinating a sick animal is not going to help and in fact is not advised. A healthy pet with a healthy immune system is required in order to build these protective antibodies in response to a vaccine.

How often should my dog/cat be vaccinated?

Since the protection provided by a vaccine may gradually decline after an animal is vaccinated, periodic revaccination is necessary. Such booster vaccines are necessary to “remind” the immune system to produce enough protective antibodies or fighter pilots to protect against an overwhelming challenge of disease causing viruses or bacteria.

Why do pups and kittens require more shots than older pets?

Pups and kittens are as vulnerable as they are adorable and their immature immune systems can’t fight off diseases as well as older dogs and cats. A nursing puppy or kitten receives antibodies from its mother’s milk that protect it during its first months of life. The protection received naturally through maternal antibodies can interfere with early vaccinations, however, making it difficult to pinpoint when vaccines stimulate immunity. This is why puppies and kittens need vaccinations several times during their first few months of life. That way, if maternal antibodies interfere with early vaccinations, later doses will still stimulate the pup/kitten to produce its own antibodies and protection to the disease.

•    Puppies need 3 initial vaccinations for optimal protection and kittens 2 initial vaccinations.
•    The best time for vaccination is at 6, 9 and 12 weeks of age for pups and 9 and 12 weeks of age for kittens.
•    Understanding vaccination and immunity in your puppy: Vaccines do not stimulate immunity immediately after they are administered. Once a vaccine is administered, the immune system has to recognise and respond to the antigens (viruses/bacteria in the vaccine) by producing antibodies. In most puppies, disease protection does not begin until five days post vaccination. Full protection from a vaccine usually takes up to 14 days. In some instances, two or more vaccinations several weeks apart must be given to achieve protection. In these window periods, pups are very vulnerable and susceptible to viruses like parvo.

Frequently asked questions

What should I know about vaccination?

Vaccinations protect your pet from several highly contagious diseases such as canine distemper, parvovirus infection and respiratory tract infections. It also protects against transmissible diseases such as rabies that also pose a risk to humans. Vaccination will not cure a pet that is already sick. Only healthy pets should be vaccinated. A veterinarian or a veterinary nurse administers vaccines.

Are there any risks?

The majority of pets experience no adverse effects following vaccination. A small number of animals may become feverish and have a reduced appetite. These reactions are mild and of short duration. In extremely rare cases, an animal may experience a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. Such an animal can be treated successfully if attended to immediately. The possibility of such an event occurring does not justify considering not to vaccinate your pets, however, as that will leave them susceptible to a range of life-threatening infectious diseases.

Against what diseases should I have my pet vaccinated?

Vaccines used for the protection of pets are currently divided into core vaccines and non-core vaccines. The former are vaccines that should be given to all pets in all regions because they protect against diseases that are widespread and have serious effects. Non-core vaccines are only given strategically when a particular disease is prevalent in an area or when circumstances predispose to the appearance of the disease. Non-core vaccines are only administered after discussion with your veterinarian to evaluate the risks.

Core vaccines for dogs
Canine distemper
Canine adenovirus infections
Canine parvovirus infection

Non-core vaccines for dogs
Kennel cough
Canine coronavirus
Canine herpesvirus

Core vaccines for cats
Feline panleukopenia
Feline herpesvirus infection
Feline calicivirus infection

Non-core vaccines for cats
Feline leukaemia
Feline immunodeficiency virus

(Picture: pet vaccination from Shutterstock)

Supplied by the South African Veterinary Association. 'Why should I vaccinate my pet' written by Dr Liza le Roux BVSc (Hons) published in Pets Health Magazine.


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