How Often Should Pets Receive Vaccines?


I am wondering how you feel about yearly vaccinations. Do you feel they are really necessary? Are we vaccinating our pets to often and too much? Thank you.

Chillicothe, OH

Yours is a very good question. It is also very hard to answer. I have touched on the subject of pet vaccines a few times since I started writing for dogster and catser. Yet questions like this still come up, and for good reason.

The short answer to your question is: nobody knows how often pets need vaccines. When considering vaccines for your pet, there are several things to keep in mind.

  • Almost every pet will benefit dramatically from receiving some vaccines during its life, especially while it is a puppy or kitten. Older pets, in general, have lower vaccine requirements than younger pets.
  • Every pet has unique vaccine requirements. These requirements depend upon the pet’s lifestyle, the area in which it lives, and the way the pet’s immune system works.
  • Annual vaccines are probably not necessary to provide protection against some diseases, such as canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus and feline panleukopenia. Many experts now recommend giving these vaccines every three years. Some experts still recommend giving them annually, and other experts recommend giving them every five or seven years. There is a great deal of confusion, and very little agreement on this matter.
  • The laws in the area where you live determine whether and how often your pet needs to be vaccinated against rabies.
  • Some experts claim that certain vaccines, such as the one that helps to protect against kennel cough in dogs, need to be given every six months. Other experts claim that the kennel cough vaccine is basically worthless. Once again, confusion reigns supreme.
  • In dogs, there is little evidence so far that over-vaccination causes harm. This does not mean that no harm is occurring–it simply means that we don’t have much evidence of it. In cats, the vaccines for rabies and feline leukemia virus have been linked to tumors. These vaccines should be given sparingly, and only to cats who are at risk for leukemia or who live in jurisdictions where rabies vaccines are required.

By now, you are probably quite confused. I’m sorry, but there is, as of the time of writing, no simple answer to Nancy’s question. If you want to do what’s best for your pet, here is my advice. Find a good veterinarian who will sit down with you and discuss your pet’s lifestyle and the issues surrounding animal vaccines. Meet with your vet every six to 12 months. Decide, together, which vaccines to give your pet.

I hope that in the near future there will be a straightforward method to determine which pets need which vaccines. But for now, the method described above is the best we have.

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