If you have a dog, cat, or other pet, your vet will recommend certain vaccines to protect your animal from common illnesses. Some vaccines, such as the rabies vaccine, may even be required by law. In order to ensure you understand what your vet is talking about when he or she describes vaccines and the vaccination process, learn the meanings of these common vaccine-related terms:
- Pathogens: A pathogen is an agent that causes disease. Typically, this is either a viral particle or bacterium, though there are pathogenic fungi, too. Vaccines contain either living or dead pathogens that cause the diseases which they are designed to prevent. For example, the rabies vaccine contains the pathogenic rabies virus.
- Active Immunity: This is the type of immunity that your pet develops after being vaccinated for a certain disease. It is immunity that results when the body is exposed to a pathogen (such as through a vaccine) and has to fight it off. In response to the pathogen, the body produces antibodies. When the same pathogen is acquired again, the body now knows how to produce those antibodies to fight off the pathogen before illness occurs.
- Booster Shot: For some disease, your pet will need an initial vaccine, followed by booster shots every few years. These booster shots are additional doses of the same vaccine, and they serve to "boost" the immune system's response to the pathogen, reducing your pet's risk of getting that specific disease.
- Anaphylaxis: This is a serious, whole-body allergic reaction. It may occur, in rare case, in response to a vaccination. Your vet will likely provide you with a list of the symptoms of anaphylaxis in your specific pet, which may include wheezing, coughing, paleness, hives, and diarrhea. If you think your pet is experiencing anaphylaxis after a vaccine, you should treat this like an emergency situation and call your vet immediately.
- Live Vaccines: Some vaccines consist of dead pathogens, but others are live vaccines. These contain living bacteria or viral particles. However, the pathogen has usually been altered so that it is not actually infectious, though it will cause the immune system to react and produce immunity. Live vaccines that your vet administers have been tested and found safe for your pet, so don't worry about them causing the actual illness they are designed to prevent.
Hopefully knowing the meanings of these terms will make it easier to understand exactly what is happening when your pet is being vaccinated. If you have an any questions about anything your vet says related to vaccines, don't be afraid to ask him or her. Vets, such as Delphos Animal Hospital, are used to addressing patient concerns, and most will be happy to explain any terms you don't quite understand.