By Christie Long
Lately, it seems that lots of organizations and even retail stores are offering vaccination clinics for pets. Owners can bring their dogs or cats to these clinics, and quickly and inexpensively get them vaccinated against the routine diseases that pets are at risk of contracting.
Most of us lead busy lives and often find that our pets are behind on the routine vaccinations before we know it. Rabies has become such a concerning problem in Larimer County, Colo., having been isolated in ground-dwelling species such as skunks, raccoons and now even foxes, that it’s more important than ever to make certain that your pet’s rabies vaccination stays current. But I’m concerned that owners leave these vaccination clinics with a false sense of security regarding their pet’s health status.
Recently, a young man brought his 1-year-old cat into my clinic in severe respiratory distress. This had been going on for a few days but had been getting progressively worse, and when I first met him, the cat was struggling to breathe. The sweet kitty relaxed when given supplemental oxygen, but chest X-rays showed an enlarged heart and fluid in the chest cavity and lungs. The young man was devastated to learn that his cat had a heart defect that had likely been present since birth and that would continue to worsen. With such a poor prognosis, he made the agonizing decision to euthanize his friend.
As I discussed the situation with the owner, he told me that a few months earlier, he had taken his cat to a vaccination clinic, where he had been told that the cat seemed healthy. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that the cat was never actually examined by a veterinarian. In this case, identifying the heart defect would not have changed the ultimate outcome, but it would have allowed the owner to prepare. We might have even been able to start medications that could have delayed the onset of heart failure.
Administering vaccinations isn’t rocket science, and if you’re capable of sticking a needle into a pocket of skin, you’ve pretty much got the skills to do it. When you pay a veterinarian to administer a vaccination to your pet, what you’re paying for is much more than the liquid in the syringe. You’re paying for the physical examination of all body parts and systems. You’re paying for the discussion about eating habits, water consumption, bathroom habits, nutrition and behavioral issues, as well as the expertise that a veterinarian brings to bear on exactly what vaccinations your animal needs. And you’re paying for recommendations regarding preventative care, such as parasite prevention and dental care.
Vaccination clinics provide a low-cost source of vaccinations for many people in our community, and it’s critical to make sure your pet stays current on them. But your pet should still see a veterinarian at least yearly for a full examination. This becomes especially important for older pets because their bodies are aging much faster relative to ours.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.