There are a lot of people who want to know just why they should vaccinate their animals. Truth4Pets.org and Aimee’s Rabies Exemption Law are both very, um, zealous examples. In California, we even have the Hagman bill allowing dogs who get sick from rabies vaccines to get a signed doctor’s note. (Yes, it must be a doctorate in veterinary medicine.)
The Hagman bill is proof that vaccines are dangerous, right? Why should we risk any vaccination at all? For one, putting your pet on titers* is much more expensive than getting a vaccine if your pet is like most others, not to mention that there are a lot of restrictions on the freedom of dogs who aren’t vaccinated against rabies. For another, an animal without a vaccine is a health risk, especially with zoonotic diseases like rabies and lepto. You don’t want to be the owner of a dog who bit somebody and didn’t have rabies shots on file. Plus, reactions are rare.
Most cats and dogs do not develop painful conditions from vaccines developed for them. Cats do react more than dogs do and as far as anyone knows, it’s a species thing. The key word is non-adjuvant: try to stick with these types of vaccines if you have a kitty. Adjuvant-ed vaccines are more effective at what they’re supposed to do but cats seem to be sensitive to them. Now. Reactions that can kill will probably happen while your vet is still talking to you so if they do happen, your vet should be able to do something to save your pet’s life right away. If you’re really worried, watch for the first 3 hours, keep an eye out for the next 21 hours. If 24 hours and all’s well, nothing freaky should happen afterward as a result of the vaccine.
One preventative step that you can try is spacing out your vaccines (if you’re doing the whole catalogue). The only issue with that is that you’re paying for more than one visit so it really depends on how worried you are about vaccine reactions and what your budget is. Of course, if you’re getting only rabies because that’s what the law requires yet your dog still reacts, this suggestion is null.
Also, for the most part, we won’t look at you too funny if you have an indoors-only cat who hates the clinic like nothing else and decide not to vaccinate. I know a vet who has one of those madly fractious cat and forgoes its shots because it ain’t worth it. Is it a health risk? Oh, yeah. But if the law doesn’t require it, it’s entirely up to you and your wallet.
So after your pet’s gotten a shot, any shot, what should you look out for? Drowsiness is normal. Call your vet if the skin where the vaccine was injected looks red or swollen or seems itchy to the animal. (“Call your vet” as in “Take two and call me in the morning.”) Get your dog to emergency if your pet breaks out in hives, gets tummy upset, or starts puking (your vet may use the word anaphylactic).
Now, you should kind of have some idea of what the risks and benefits of these vaccines are. If your vet isn’t talking to you about them, you should probably ask. At the end of the day, it comes down to what is the best for your pet. Some pets really don’t need some of the shots that your hyper-vigilant vet might strongly recommend. Some of your pets could do with some of the shots that all your animal rights activist friends are vehemently opposed to. Some of the diseases that routine vaccines prevent may never show up but if they do, the hospital fees that you end up paying may cost more than the fees for regular vaccines for fourteen years. You should find out first whether your pet must not have vaccines before you decide what’s the best health plan for your pet.
*Titers test the levels of antibodies to determine whether the dog is capable of handling a certain disease without vaccines. It’s sort of like skipping measles vaccinations you’ve had the disease before. This doesn’t work for all diseases like it does for measles so your dog would need to get titers regularly for life. Not a cheap option.