Vaccinations are a commonly misunderstood preventative care treatment, even when it comes to pets. Understanding the facts can put you more at easy when you take your new puppy to the vet. The following guide can help answer your questions on this common and life-saving procedure.
Do vaccines actually contain the disease?
As a general rule, pet vaccinations work by containing a modified or inert form of the disease. It is no longer active and cannot infect your dog. Instead, your dog's immune system has a minor response to the inert virus, which allows them to produce the antibodies that they would produce if infected. Since they now have these antibodies in place but without the infection, they are immune to the disease. Herd immunity is the key to making sure these vaccines are effective – by ensuring that most if not all dogs are immune to the disease, those that can't have a vaccine are protected. Herd immunity can also help wipe out a disease if there are no longer any hosts for it.
Why does my dog need more than one shot?
Most immunizations require that a series of shots are given. This could be simply to ensure your dog produces sufficient antibodies for immunity. In other cases, it is because immunity only lasts for a short period of time. For example, the rabies vaccine is often given on a one to three-year schedule, in part due to the fact that immunity is slowly lost and in part due to local laws governing the frequency of this vaccination.
Are there side effects of vaccinating?
Side effects are generally mild. Slight swelling or minor irritation is common, but most effects will wear off in a day or two. Your vet will inform you of the common side effects for the specific vaccine so you can be prepared.
What if my dog is never exposed to other dogs?
Your pet should still receive their vaccinations, even if exposure risk is low. Your dog can be exposed to diseases when on a walk or even during a vet visit, even if they otherwise never leave your home. In some cases, a disease may be carried by non-canines, like fleas or ticks. Your vet will have a core set of vaccines that your dog should receive. This set varies depending on your area – for example, there is a canine Lyme Disease vaccine that may be necessary if you live in an area with a high amount of deer ticks (the carrier for the disease). Your vet will also have a list of non-core vaccines. These may not be necessary if your dog's risk is low. This is something you should discuss with your vet, since every situation is different.