There is a lot of hype these days about not giving pets vaccines. Admittedly, there are some patients who should not get vaccines. Specifically this refers to those that have severe reactions, immune-mediated disorders, or the occasional geriatric. Most of us are too young to have ever seen a case of Rabies, but you merely need to watch the movies Old Yeller or Cujo to be reminded of how serious a disease Rabies is. We take for granted that we never see this horrific disease because of the excellent vaccination efforts of epidemiologists, veterinarians, shelters, and pet owners who maintain their pets' vaccines. Because Rabies does exist in the bat population that lives in and around Las Vegas.
The same goes for diseases such as parvo and distemper. Thirty to fifty years ago, these two diseases were killing puppies and adult dogs rampantly. Thanks to the creation and administration of vaccines, these diseases are found almost exclusively in unvaccinated puppies. The same is true for feline distemper as well. There are many similar stories in humans and animals. Why do you think Smallpox is now a non-existent disease? Thank Louie Pasteur and his vaccinations for this wonderful eradication.
The flip side is that there can be over-vaccination as well. For example, it has been proven that parvovirus and distemper vaccines may protect dogs for up to 3 to 5 years. Hence, here at Siena Animal Hospital, we only administer these vaccinations to adult dogs every 3 years. The idea of giving this vaccine every 6 months is an antiquated protocol.
There can also be side effects from vaccines. The most common is a mild fever, lethargy, and muscle achiness. We have all experienced the tetanus shot that left our shoulder feeling like we were hit by a baseball bat. This reaction is a normal and expected reaction as the pet's immune system responds to the vaccines and builds up an immunity to that particular disease (virus or bacteria). The good news is that when our pets are exposed to the infective form of the disease, their immune systems are already primed to fight off the disease more quickly. Often this means they do not get sick at all. Sometimes, such as the influenza virus, it means they don't get as sick as they would have without the vaccine.
More serious reactions can occur and are treatable if caught early. If your particular pet suffers from more severe vaccine reactions, such as vomiting, swelling, anaphylactic shock, then you need to discuss the pros and cons of giving vaccines. This is a case-by-case discussion. Just because one pet had a reaction, most pets are perfectly normal after vaccines.
There are 'Core' vaccines that need to be administered to most pets as well as optional vaccines that may need to be given depending on lifestyle, travel, breeding and so forth. The core vaccines for dogs are Rabies, which is mandated by law, distemper/parvo/hepatitis/parainfluenza combination, and in most dogs, Bordetella, or kennel cough. Cats are similar in that they need Rabies, legally, and distemper/panleukopenia/calici combination shot every 3 years.
Optional vaccines are those such as Lyme, Leptospirosis, Rattlesnake, Influenza and Feline Leukemia vaccines. For example, I hike with my dogs, so most of them have had a rattlesnake vaccine. The only one that doesn't has an immune-mediated disease. A vaccine would cause a life-threatening reaction worse than a snake bite, so she does not get the vaccine. If you are traveling to Florida, Colorado or Chicago in which there is Influenza, the safest thing would be to vaccinate your dogs that are traveling with you for this disease. The same goes for Lyme and Lepto, depending on where you travel. Cats who go outside probably need the Leukemia vaccine to protect them. Each pet and each vaccine's benefits and risks should be discussed individually.
So despite some negative issues concerning vaccines, please weigh the importance of them as well. And have a discussion with your veterinarian regarding the benefits and risks about each one of your dogs and cats to decide what vaccines are appropriate for each specific pet.