Nothing is perfect – including our immune systems - and vaccines are not without their risks, although they are exceptionally rare.
- Allergic Reactions: These are rare in pets – less than 1% of vaccinated pets – but just like a pet can have an allergy to pollens or dust mites, they can also have an allergy to a protein in a vaccine. If your pet has a vaccine allergy, you will see the reaction within a few hours of vaccination, with symptoms ranging from vomiting, hives to a puffy red face. When these occur, they can be addressed by treating the allergic reaction and your veterinarian documenting the reaction. Pets that have an allergic reaction can sometimes have reactions prevented with anti-histamines around the time of vaccination, but this may become a reason for your veterinarian to not to use a particular vaccine for your pet.
A common question we are asked is why pets of different sizes need different doses of medication(s), but the volume of their vaccine(s) are the same. It is a very good question!
When doctors or veterinarians are prescribing or administering a drug, their goal is to achieve a desired concentration of the drug in a targeted tissue. To get there, most drugs will be transported in the bloodstream and diluted across all of the tissues in the body – not just the desired tissue. The drug(s) will then be removed from the body over time – usually by the liver and/or kidneys. Most of the body is water, so if you can imagine color dyeing one end of a pool by placing dye in another end of the pool while the pool filter is running...you can start to visualize how, as your pool starts to get bigger, you’re going to need a lot more dye to get the job done. This is why drug doses will change, depending on the weight or size of the patient receiving it.
If you are a history buff, you may know that the first vaccine was developed by a man named Edward Jenner, when he found that exposing humans to a cowpox blister – from cows! – protected the exposed human from developing a devastating disease at the time – smallpox! Since that time, vaccines have been medicine’s greatest tool to prevent – and in some cases eradicate – diseases that have historically wiped out entire populations.
Vaccines work by taking advantage of one of our body’s greatest weapons for fighting disease – our own immune system. When our body is exposed to a foreign pathogen or disease, part of its response is to learn – the immune system starts to train itself to be more able to identify and destroy the pathogen. It takes time for the immune system to react and learn, which is not ideal when dealing with a more severe disease – you want the immune system to be primed and ready to fight off that disease, which is where vaccines come in!
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