Are you confused about how important is vaccination in pets and how often do they need vaccines? You’re not alone.

In recent years, vaccination has become a controversial topic not only in pediatric medicine but also in veterinary medicine. What is the “vaccine controversy” all about? People (and pet owners) are concerned about the side effects of vaccination with risk of developing cancer or even death.

So let’s go through what vaccination is exactly and what are the risk and benefits of vaccinating your pet.

What is vaccination?

Vaccines protect against contagious, potentially fatal diseases such as Rabies, Parvovirose in dogs or Panleucopenia in cats. Vaccines trigger immune responsesand prepare pets to fight future infections. For over 50 years, vaccines have saved millions of pet lives. And even though some once common diseases are now rare, many vaccines are still necessary as they haven’t been eradicated altogether.

Are vaccines 100% safe?

Unfortunately, no! They can be some side effects to vaccine. Vaccines can make pets sick and lethargic and induce diarrhea and in very rare cases, cause fatal reactions. The most common adverse reactions are mild and short-term, including reduced appetite, fever, and swelling at the point of injection. Allergic reactions appear within minutes or hours and may include vomiting, diarrhea, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

And in cats, vaccine can cause cancer. It is believed thatit is due to a chemical called an “adjuvant” that’s added to some feline vaccines.Years ago, veterinarians started noticing tumors forming in the area between the shoulders, where cats are vaccinated. The tumors are rare, occurring in 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 cats. It is now recommended to give this type of vaccine low on a cats’ front or hind legs so they can amputate if a tumor develops, potentially saving the cats’ life.

Are the benefits greater than the risk?

Absolutely, yes!As mentioned above, it is not because some diseases are now rarethat they don’t exist anymore. A good example would be Canine Distemper in the United Arab Emirates: rare but unfortunately still seen in a small number of unvaccinated pets.

Also, some diseases are still very frequent in the UAE, such asParvovirose in dogs and Panleucopenia in cats. Sadly, UAE vets see to many unvaccinated puppies and kittens die due to those viral diseases when it could be avoided with proper vaccination protocol.

So, we obviously need these vaccines to prevent life-threatening viruses from infecting our pets, but we must also consider the risks involved and adapt vaccination protocol to each pet and their lifestyle.

How often do you need to vaccinate your pet?

You will hear about “core” and “non-core” vaccines. Core vaccines are those that are universally recommended and most commonly given. Non-core vaccines are optional, according to protocols set by major veterinary organizations.

DOG VACCINE

Dog VaccineInitial VaccinationBooster RecommendationComments
RabiesSingle dose as early as 3 months of age.Annual vaccine (as per UAE law)Core dog vaccine. Rabies is 100% fatal to dogs, with no treatment available. Prevention is key.
Distemper2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)Puppies need a booster 1 year after completing their initial series, then all dogs need a booster every 1-3 years (depending on lifestyle)Core dog vaccine.Caused by an airborne virus, distemper is a severe disease that, among other problems, may cause permanent brain damage.
Parvovirus2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)Puppies need a booster 1 year after completing their initial series, then all dogs need a booster every 1-3 years (depending on lifestyle)Core dog vaccine.Canine “parvo” is contagious, and can cause severe vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Parvo is usually fatal if untreated.
Adenovirus,  type 1 (CAV-1, canine hepatitis)2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)Puppies need a booster 1 year after completing their initial series, then all dogs need a booster every 1-3 years (depending on lifestyle)Core dog vaccine.Spread via infected urine and feces; canine hepatitis can lead to severe liver damage, and death.
Adenovirus, type 2 (CAV-2, kennel cough)2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)Puppies need a booster 1 year after completing their initial series, then all dogs need a booster every 1-3 years (depending on lifestyle)Core dog vaccine. Spread via coughs and sneezes.
Parainfluenza2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)A booster may be necessary after 1 year, depending on manufacturer recommendations; revaccination every 3 years is considered protective.Non-core dog vaccine.Parainfluenza infection (not the same as canine influenza) results in cough, fever. It may be associated with Bordetella infection.
Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough)  IN 1 doseEvery 9 months (as per UAE law)Non-core dog vaccine.MANDATORY for boarding
LeptospirosisFirst dose as early as 8 weeks, with a second dose 2-4 weeks laterAt least once yearly for dogs in high-risk areasNon-core dog vaccine.Vaccination is generally restricted to established risk areas. Exposure to rodents and standing water can lead to a leptospirosis infection.
Canine influenzaFirst dose as early as 6-8 weeks; second dose 2-4 weeks laterYearlyNon-core dog vaccine.
Similar tobordetella.

CAT VACCINE

 

Cat VaccineInitial VaccinationBooster RecommendationComments
RabiesSingle dose as early as 3 months of age.Annual vaccine (as per UAE law)Core cat vaccine. Rabies is 100% fatal to cats, with no treatment available. Prevention is key.
Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia)2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)Kittens need a booster 1 year after completing their initial series, then all cats need a booster every 1-3 years (depending on lifestyle).Core cat vaccine. Feline distemper is a severe contagious disease that most commonly strikes kittens and can cause death.
Feline Herpesvirus2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)Kittens need a booster 1 year after completing their initial series, then all cats need a booster every 1-3 years (depending on lifestyle).Core cat vaccine. Feline herpesvirus causes feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), a very contagious upper respiratory condition.
Calicivirus2-3 doses every 2-4 weeks (with final dose given at 16 weeks)Kittens need a booster 1 year after completing their initial series, then all cats need a booster every 1-3 years (depending on lifestyle).Core cat vaccine. A very contagious upper respiratory condition that can cause joint pain, oral ulcerations, fever, and anorexia.
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)As early as 8 weeks, then 3-4 weeks laterEvery 2 years for cats at low risk; every year for those at higher riskNon-core cat vaccine.
Should test FeLV negative first. Transmitted via cat-to-cat contact. Can cause cancer, immunosuppressant

 

Are there any safe alternatives to following the above schedule? Or when to know if I can safely vaccinated every 3 years?

There’s no clear answer to this question. Titer testing, a tool to help assess the status of your pet’s defenses against specific infections, exists but it remains confusing and even controversial whether the results are a good measure of immunity (risk of false negative or false positive).

In the case of vaccination, the issue with titer testing is the possibility of false positive: meaning that the titer will be positive but in fact the pet doesn’t have enough antibodies to be protected. So, yes, it’s possible to do the titer test, but it should only be a part of the equation and take into account the lifestyle of the pet (indoors vs outdoors).