Taking care of your dog’s health can be as important as taking care of your infant’s health. There is a right and a wrong way to do it, and many rely on parenting books to help them learn about the most important details. There aren’t nearly as many pet-related books as baby books, however, and many of them lack the authority to help you understand just what you should know. Consider this guide to help you understand a very important piece of dog health care: vaccinations, also known as immunizations.

Are immunizations important?

Yes. Many people may say that “back in the day,” dogs didn’t get immunizations and were perfectly fine. However, it’s true many survived, but also many suffered or died from diseases that are now preventable. Dogs also ate poor-quality dog kibble and often suffered in silence when dealing with preventable chronic health conditions. Times have changed a lot, and immunizations are considered standard for dogs and cats both.

They prevent illnesses and parasitic-related infections that can be expensive, painful, and even fatal if left untreated indefinitely. Vets and animal rescue organizations emphatically recommend all immunizations for these reasons, amongst others.

What are normal immunizations?

Throughout your pet’s life, you’ll face a selection of normal immunizations. These include:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Canine hepatitis 
  • Rabies
  • Panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus 

All of these are considered core immunizations for dogs and cats, and they are given during their baby years all the way to their senior years. Most vets recommend them every year to 3 years, depending on the vaccine, though some vets may say that cats only need to receive them every two years if they are indoor-only cats and there are no dogs in the house. Vets can perform titer testing (a blood test for vaccine protection levels) if you want to minimize the number of vaccines given while insuring your pet is protected.

Are there any additional immunizations?

Yes, you can look at other supplemental immunizations for dogs and cats. Most of these will depend on the lifestyle of the pet, as well as any other vulnerability factors indicating that your pet may require them.

For example, dogs can be immunized for kennel cough, a highly contagious respiratory disease, or for leptospirosis, which is a bacterial disease that can cause kidney damage, meningitis, and liver failure, amongst others. If your dog spends time with other dogs that aren’t immunized, they may require one or both of these vaccinations. If they are spending time around only immunized dogs and aren’t at risk of contracting these, many vets will recommend these vaccinations sporadically or not at all.

Another example is cats and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV, not very common in Alberta). Cats that have lived or have access to colony cats should have this vaccination with this. Since it works essentially as HIV does in humans, it’s important to protect against it. If cats are indoor-only and they have no access to vaccinated to unvaccinated cats, however, immunization isn’t required.

Are vaccinations mandatory?

Some provinces or states and other governing powers do require vaccinations for pets. This prevents disease transmission with humans (some feline and canine infections and illnesses can be contagious from species to species) and also make the animal’s quality of life better.

There are many adoption centers and animal rescues that require them, too, simply because it prevents disease transmission and betters the animal’s quality of life.

The central point here, of course, is that proper immunizations give your dog or cat the best quality of life possible, and also give them many happy and healthy years with you.

Are normal vaccinations risky?

There’s a lot of fiction out there about animal vaccinations and their risk to your pet. Animal vaccinations are tested rigorously before being released to the market, and vets have been delivering them to pets for years and years. Normal immunizations are just that — normal and, therefore, nothing to be worried about.

Of course, you should always discuss any kind of concerns that you have about your pet’s immunizations with your vet beforehand. If you discuss what’s bothering you, vets can help ease your worries by giving you the explanations you deserve to ensure that your pet’s health is in good hands.

How do I know which vaccinations are right for my pet?

Above, we talked about normal immunizations for pets and then a bit about supplemental ones that can be recommended for at-risk pets. How do you possibly know what is best for your pet? Answer: you don’t. Here’s what we mean:

  • Talk to someone in the business: It’s not only illogical but unfair to ask pet parents to know what is best for their pet’s health. Veterinary doctors are your best professionals to recommend what your pet will need for their health and safety.
  • Trust your vet’s recommendations: Whatever your vet suggests, trust it. Some vets will explain it to you to help you understand, and others may not. It’s always your right to ask for an explanation that makes sense to you before making a final decision. If you don’t like your vet’s recommendations, you can get a second opinion, or find another vet that can explain it to you in a way you can understand.
  • Get all vaccinations possible: If you really want to ensure that you cover all your bases, a great suggestion is to consider all vaccinations possible for your pet so that you’ll know that they’ve got every protection possible for their health. From there, your vet can help you understand what vaccinations they should stay current on and what ones they can let slide after a year or two.
  • Keep up on your vaccinations: Another myth is that dogs and cats only have to be immunized during their first year of life. Every pet should receive vaccinations every year or every two years, depending on what your vet recommends for your personal situation. Immunity wanes, so protect your pet’s health by keeping their vaccinations up to date.

To sum it all up

Your pet’s health begins with properly administered normal immunizations. Even if you grew up in a time when not all dogs or cats received adequate immunization and were “fine,” times have changed, and you should change with them — after all, your pet deserves the best quality of life possible.

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