What are vaccines, and why do they matter?

Vaccines are products designed to trigger protective immune responses and prepare the immune system to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines stimulate the immune system's production of antibodies that identify and destroy disease-causing organisms that enter the body.

5 reasons to vaccinate your pet

  1. Vaccinations prevent many pet illnesses.

  2. Vaccinations can help avoid costly treatments for diseases that can be prevented.

  3. Vaccinations prevent diseases that can be passed between animals and also from animals to people.

  4. Diseases prevalent in wildlife, such as rabies and distemper, can infect unvaccinated pets.

  5. In many areas, local or state ordinances require certain vaccinations of household pets.

Why do puppies and kittens require a series of vaccinations?

Very young animals are highly susceptible to infectious disease because their immune system is not yet fully mature. They receive protection through antibodies in their mother's milk, but the protection is not long-lasting and there may be gaps in protection as the milk antibodies decrease and their immune system is still maturing.

In many instances, the first dose of a vaccine serves to prime the animal's immune system against the virus or bacteria while subsequent doses help further stimulate the immune system to produce the important antibodies needed to protect an animal from diseases.

Do vaccinations have side effects?

It is common for pets to experience some or all of the following mild side effects after receiving a vaccine, usually starting within hours of the vaccination. If these side effects last for more than a day or two, or cause your pet significant discomfort, it is important for you to contact your veterinarian:

  • Discomfort and local swelling at the vaccination site

  • Mild fever

  • Decreased appetite and activity

  • Sneezing, mild coughing, "snotty nose" or other respiratory signs may occur 2-5 days after your pet receives an intranasal vaccine

More serious, but less common side effects, such as allergic reactions, may occur within minutes to hours after vaccination. These reactions can be life-threatening and are medical emergencies. Seek veterinary care immediately if any of these signs develop:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea

  • Itchy skin that may seem bumpy ("hives")

  • Swelling of the muzzle and around the face, neck, or eyes

  • Severe coughing or difficulty breathing

  • Collapse

  • A small, firm swelling under the skin may develop at the site of a recent vaccination. It should start to disappear within a couple weeks. If it persists more than three weeks, or seems to be getting larger, you should contact your veterinarian.

Always inform your veterinarian if your pet has had prior reactions to any vaccine or medication. If in doubt, wait for 30-60 minutes following vaccination before taking your pet home.

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