For the love of your pet: Vaccinations protect pets from disease

By John Beck
March 1, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 29, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.

Are vaccinations a full-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 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 also will 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.

Let's say you are thrown into battle against one man. You might be able to fight off this one man, especially if you know how he fights. You are able to teach yourself to defeat him every time because he offers the same strategy every time.

This is the same way your pet's immune system defends itself. The low dose teaches the immune system how to defend itself in case it ever runs into this type of disease again. The first vaccination will allow some of the cells of the immune system to learn how to defend themselves from the disease.

The second or third vaccine will allow even more cells in the immune system to learn the proper defense. This learning 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. No matter how many times you try and teach the cell how to react to the illness, it still doesn't give the proper response or the response is not sufficient to fight the illness off.

Different strains of the disease might have developed. Say you vaccinated for strain A, B and C, but now you have run into strain D . your pet cannot defend itself. That is like training to protect yourself from a fist, knife and grenade fight and then someone comes along with a gun.

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



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