Communicating the need for vaccines to your clients: Pets need vaccinations, too

By Nina Silberstein
Contributing Author


Vaccinating pets has become a controversial issue for pet owners and a hot topic of discussion in veterinary medicine over the last few years. It is recommended that dogs and cats be vaccinated against certain infectious diseases (just as children are), but not all pet owners subscribe to this thinking.

Some are trying to decipher what they’ve heard or think about human vaccines and apply this information to their pets.

As health care professionals, it’s important not only to educate pet owners about the potential health consequences—such as zoonosis and human health risks—of the diseases we vaccinate against, but to allay their fears about possible risks, reactions and side effects to their pets.

Table of Contents

Understand Your Client's Questions and Concerns

An important step in developing a positive and successful rapport with your clients is to identify their questions or concerns and then address the specific needs of each patient individually.

A great place to start is by inquiring about your clients’ beliefs about vaccinations in general. As an example, a popular misconception is that only puppies and kittens need to be vaccinated whereas adult pets do not.

However, all the diseases we currently vaccinate for persist in the pet population and environment throughout the life of the pet, and how long each vaccine lasts (e.g., how long it continues to provide protective immunity) is variable.

For this reason, it is extremely important that adult dogs and cats continue to receive appropriate vaccinations throughout their adult lives, not just for their own health but for the community of pets they may live with and around.

Emphasize the Importance of Starting Vaccinations Early in Life

In addition, stress to your clients that it’s essential that a juvenile vaccination series be properly completed on schedule. Failure to appropriately complete a puppy or kitten series can result in a poor, or lack of any, immune response and potentially affect the future responses to some vaccinations given into adulthood (See Figure 1 below).

Just as in the human population, the most at-risk demographics of animals are those that are very young or very old. Therefore, continuing vaccines in senior pets is just as important as when they were puppies or kittens.

Figure 1: Juvenile Immune Response to Vaccines

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Acknowledge and Address Adverse Vaccine Reaction Concerns

Many clients are reluctant to vaccinate their pets for fear that their pets will have a negative reaction to the vaccine.

Yes, any cat or dog, regardless of size, breed or age can experience an adverse vaccine reaction.1 However, it is important to reassure your client that these occurrences are very rare (on average less than 5.2/10,000 in dogs and 3.6/10,000 in cats)2, are usually not life-threatening and can be easily managed in most cases.

Adverse events may be associated with the adjuvant, antigen, carrier preservative or a combination, including the injection itself, although it is believed the majority of reactions are a result of the individual pet’s genetic makeup. Giving multiple vaccines or injections at the same visit does not necessarily increase the potential risk for an adverse event (except in dogs < 3 kg) and should be evaluated on an individual basis based on breed, size and previous vaccine history.

It is crucial to discuss possible adverse events (vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, facial swelling, collapse and difficulty breathing) with your clients and make sure they know how to proceed if any problems arise.

Thoughts to consider with all clients regarding their pets’ risk include:

  • Where the pet currently lives or may travel, lifestyle (exposure to other pets through boarding, daycare or dog parks)
  • The pet’s environment (exposure to wildlife or outside water sources)

Explain the Difference Between Core and Standard Vaccines

Your clients may also want to know the difference between core and standard vaccines, non-core vaccines and those administered based on risk (See Table 1 for Banfield’s recommendations).

Using simple terms and providing examples, you can discuss and explain these talking points:

  • Core vaccines are recommended for all pets.
  • Standard vaccines should be administered to most pets.
  • Non-core vaccines should be given based on individual’s potential lifestyle and risk of exposure.
  • As always, special attention will be taken if contraindications or medical considerations need to be accounted for on an individual basis.

Table 1: Core, Standard, and Based-on-Risk Recommendations

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Keep Your Client in the Know

It’s important to include your clients in the decision-making process to demonstrate the individual tailoring of the vaccine recommendation for their personal companion. This discussion should take place at each preventive care visit, as certain needs and risks of each pet might change over time.

Be Realistic, Transparent, and Informative

It is also important to remind your clients that vaccinations are not a guarantee that their pets will not become sick, but they do minimize the seriousness of illness and potentially reduce the risk of contagion.

Not vaccinating their pets may put other pets (and people) at risk. With the above information in mind, you can create with your client an individualized vaccination plan for each patient and perform a risk:benefit analysis.

Develop Your Partnership

As mentioned previously, it's important to vaccinate based on the pet's individual needs, as appropriate for lifestyle, geographic region, travel history, current physical status and previous history of vaccine reactions.

Partnering with your clients will enable you to foster strong relationships and increase client compliance in your preventive care recommendations for their pets.


1. Vaccine Preventive Care Resource Guide. Banfield Pet Hospital. Portland, Ore. 2014.
2. 2012 MQA data. Medical Quality Advancement team. Banfield Pet Hospital. Portland, Ore.

Further Reading

1. Day MJ, Horzinek MC, Schultz RD. WSAVA guidelines for the vaccination of dogs and cats. Vaccination Guidelines Group. J Small Anim Pract. 2010;51(6):1-32.
2. Welborn LV, DeVries JG, Ford R, et al. 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines. JAAHA. Sept/Oct 2011;47(5):1-42.
3. Scherk MA, Ford RB, Gaskell RM, et al. 2013 AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel Report. J Feline Med Surg. 2013;15:785-808.

About the Author

Nina Silberstein graduated from the State University of New York College at Buffalo with a BA in journalism. She joined Banfield in 2008 as a medical writer/editor on the Marketing team. She and her husband, David, have one son, Graeme, and a black cat named Blackie.