For The Love Of Y our Pets: Vaccinations help train immune system to fight against disease

By John Beck

Are vaccinations a fool-proof method of making sure my pet doesn't get sick?

Vaccinations are one way to protect your pet from communicable disease. Unfortunately, they are not fool proof. There are a lot of things that can affect how useful a vaccine is against preventing illness. Picking the appropriate vaccine and using it as directed by the manufacturer is an important first step. A lot of people might misread a vaccine label or think that a certain disease is covered when it isn't. Another common mistake is not following instructions. Most vaccines require one or even two boosters spaced approximately 30 days apart. From then on, they can usually be boosted once a year.

There are ages at which the manufacturer suggests giving these vaccines in order to obtain the best results possible. Making sure you give the vaccine in the right area (under the skin or in the muscle) is also very important.

Understanding how vaccines work, will also help keep your pet disease free. A vaccine is a very low dose of the actual illness you are trying to prevent. This low dose is delivered to your pet so its immune system can learn to fight it off. The first vaccination will allow some of the cells of the immune system to learn how to defend itself from the disease. The second or third vaccine will allow even more cells in the immune system to learn the proper defense. This takes time to develop. The cells are not able to immediately offer a good defense. This is why you need to allow some time, usually 10-14 days, for the vaccination to take effect. Your pet is not fully protected until a couple of weeks after all the boosters have been given.

Why do some vaccinations seem not to help even if all of the suggested guidelines have been followed? Sometimes your pet might have been infected or exposed to the disease in between the regularly scheduled vaccinations. Another reason vaccinations are sometimes not effective can be the inability for your pet to build immunity. Some animals (though not very common) lack the ability for their immune system to learn to defend itself. Or the response is not sufficient to fight the illness off. Different strains of the disease might have developed.

If you are concerned about your pets vaccination history or you have more questions, please feel free to contact me or your local veterinarian.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.