Vaccinating Pets – Controversial & Important

A controversy exists among veterinarians about the routine vaccinations pets receive.  Here is what you should know and what action you should take. 

Both people and pets are helped tremendously by the medical procedure known as immunization.  Immunizing a pet is both smart and very inexpensive protection against a variety of deadly diseases that are known to infect both dogs and cats.  For many pet owners vaccinating their pets is a simple procedure.  While the process is simple, deciding which vaccines to give and when has become more complicated.  New vaccines for emerging diseases need to be given at different intervals and not all pets need every vaccination available to veterinary practitioners.

In just the last decade many new vaccines were developed for diseases that plagued our dogs and cats.  These are great technical and biological advances, but each pet is different and requires individual assessments.  In addition we are learning that some vaccines provide immunity for longer than a year, which means we can vaccinate them for certain diseases less than we previously thought.  “The introduction of so many new vaccines over the past 10 years justifies the need for the veterinary profession to critically address which vaccines are being administered to which patients and at which stage of life.” says Dr. Richard Ford, veterinarian and professor of medicine at North Carolina’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  “Some vaccinations are known to protect for years, while others do not even protect for 12 months.”

The controversy is about the ideal timing that particular vaccinations should be given.  The tradition and proven success of preventing disease with annual vaccinations is changing because the development of science is showing us more about the pet’s immune system and providing us with new ways to protect against the litany of dangerous diseases that face our dog and cat companions.  In addition, some States require annual rabies vaccinations in dogs, and in some cases, cats, and that further drives the belief that all vaccines need to be given annually.

So what is the current thinking among scientists and veterinary practitioners?  Research shows that if pets can be seen twice a year more diseases and conditions can be diagnosed early while they are still easy and inexpensive to treat.  Dietary concerns, dental health, senior problems all have caused veterinarians to begin asking clients to visit the hospital every 6 months to help discover problems, correct early signs and educate owners about preventing disease.

These twice a year visits also do another important thing in terms of the vaccinations that should be given.  It helps spread out the administration of these vaccinations over a longer period of time and that is good for the animal’s immune system.

Dr. Ford also adds there is another way to make this confusion a bit easier for pet owners. “Vaccination Guidelines published for both the dog and the cat categorize vaccines as CORE or NON-CORE.  Core vaccines are those that every dog and every cat should receive.  Non-core vaccines are those that the practice considers to be indicated only under defined circumstances of risk unique to the individual dog or cat.”

Puppies and kittens present a special case.  Because the immunity from their mother is waning in those early months and it is important to boost their protection against disease with vaccines given at much shorter intervals.  But once again, each pet should be evaluated for individual risk depending on the doctor’s experience in your part of the country.

One of the most significant advances in vaccine technology involves the ability to isolate and transfer sequences of DNA from one organism and recombine them with the sequences of another.  This “recombinant technology” has spawned the development and approval of a new generation of vaccines that are highly effective and very safe.  In the future, this same technology will advance the science of diagnostics and pharmacology.

For now, it is just as important to visit your veterinarian every year, some would say twice a year.  Not only does this allow necessary vaccinations to be spread over more time, but more importantly, it allows the veterinarian to examine your pet more often catching disease early and starting treatments which will make most problems less expensive in the long run.  Considering that our dogs and cats age faster than people, seeing your veterinarian more often is vital.

It would be a tragedy to see your pet succumb to a disease that was completely preventable with a simple vaccination. While the subject may spark controversy among some, following your veterinarian’s advice is still the smart thing to do.   You can watch an interesting video about vaccinations by visiting