Animal Article
Beyond Body
Protect your pet. Vaccinate!
Jyasmin M. Calub

Everybody knows that people need to be immunized to be protected from infectious diseases. But did you know that pets have to be immunized too?

According to the National Statistics Office, about 5.6 million Filipino households owned a dog, while about a million households owned a cat in 2004. The pet population has been increasing constantly, at a rate of about 3% annually for the past five years.

Why vaccinate?

“Vaccination is a preventive measure for the occurrence of disease, especially rabies, parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis and parainfluenza,” says veterinarian Dr. Laarni Cabantac of the Animal Health Division at the Bureau of Animal Industry. “These diseases have no specific treatment. They can only be prevented through vaccination,” she adds. These diseases are prevalent in the Philippines and in the world. Rabies, is particularly serious because it is also a public health problem. According to data from the World Health Organization, about 300-400 Filipinos die of rabies every year. Leptospirosis and hepatitis can also be transmitted to humans from infected pets.

Vaccinations must be given while the animal is still healthy and free of disease. Once the animal becomes ill, it must undergo treatment. But even if the animal receives treatment, there is no assurance that it will recover – it depends on the animal’s health status, and on the severity of the disease. “If the animal is brought to the vet immediately, there’s a chance that it can overcome the disease, but if it’s brought after three days or so, then it only has a 50-50 chance of survival,” explains Dr. Cabantac.

Vaccines contain weakened or killed bacteria or viruses, which stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies (special cells and proteins that fight disease). Thus, vaccines prepare the animal’s body to fight illness when it encounters the actual bacteria or virus.

Vaccine preventable diseases in pets

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that you bring your pet to the veterinarian immediately if it shows any of the following symptoms.

  • Abnormal discharge from the nose, eyes or other body openings.
  • Abnormal behavior (sudden aggression or lethargy).
  • Abnormal lumps, limping or difficulty getting up or lying down.
  • Loss of appetite, marked weight loss or gain or excessive water consumption.
  • Difficult, abnormal or uncontrolled waste elimination.
  • Foul breath or excessive tartar deposits on teeth.
  • Excessive head shaking, scratching, and licking or biting any part of the body.
  • Dandruff, loss of hair, open sores or a ragged or dull coat.

Be a responsible pet owner!

“Pet owners must practice responsible pet ownership,” says Dr. Leonilo Resontoc, Head of Immunization and Disease Control at the Animal Health Division, Bureau of Animal Industry. “Pets must be brought to a veterinarian for regular checkups. They have to be immunized against rabies and other diseases, treated when ill or injured, provided with sufficient food and clean shelter, and confined within the premises of the home.”

In particular, Dr. Resontoc stresses the importance of rabies vaccination, which is one of the key provisions of the Anti-Rabies Law of 2007. “Dogs and cats can transmit rabies to humans, so they have to be vaccinated every year. And if every your pet bites someone, report the incident to your veterinarian so that they can help decide what to do with the animal. Also, bring the bite victim to the doctor so she or he can be given appropriate treatment.”

When should I vaccinate my pet dog or cat?

“These vaccinations should be given to pets at the age of 1½ to two months of age, followed by booster shots. After that animals must be vaccinated every year,” says Dr. Cabantac.

Some veterinarians feel that yearly vaccination is unnecessary. However, Dr. Cabantac explains that this depends on the

prevalence of a disease in a certain area or region. “In countries like the States or Japan where there is very low or no incidence of rabies, the validity of a rabies vaccine is up to three years. But here in the Philippines, there is a high prevalence of rabies, so we require pet owners to vaccinate their pet dogs and cats every year.”

Vaccines undergo extensive testing before they are approved for marketing. However, some vaccines may cause reactions in a small number of pets. Often, dogs and cats will feel tired, develop a slight fever for 24-48 hours, and have a reduced appetite. Some animals may also experience mild, temporary pain or swelling at the injection site.

In very rare cases, dogs or cats may develop facial swelling or itching, or a severe allergic reaction within a few minutes or hours of vaccination. Signs of this reaction include vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, or collapse. If this occurs, the pet must be brought to the veterinarian immediately.

Pets are some of the most loyal companions that people can have. So show them your love – protect their health with proper immunization.