Vaccinations are also available to protect your dog against more deadly diseases such as rabies, distemper and parvovirus. Most municipalities require that all dogs are vaccinated against rabies; some include distemper and parvovirus as well. Making these vaccinations mandatory protects the health of all dogs, and, in the case of rabies, human health as well. If your dog was vaccinated as a puppy, she’s off to a good start. However, without yearly booster shots, your dog is at risk of great suffering from one of these diseases.

The following has been prepared as a service by the American Veterinary Medical Association
Q: What are vaccines?
A: Vaccines are health products that trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians.

Q: Is it important to vaccinate?
A: Yes! Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents continue to be present in the environment.

Q: Which vaccines should pets receive?
A: When designing a vaccination program, veterinarians consider the pet’s lifestyle, related disease risks, and the characteristics of available vaccines. “Core vaccines” (e.g., rabies, feline panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus infection, canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection, and canine hepatitis) are recommended for most pets. Additional “non-core vaccines” (e.g., feline leukemia, canine kennel cough and other vaccines) may be appropriate based on the pet’s particular needs.

Q: How often should pets be revaccinated?
A: This is a subject of ongoing research and healthy debate. No one truly knows how long protection from various vaccines lasts. Veterinarians have traditionally vaccinated annually; however, they are now learning that some vaccines induce immunity that lasts less than one year, whereas others may induce immunity that lasts well beyond one year. The AVMA recommends that veterinarians customize vaccination programs to the needs of their patients. More than one vaccination program may be effective.

Q: How does my pet’s lifestyle affect its vaccination program?
A: Some pets are homebodies and have minimal opportunity for exposure to infectious disease, whereas others have a great deal of exposure to other pets and/or wildlife by virtue of their activities. Still other pets live in geographic areas that place them at greater risk for contracting some infectious diseases. Differences in lifestyle illustrate the importance of customizing a vaccination program to individual patients.

Q: Doctors and schools follow set guidelines for vaccinating children. Why don’t similar guidelines exist for pets?
A: Pets require a customized approach to vaccination for several reasons: first, lifestyles and disease risks of pets vary; second, we have many more vaccines with individual performance characteristics; and, third, we don’t have a surveillance system to tell us how vaccines are performing in large populations of patients.

Q: Are there risks associated with vaccination?
A: Vaccines have protected millions of animals from illness and death caused by infectious diseases. All medical procedures, however, carry with them some risk. Fortunately, in the case of vaccination, serious adverse responses are very infrequent. Veterinarians minimize risk by carefully selecting vaccines on the basis of a pet’s individual needs and by choosing appropriate injection sites. In an effort to find ways to prevent even these limited numbers of adverse responses from occurring, the AVMA is working with government and industry to redefine how information regarding adverse responses is gathered, analyzed, and disseminated.
Q: Is serologic testing useful to evaluate immunity to some diseases?
A: Theoretically, tests that measure antibody response (i.e., serologic titers) may help veterinarians determine the need for revaccination in some cases. Unfortunately, veterinarians cannot be certain that a specific concentration of antibody is always protective or that a lower concentration leaves an animal unprotected.

Q: As a pet owner, I’m confused. I want to do the right thing for my pet and I count on my veterinarian to have answers readily available to help me do that. Now what?
A: You should continue to trust your veterinarian’s professional judgment. Veterinarians are highly educated professionals who are trained to make good healthcare decisions. The veterinary profession has chosen to treat the uncertainty surrounding vaccination as an opportunity to do further research and examine related professional practices so that we may continue to offer vaccination and other preventive healthcare programs that best protect our client’s beloved pets.

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