College Station – Immunizations are one of the easiest ways to ensure that your pet lives a long and healthy life.

According to Dr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, vaccinations are an essential component of preventative medicine for companion animals.

“The diseases against which vaccinations have been developed are typically highly dangerous, highly contagious, or both,” Creevy said. “Vaccinations can protect pets from serious disease or potential death and can also minimize the spread of disease among pets.”

Vaccines contain some or all of the inactivated protein parts of pathogens that cause infectious disease. After vaccination, the animal’s immune system recognizes the pathogen from these inactivated parts—if the animal is exposed to the real disease in the future, their immune system is capable of fighting back against it. This, in turn, prevents, or substantially limits, sickness in the vaccinated animal.

“Most initial vaccinations are given to puppies and kittens between 6 and 8 weeks of age, or to adult animals with no known vaccine history, in a series of several injections,” Creevy explained. “Dogs and cats should be boosted at 1 year of age, and after that core vaccinations should be boosted every three years. Many of the non-core vaccines are boosted more often.”

Core vaccines are those that all dogs and cats should receive. These immunizations prevent diseases like rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis in dogs, and herpesvirus, calicivirus, and panleukopenia in cats.

Non-core vaccines are used more selectively because the diseases they prevent are less dangerous, are only dangerous to certain groups of animals, or only exist in certain parts of the country. These diseases include Lyme disease and kennel cough in dogs.

“The owner and the veterinarian can discuss each individual pet’s risk of disease and decide whether or not each individual pet should be vaccinated with any of the non-core vaccines,” Creevy said.

Creevy reminds pet owners that vaccinations are always safest and most effective when administered by a veterinarian, and when it comes to the risks and side effects associated with vaccines, she advices owners to consult with their veterinarian before making any decisions.

“Modern vaccines are highly effective and generally safe; however, adverse events can occur with the administration of any medical substance, which is why administration by a veterinarian in a medical facility is always preferred,” she said.

According to Creevy, the most common adverse effects of vaccinations include pain, swelling or soreness at or around the injection site. If any other side effects are noted, Creevy suggests owners speak with their veterinarian as soon as possible.

This National Immunization Awareness Month, remember that establishing a relationship with your veterinarian and determining an immunization strategy tailored to your pet’s age and health status will promote a long, happy, and, most importantly, healthy lifestyle for your four-legged friend.