Puppy 101: Preventative Medicine—Why and How We Vaccinate

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“Is your dog up to date on his shots?” Whenever you need to take your pup to the groomers, an obedience school, or a kennel, that’s a question you’re likely to hear. That’s because vaccinations are an extremely important part of keeping your dog healthy. But how do vaccinations work, why are they necessary, and how are they administered? Read on for answers to these questions and more.

Why we vaccinate

Vaccinations are relatively painless, easy, and cost-effective. On the other hand, the diseases they prevent, if contracted, are irritating at best and potentially deadly at worst; additionally, a sick dog can put other dogs at risk. Finally, treating your dog for a disease is likely to be many times more expensive than regular vaccinations and boosters.

You’ve probably heard the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In other words, it’s better to be “proactive” than “reactive.” That’s exactly what we believe at Small Door, and we’re not alone: virtually all veterinarians agree that the prevention of common diseases through vaccination is at the forefront of medicine and best-in-class care.

How vaccines work

Vaccines are tailored to prevent life-threatening diseases. By exposing your dog’s immune system to an incomplete or inactive strain of infectious agents, we help his body build immune cells that are specifically designed to respond effectively when the real thing comes along. It’s that simple.

In recent years, vaccines have been called dangerous for various reasons—but there’s little to no scientific evidence to support this claim. On the other hand, we have plenty of examples of the havoc that the diseases themselves can wreak, not only on individual animals but whole groups, if the vaccinated population falls to dangerously low levels.

Puppies—along with old or immune-compromised dogs—are especially vulnerable to diseases because they have underdeveloped immune systems. For example, one of the most common diseases we vaccinate for, parvorius, affects puppies more than adult dogs, and can be life-threatening. That’s why we begin vaccinating at a young age.

Puppies—along with old or immune-compromised dogs—are especially vulnerable to diseases because they have underdeveloped immune systems.

What are vaccine boosters?

Puppies initially receive some immune protection from their mother, but this doesn’t last for very long. Here’s why this is important to know: this initial maternal immunity can actually interfere with the vaccines we administer, and make them less effective. To make sure puppies acquire a high enough level of antibodies to be effective, we have to vaccinate them multiple times—in other words, administer boosters.

What is herd immunity?

The reason we want to vaccinate as many dogs as possible is that we’re trying to achieve what’s known as “herd immunity.”

When a very high percentage of a population is immunized against a particular disease, that disease struggles to find a suitable host and can virtually disappear from the general population. However, keep in mind that vaccine-preventable diseases will still exist in nature (in strays or wild animals, for example). That’s why lifelong vaccinations are important to maintaining herd immunity. If we stop vaccinating, we once again make the population vulnerable to even seemingly rare diseases, giving them a chance to re-emerge in an undesirable way.

How we vaccinate

Vaccines consist of small amounts of a killed or otherwise inactive strain of the disease. They are generally administered under the skin, also known as the “subcutaneous space.” They’re typically given on the limbs, or sometimes on the back.

A little bleeding at the site directly after the vaccination is normal, as is a mild decrease in appetite and energy. Your pet may be a little sore at the vaccination site for a few days, or have a small lump there, but that’s normal, too.

Vaccine Reactions

Keep in mind that the whole point of vaccinating is to stimulate the immune system and prepare the body to defend itself when exposed to the actual disease. As such, a small subset of animals can experience undesirable reactions. The majority of these are mild and will resolve quickly with time and mild supportive care.

However, if your pet experiences any of the following reactions after a vaccination, please contact us:

  • Vomiting
  • Facial swelling, hives, or excessive itching
  • A lump at the vaccination site that lasts more than a couple of weeks
  • Excessive lethargy or a refusal to eat, especially if it lasts more than a day

Stay up to date on vaccines!

Now that you know the facts about vaccinations, you can understand why they’re the first line of defense when it comes to your dog’s health. Help us keep your puppy in top-notch condition through his golden years by staying up to date on boosters and vaccines. And remember, if you have any questions or concerns, just let us know—because at Small Vet, we always want to ensure you’re an engaged and educated participant in your dog’s health.

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