Vaccinating your Dog or Cat: How Vaccines Work

Vaccines stimulate your pet’s immune system in an effort to reduce the risk and/or severity of anpics0126 300x197 infectious disease. This is accomplished by giving a modified, nondisease-causing version of the organism. Vaccines usually guard against viruses such as rabies, parvo and canine distemper because their treatments are typically ineffective or cures do not exist. Your pet can also be vaccinated against some bacterial diseases, such as bordetella (Kennel Cough), Lyme disease, and leptospirosis.

Vaccines contain inactivated, killed, or “broken up” bacterial or viral organisms and are usually injected under the skin (or squirted in the nose for Kennel Cough). The goal is to stimulate a mild immune response, “teaching” your pet’s immune system to recognize and target the virus or bacterium for destruction or inactivation. This process takes about 2-4 weeks following administration. After this period, if your pet were to become exposed to the offending organism, the resulting immune response would be more rapid and effective.  Appropriately scheduled vaccinations may fully prevent disease, though in some pets and some environments (such as shelters or areas of particular disease concentration), reducing the severity or frequency of disease is all that can be accomplished.

Vaccines Do Not Treat Disease

Vaccinations are a preventive measure and are not effective against existing disease. For example, administering a vaccine against parvovirus will not help heal a puppy testing positive for parvovirus infection and already demonstrating diarrhea, vomiting, or other signs. The only exception to this rule is the recently developed melanoma vaccine in dogs. Though this therapy works on the same principle as other vaccines, it is targeted against abnormal cancer cells, not foreign organisms. It is the only vaccine in pets that is useful after disease is detected.

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Dr Roger Johnson and Dr Derek Calhoon

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy. Derek Calhoon, DVM is a veterinary general practitioner.

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