TEARS Veterinary Clinic is here to help

Why do we vaccinate animals?
In short; because they are part of our families and we have to care for them.

Caring for your beloved pets extends far more than just providing shelter, feeding and playing with them. As our pets are effectively our extended family members, we must also protect them against harmful parasites and diseases. This will also protect our families from potential health risks where our pets can make us ill.

By caring for our pets, and protecting them and ourselves, we improve their, as well as our own quality of life.

In South Africa, we have endemic diseases eg Rabies, that still affects and kill humans every year. Vaccines are not only effective in preventing this, but also a very cost-effective way of controlling disease, preventing the spread of disease and protecting human and animal lives.

Naturally, not all of us understands vaccines, for example, how do vaccines work, how effective are they, why do we need them and what can go wrong with them.

We at TEARS love to educate our pet owners and will answer some frequently asked questions and concerns below:

5 Reasons to vaccinate your pet

  1. To protect our pets and those around them
  2. To prevent them contracting and spreading serious diseases
  3. To protect our family from contracting serious animal-related diseases (eg. Rabies)
  4. It is the most cost-effective option to approach disease (“prevention is better (&cheaper) than cure”)
  5. Complying with our country’s laws

How do vaccines work

Vaccines are products designed to effectively “mimic” disease and stimulates the immune-system to make antibodies against that specific disease and it is these anti-bodies that provides us protection. This effect in our bodies is defined as our Immunity. Our immunity therefor can either prevent or reduce the clinical symptoms of disease and provide us with a fighting chance to overcome the disease.

As a rule of thumb antibodies takes approximately 14 days to provide protection.

Vaccines are very specific agents that must be handled, transported, stored, constituted and administered by trained professionals. The cold chain events from manufacture to administration is very important.

Vaccine efficacy & protection

There are many factors that may influence the efficacy of a vaccine and ensure protection. If administered appropriately, at the correct doses and intervals, for most pets’ effective protection will develop. The scope of this article is not to discuss all possible reasons of failure, but mainly a break in the chain of vaccine handling or administration protocols can lead to complete failure of immunity.

Type of vaccines for our pets

Dogs and cats have what we call “core” vaccines. These are all the viral diseases we vaccinated against world-wide. These are very important to prevent and aiming to eradicate disease. They are also administered according to the life stages of the animal, e.g the rabies vaccine is only done from 12 weeks of age for both dogs and cats.

Adjunctive vaccines exist that your veterinarian will advise depending on the pet’s lifestyle and exposure risk based on each country and prevalence of specific diseases. Eg. Are Feline Leukaemia, Leptospirosis, Heart Worm vaccine to name a few.

There are 5 core vaccines in dogs namely Canine Parvo Virus, Canine Distemper Virus, Canine Adeno- Virus Types 1 (Hepatitis) & 2 (Kennel Cough) and Canine Para-Influenza Virus, with the rabies vaccine added from 12 weeks of age.

The 3 core vaccines in cats are the Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus (Herpes Type 1), Feline Calici Virus and Feline Panleukopaenia Virus, with the rabies vaccine added from 12 weeks of age.

Vaccine Schedules

Puppies are vaccinated at 6, 8, 12 & 16 weeks of age, thereafter in the month they turn 1 year old, then thereafter annually to every 3 years depending on the country and exposure risks.

Kittens are vaccinated at 8 & 12 weeks old, thereafter in the month they turn 1 year old, then thereafter annually to every 3 years depending on the country and exposure risks.

Puppies and kittens are initially protected from their mother’s immunity via the colostrum and milk, but this protection is not long lasting, and a serious of vaccines are required to build their immunity to sufficient levels or protection.

By repeating the vaccines annually to every 3 years, we continue to remind and stimulate the immune system to be prepared in the event of an exposure.

For herd immunity to be effective, more than 70% of the population of animals must be vaccinated. This in itself is a very daunting task for the country, thus annual vaccinations remain safest to ensure protection of your own animals.

Always discuss the lifestyle and risk of your pet in your geographical region with your vet to determine the best protection for your family.

Vaccine Side-effects and risks

The risks of vaccines should always be weighed against the benefits and requirements of protecting your pet, your family and the community and its pets. As mentioned, countries are governed and by law for eg. The rabies vaccine is mandatory.

The most common vaccine side-effects are fortunately very mild and short term; eg. Discomfort and local swelling of injection site. A mild fever with decreased appetite & lethargy, sneezing or coughing with intra-nasal vaccines may occur.

More serious side effects are fortunately very rare and may include; Persistent vomiting and diarrhoea, “hives”, Fascial swelling, respiratory distress, collapse and injection site saroma’s (especially in cats).

Reactions will develop within 30-60min after the vaccine was given (except for sarcoma’s that can take months to even years).

Always seek immediate veterinary care if any symptoms develop and if an animal has had reaction before, always mention this to the vet when vaccines are due.

Antibody titers Value

In theory these days, we are able to measure the number of anti-bodies our body made against a specific disease, effectively meaning we can measure our immunity’s response. This by no mean will replace vaccine schedules but maybe used to determine the reasonable expectation of protection against disease.

The down side of this is costs of test especially and in third world countries like South Africa, a very impractical method to determine heard immunity.


Vaccines saves lives. Animal lives as well as human lives. It remains the most practical, cost effective, efficient and humane way of protecting our pets and combating the spread and existence of disease. Not only between animals but also between animals and humans.

Always speak to your veterinarian for informed advice and to address any concerns. TEARS Veterinary Clinic is here to help – give us a call