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Keeping senior pets immunized

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Veterinarians want to raise awareness about the options owners of senior pets have when it comes to getting shots for their four legged friends.

Animal experts say some pets may need certain specialized vaccines more frequently, depending on their health, breed or environment. And certain vaccines are only good for one year, which means they must be administered annually.

“The thing is, that there are certain conditions in animals that do make vaccination  unadvisable.  For instance, a cat that has advanced kidney disease should probably not be vaccinated. A dog that has had an immune mediated disease in it’s history should not be vaccinated; you don’t want to stimulate that immune system again,” said VCA Oso Creek Animal Hospital Veterinarian Dr. Wallace Graham.

The problem with vaccinations in older animals is that they may have unseen conditions or diseases that would interfere with treatment.

 “A lot of times with these diseases in older animals, the changes they undergo are so slow that they are almost imperceptible to the owner. The veterinarian that examines them twice yearly is what we recommend for older pets. Theveterinarian that is examining those pets and doing lab work is going to pick up on those things earlier, perhaps even then the owner would address those issues,” said Graham.

Some vaccinations can last five to seven years and others need to be updated annually which is why it’s all very important to work with your vet on a plan that is tailored to your animal.

“The primary objective here is what is best for the long-term health of the pet, and that is best determined in a conversation between the owner and the veterinarian after the veterinarian has performed a good examination and performed any laboratory test that might be indicated,” said Graham.

Another thing to consider is that a senior pet’s immune system is no longer at its strongest. Like so many other things, the immune system’s effectiveness diminishes with age. A pet may be more at risk of infection in old age and less able to fight one off.

Once your cat or dog has had their initial vaccine series and booster shots - starting no earlier than nine weeks of age - major veterinary organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association and the American Animal Hospital Association, now say pets should only receive the traditional "core" vaccines against distemper, Parvovirus and other common dog and cat diseases every three years, not annually.

Keeping senior pets immunized can help protect them from disease, but like any medical procedure, vaccinations aren't without risk.

Reactions to them are rare, but they can happen. If you are concerned about giving vaccines to your pet because he or she is old, has a chronic disease, or has had reactions to vaccines in the past, talk to your veterinarian about a titer test for parvo, distemper and adenovirus in dogs and panleukopenia in cats to check immune response.

If he or she has adequate levels of antibodies to distemper, parvo or adenovirus, he’s immune.

If he doesn’t have detectible antibodies to disease, he should be revaccinated.

Titer testing can be done every three years to check your senior pet's level of antibodies and help ensure that his immune system is still humming along.

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