Vaccinations are vital in protecting your pet from harmful disease, but they’re still largely misunderstood. Find out why every vaccination is so important to your pet’s health.
Vaccinations for dogs and cats
Vaccinations are an essential part of dogs’ and cats’ lives. These simple injections protect your pet from potentially fatal diseases and are initially given over the course of three sessions at eight, 12 and 16 weeks old. Booster vaccinations are also required throughout their lives to keep them protected, usually at one or three-year intervals.
How do vaccinations work?
Vaccines work by giving your pet a small amount of the bacteria or virus to be vaccinated against; this is usually a modified or dead strain, which is completely harmless. Doing this exposes the immune system to the virus or bacteria and causes it to create disease-fighting antibodies that recognise and attack it. This means, should they ever encounter it in the future, the antibodies created in response to the vaccine will be able to successfully fight it off, keeping your pet safe and healthy.
For more information about what vaccinations your pet needs when, check out our guide to pet vaccination.
Why do young pets need three initial vaccinations?
Pets need three initial vaccinations to ensure they’re properly protected from dangerous diseases.
Puppies and kittens are born with antibodies from their mother which temporarily protect them from harmful diseases during their first few weeks. While these maternal antibodies are in the body, no more can be created in response to a vaccine. Since these antibodies can survive in the system up to 20 weeks after birth, there’s a chance that the first two vaccines may not have been effective in generating the longer-lasting antibodies needed to protect your pet.
In fact, a study into vaccinating kittens against feline panleukopenia found that only 45% of kittens were successfully protected against the disease after their first two vaccinations at eight and 12 weeks old.
Therefore, the third vaccine is perhaps the most important in ensuring your pet is properly protected from fatal diseases.
The importance of annual boosters
Contrary to popular opinion, the initial round of vaccinations doesn’t provide lifelong protection. Depending on the vaccine, they last between one and three years. That’s why regular booster vaccinations throughout your pet’s life are essential to keep them safe.
The first booster is required when your pet turns one and provides even more security that your pet is protected. A small percentage of puppies and kittens remain unprotected even after the 16-week vaccination due to maternal antibodies still being present. The one-year booster vaccination covers any pets who didn’t respond properly to the initial course of vaccinations, ensuring they’re safe from harm.
Pet Vaccination Myths
Myth #1 - Pets only need three initial vaccinations if they’re at a higher risk
All pets need three initial vaccinations to keep them safe from fatal diseases. There’s no way to determine pets that are more at risk than others, so every puppy and kitten should receive the complete vaccine schedule at eight, 12 and 16 weeks.
Myth #2 - Booster vaccines merely ‘top up’ the strength of the initial vaccination
While the name may be misleading, annual booster vaccinations don’t actually ‘boost’ the protection of the previous vaccine. Vaccines last either one or three years, after which they’re no longer effective in protecting your pet; that’s where the boosters step in. Booster vaccinations work in the same way as the initial vaccine, by prompting the immune system to produce antibodies that fight off the disease. This essentially renews the protection from dangerous diseases.
Myth #3 - Pets can become ‘over vaccinated’ which is bad for their health
There’s absolutely no evidence that supports the theory of ‘over vaccination’ in pets, and this view isn’t supported by the vast majority of veterinary professionals.
Vaccines go through rigorous trials before being licensed for use, and a robust reporting process exists to track any possible adverse reaction. This is then investigated and recorded to ensure pet vaccinations are completely safe and effective for long-term protection.
You can check your pet’s immunity level with titre testing to help make informed decisions about when to book their next booster. This simple test – called Vaccicheck - measures the level of antibodies in your pet’s system to determine whether they’re still protected against fatal diseases, or if they need re-vaccination. Speak to your vet for more information and to book a titre test.