There is nothing happier than a healthy pet. Vaccinating them annually against life threatening diseases is a step in that direction.
The science of the shot
Vaccination involves administering an antigen that mimics the disease-causing organism, tricking the immune system into releasing antibodies that fight the invaders. The immune system is a fast learner and never forgets how to defeat old rivals. So if your pet is exposed to the real disease later, their immune system will recognize and fight it.
Types of vaccines
Vaccines are of two types-core vaccines (an absolute must) and non-core ones that are given as per the risk of exposure. To maintain the required antibody (titers) levels in the blood, booster shots are essential after the initial vaccination.
Recent studies show that the levels of antibodies against core vaccines are high for three years post vaccination. That is why, in some countries, the rabies vaccine is administered once every three years.
In a dog’s world
Vaccines for canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies are core vaccines; rabies, especially, as it can be transmitted to humans via a bite from an infected dog.Non-core vaccines include those against Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough), Borrelia burgdorferi (lyme disease) and Leptospira bacteria (leptospirosis).
Watch out for: Kennel cough results in respiratory disease (sneezing, coughing, runny nose) and all dogs coming in regular contact with other dogs are susceptible to it, especially those going to boarding kennels. Leptospirosis affects both dogs and people, mostly from sharing the same environment. It is transmitted by rat urine and can be life threatening, if untreated.
In a cat’s world
Vaccines for feline distemper (panleukopenia), feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis) and rabies are core vaccines. Cats are more susceptible to rabies than dogs.Non-core vaccines include vaccines against feline leukemia virus, Bordetella, Chlamydophila felis and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Watch out for: Feline leukemia (FeLV) is a common infectious disease and weakens the immune system, making your pet vulnerable to other infections, including cancer and blood disorders. FeLV is carried in saliva, nasal secretions, urine, faeces and blood of infected cats. It is commonly transmitted through cat bites and is usually seen in non-neutered males. Vaccinate all cats that come in regular contact with other felines.
Caring for the little ones
Puppies and kittens receive antibodies in the mother’s milk. Their vaccinations should begin at six to eight weeks, with the final dose at 16 weeks. Many pups develop fatal diseases like canine distemper and parvovirus if this schedule is ignored.
Managing side effects
Mild symptoms like soreness at the injection site, fever and allergic reactions can be managed with fomentation, and anti-allergic and oral antipyretics. Other side effects like injection-site tumours are more common among cats.
If a pet has an adverse reaction to a vaccine, one must weigh the benefits of administering it versus its potential threat. In most cases, the risk of the disease is greater. For instance, we no longer have rinderpest, a deadly disease of bovines, because of an aggressive vaccination programme by veterinarians. Rabies has also seen a sharp decline recently.
Dr Pradeep Rana is a Delhi-based veterinary surgeon.