Preventive veterinary care is the best step you can take toward ensuring your pet has a long and healthy life. Routine vaccinations are a cornerstone of that preventive care, and crucial to create and sustain a strong defense against contagious canine and feline diseases. While vaccines are essential during your pet’s early life, booster doses are periodically necessary to ensure robust lifelong protection. The Pet Clinic of Salem team wants you to understand all about pet vaccinations and their importance.

How pet vaccines work

Vaccines work by safely exposing your pet’s immune system to a deactivated portion (i.e., an antigen) of the target virus. When the body’s internal systems encounter the virus particles for the first time (e.g., as a puppy or kitten receiving their first immunizations), the immune system studies the invader, and forms specialized antibodies. 

During a vaccinated pet’s natural encounter with the same virus, their immune system will recognize the virus and react quickly—ideally neutralizing the threat, and preventing disease or minimizing the severity. Without acquired (i.e., vaccine-induced) immunity, many common canine and feline viruses can overwhelm the body’s natural defenses and make the pet sick. 

Common locations for pet disease

Thanks to the success of pet vaccination protocols, many pet owners don’t realize that contagious pet viruses and pathogens occur naturally in the environment. Disease transmission most commonly occurs when pets are housed together or share common resources, and where they encounter infected wildlife. Common locations for virus transmission and outbreak include:

  • Dog parks
  • Dog events (e.g., dog walks, festivals, dog shows) 
  • Dog-friendly retail stores
  • Catteries
  • Shelters
  • Boarding, grooming, and daycare facilities
  • Veterinary hospitals
  • Areas populated by wildlife

Pets who live indoors or stay at home are not entirely safe from disease. Some infectious viruses and bacteria can live on clothing, shoes, and objects that enter the home and expose your pet. Pets may regularly cross paths with infectious wildlife or their urine or feces in their own backyard.  

Core and non-core vaccines in pets

Infectious disease outbreaks can rapidly affect the pet population. For pet and public safety, pets are commonly vaccinated against the most virulent diseases, and those affecting human health (e.g., rabies virus), which are considered “core” vaccinations. At The Pet Clinic of Salem, these include:

  • Core vaccines for dogs:
    • Rabies
    • DHLPP/CV — Distemper, canine hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, parainfluenza, and coronavirus
    • Canine bordetella (i.e., kennel cough)
    • Canine influenza (H3N2/H3N8)
  • Core vaccines for cats:
    • Rabies
    • FVRCCP — Feline viral rhinotracheitis (i.e., herpesvirus), calicivirus, chlamydia, and panleukopenia, or feline distemper
    • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)

Additional vaccines may be recommended based on your pet’s lifestyle and risk factors. At The Pet Clinic of Salem, our non-core (i.e., optional) vaccinations for dogs include Lyme disease.

Many pet facilities, such as grooming, boarding, and day care, require proof of vaccination. Always check to ensure your pet meets a business’s requirements prior to scheduling their services, and reconsider any business that does not require that pets be vaccinated.

Lifelong pet health starts with vaccines at every life stage

Many pet owners see vaccines as a rite-of-passage for puppies and kittens, but optional in later life. Unfortunately, these gaps in coverage can put pets’ lives at risk, and allow a resurgence of many subdued or eradicated diseases—including the canine rabies variant. Stay up to date with your pet’s vaccinations through every life stage, to ensure total protection.

  • Life stage: Puppies and kittens Nursing puppies and kittens receive short-term immunity from maternal antibodies that ends between 8 and 16 weeks of age. Because their maternal immunity overrides vaccine-induced immunity, puppies and kittens are vaccinated frequently—every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old—to prevent any gaps after maternal immunity fades.
  • Life stage: Adult pets — Acquired immune responses can fade over time, so pet vaccines are boosted at 12 months of age, and then every one to three years. Rabies vaccinations must always be given according to state and local laws. Regular vaccination in healthy adult pets protects not only the recipient, but also the general pet population—and those unable to receive vaccines—by reducing disease transmission.
  • Life stage: Senior pets — As pets age, their immune system naturally weakens, making them susceptible to viruses and infectious bacteria that were once harmless. Concurrent medical conditions can also impact the immune system, and make mounting a strong response challenging.

Our veterinarian will adjust your senior pet’s vaccination protocol based on their lifestyle and health. However, twice-yearly examinations and core vaccinations are critical for their general wellness, and for detecting diseases we cannot vaccinate your pet against.

Pet vaccine complications

The Pet Clinic of Salem uses only the safest and most modern vaccines available. Side effects can still occur but, fortunately, these reactions are typically minor and temporary, and far less severe than the condition your pet’s vaccine is protecting them against. 

If your pet experiences a vaccine reaction, contact us right away. While pain at the injection site and tiredness up to 24 hours following a vaccination is normal, notify us of additional side effects, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Facial swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Itching and scratching
  • Collapse

These signs may indicate a dangerous or potentially deadly allergic reaction. Although many allergic reactions are rapid and can be addressed during your pet’s appointment, you should return to the clinic if your pet has trouble breathing following vaccination.

Your pet’s vaccinations are a simple, effective, and economical way to ensure their safety against common communicable diseases. We know you love your pet—so help ensure they have a good shot at good health throughout every life stage with routine vaccinations and preventive care at The Pet Clinic of Salem. Contact us to schedule your pet’s next appointment.