Dogs and cats need vaccines to help protect them against the most common, debilitating and deadly diseases, just as people do. The adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” definitely applies to the role of vaccines in health care. And when the costs associated with treating a sick pet are considered, the cost of vaccinations is a bargain.
Role of vaccines in pet health care
Vaccines play an important role in managing the health of your pet by protecting against specific infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy the disease-causing invader and to “remember” it so the immune system can fight future infections if needed.
Newborn kittens and puppies receive antibodies in their mother’s milk that help protect them from diseases while their immune systems are immature. These antibodies decrease over time, starting around 6 to 8 weeks of age, leaving pups and kittens susceptible to infectious diseases. Vaccinating puppies and kittens early in life starts building your pet’s own immunity against key diseases.
Be aware that one vaccination is not enough. The presence of maternal antibodies can interfere with a puppy’s or kitten’s ability to make its own antibodies. Since it is difficult to determine when a vaccine starts stimulating the immune system, two or three doses of vaccine may be needed. Each time a vaccination is repeated, it reminds the immune system to produce antibodies to protect the pet. This mechanism also explains why vaccinations are repeated as dogs and cats get older.
How many vaccines will my pet need?
Not every dog or cat needs to be vaccinated against every disease for which there is a vaccine. You and your veterinarian should discuss which vaccinations are appropriate for your pet based on several factors:
- Health issues
- Common diseases in your area
Your veterinarian’s vaccination recommendations will likely fall into two categories: core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are considered vital to all dogs and cats based on the risk of exposure, severity of the disease, and the ability for the disease to be transmitted to people. For example, rabies vaccination is required by law for dogs and often cats in order to protect both pets and people from the potentially fatal disease. Non-core vaccines may be recommended based on your pet’s lifestyle, such as hunting or boarding, and exposure risk.
When deciding how frequently your dog or cat needs to be vaccinated, you and your veterinarian will want to consider several factors:
- Health status
- How long a specific vaccine provides protection for (known as duration of immunity)
- Exposure risk
- Seriousness of the disease
- Licensing regulations
What’s the price of vaccinations?
Pet vaccination costs vary with the type and number of vaccines given, your veterinarian’s fee schedule and your veterinary clinic. Just as with groceries, housing and gas, where you live can make a difference in the prices charged for veterinary care.
According to vetinfo.com, the average cost of vaccinating a kitten during the first year may range from $50 to $100. This estimate assumes three doses of a combination vaccine to protect against feline panleukopenia (distemper), rhinotracheitis and calicivirus, and a single dose of rabies vaccine. Vetinfo.com also estimates the cost of vaccinating puppies during the first year to range from $20 to $200, while annual vaccinations for adult dogs may run $60 to $100.
Ideally, your pet should be vaccinated by a veterinary professional who can
- recommend what vaccines are best for your dog or cat
- determine if your pet is healthy enough for vaccination
- recognize and promptly treat possible vaccine reactions
- diagnose and treat other health issues during an examination.
It’s also important for vaccines to be shipped, stored and handled correctly to be effective.
Low-cost options are available, if having your regular veterinary clinic give vaccinations is outside your budget. While some vaccines can be purchased and given at home, having a veterinary professional administer the vaccine is still safest for your pet. Many local city or county government pet shelters and humane societies offer vaccination clinics. And some veterinary clinics offer discounted rates on vaccinations on certain days. With a little research, you should be able to identify low-cost options for you and your pet.
Vaccinations are one of the most important preventive steps you can take to protect your pet’s health. Vaccination is also one of the best, least costly ways to prevent disease and is far less expensive than treating a preventable disease.