The importance of vaccinations

Vaccinations have become commonplace for dogs today, as they can effectively prevent potentially serious canine diseases like distemper, rabies, and hepatitis. Not only can regular vaccinations protect your pet’s health, they can also keep the human members of your family healthy as well — some canine illnesses can be transferred to humans.

While annual vaccinations have been the general rule for some time, recent studies have shown that canine vaccinations may be effective for longer periods of time than originally thought. As vaccinations have become safer and better customized to each individual dog, it is becoming more common for veterinarians to recommend less frequent vaccinations that are tailored to your dog’s specific needs.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) released a set of vaccination guidelines in 2003 which was revised in 2006 to help vets determine how often vaccinations should be given to dogs, and which were most important to include. These guidelines were developed by many professionals in the field of canine health care, including veterinarians, immunologists, infectious disease specialists and researchers.

The first guideline states that every dog is different, so every immunization schedule should be individually tailored to a dog’s specific needs and risk factors. The factors that should be considered include health status, breed, age, lifestyle, environment, and travel habits.

Risks for various types of diseases will vary from city to city across the country, and may even fluctuate within different areas of the same city. This is why it is so important to work closely with your veterinarian to determine which immunizations are important for your dog, and how often he should have them.

Health risks associated with vaccinations

Some pet owners worry that vaccinating their dogs will carry health risks as well. While any medical procedure, including vaccinations, do carry some degree of risk, the risk is generally much greater if you do not have your dog vaccinated at all.

If you are concerned about the potential side effects that the vaccinations can bring, you can talk to your veterinarian about what is best for your pet. Keep in mind that your vet is there to protect your dog, and will not bring unnecessary risks in his health care. He will base his decision to vaccinate on a number of factors, including the lifestyle and age of your dog, as well as his potential to be exposed to a variety of diseases.

Reactions to vaccinations are relatively rare, and will generally include pain or swelling at the point of injection. Sometimes dogs have an allergic reaction to a vaccination, which will appear fairly quickly after the shot is given.

If you suspect an allergic reaction in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately, since these types of problems can become quite serious and even fatal. An even rarer reaction to a vaccination will cause your dog’s immune system to respond by attacking the tissue within the body, resulting in disorders of the skin, joints, blood or nervous system. These situations can also be very serious, but are fortunately also quite rare.

Vaccination basics

There are two different types of vaccinations that your dog should receive. The first type is called core vaccines, and includes the vaccinations that are considered essential for all dogs, involving diseases that are easily transferred and/or fatal. These diseases are rabies, adenovirus, parvovirus and distemper, and all four are found throughout the continent of North America.

Other vaccinations are considered to be non-core vaccines, and include protection against diseases that are dependent upon environmental exposure or lifestyle. These are the vaccinations that you will need to discuss with your veterinarian to determine if your dog needs them, and include Lyme disease, kennel cough and leptospirosis vaccines.

Frequency of vaccinations

When your dog is a puppy, there is a very standard schedule of vaccinations that needs to be met during his first year of life. After this initial year, the core vaccinations of parvovirus, adenovirus and distemper should be administered every one to three years, based on your veterinarian’s recommendation.

Although some veterinarians are standing by the traditional yearly vaccination schedule, others are following the AAHA guidelines in vaccinating less frequently, and with individual circumstances taken into consideration. State and city governments will determine how often a rabies vaccination must be given, and your vet will know the guidelines for your area. This time frame could range from once a year to once every three years.

If your dog is kenneled frequently, or is in regular contact with other dogs through shows or grooming salons, you may need to keep up with some of the non-core vaccinations as well. Sometimes these types of vaccines will need to be administered more often, such as in the case of a kennel cough vaccine that is sometimes offered every six months.

Even if you decide that vaccinations every three years are the best choice for your dog, an annual examination by your veterinarian is still essential to keep your dog healthy and happy. Keep in mind that an annual check-up is the equivalent of a human only heading to the doctor’s office every five to seven years. A lot can happen during this time, which is why it is so important for your vet to take a look at your dog regularly. Early detection of problems can mean more effective treatment options and a healthier pet overall.

For some dogs, a test can be done to determine whether a particular vaccination is necessary. These tests are called titer tests, and they measure the amount of antibodies for various diseases that are in your dog’s body. If you are concerned about giving your dog a particular vaccination, you can ask your veterinarian about a titer test.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association