Ask a Vet: Can You Over-Vaccinate?

Ask a Vet: Can You Over-Vaccinate?

Posted by Dr. Susan O'Dell on 28th October 2016

We asked veterinarian Dr. Susan O'Dell, "What are your thoughts on small animal vaccinations? Can you over vaccinate?" Read her response below!

Vaccinations are an important topic to address for every pet that I see. The diseases for which we vaccinate can cause severe sickness or death in cats and dogs (rabies is also fatal to humans). It is important to protect our pets and ourselves from these serious diseases.

Vaccines themselves can sometimes cause illness also. Vaccine reactions are not a frequent occurrence, but they are a potential risk for any patient. Reactions to vaccines range in severity from mild temporary facial swelling to anaphylactic reactions and collapse.

So how do I balance these risks? As a veterinarian, I view every pet as an individual. My clients - the pet owners - are my partners in assessing the lifestyle of the cat or dog to determine which vaccines we use and how often. A dog that frequents the park, groomer, and pet store is a great candidate for the kennel cough vaccine, but a dog that never meets other pooches is unlikely to need that type of protection. I recommend that all outdoor cats are screened for feline leukemia, and healthy kitties that venture outside should be vaccinated against the feline leukemia virus. Not every patient will receive the same vaccines because they are not exposed to the same risk factors.

Similarly, not every vaccine will be given annually to every cat and dog. A patient that is vaccinated at regular intervals may be able to receive some vaccines as infrequently as every 3 years. I may even discontinue some vaccines in older pets, such as the feline leukemia vaccine in geriatric cats.

The decision to vaccinate should be a joint one between you and your vet. Our goal is always to prevent disease, and using careful risk assessment, we can make sure your pet is protected without over-vaccinating.

Planning a trip to the vet? Review our Common Mistakes Made at the Vet article before you go!


Do you have a question for our vet? Email us at!

Dr. Susan O'Dell grew up in Michigan, where she received her Bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Michigan and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduating, she has practiced at animal hospitals all across New England, with a particular focus on educating small animal clients.

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