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a shot in the dark: the downside of vaccine clinics

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


Vaccine clinics pop up from time to time in every town, and it may sound like a dream come true. No muss, no fuss – just a quick vaccine or two and you and Fluffy are on your way!  As a pet owner, I can understand the desire to make vaccine administration as quick and painless as possible, but as a veterinarian, I sometimes cringe at the thought.

Vaccines are vital to not only the health of your pet, but to the health of your community of pets.  And when we consider the rabies vaccine, we delve into the more important subject of public health and safety.  Vaccines are important, but what is equally (or even more!) important at your annual vaccine appointment is the physical exam performed by your veterinarian.

Vaccine clinics pride themselves on their efficiency.  So, barring your wait in line time, you could feasibly spend mere minutes getting a vaccine, whereas at your veterinarian’s office, you can be sure that you’ll be there at least half an hour or more.  Vaccine clinics are simply that – a place to get a vaccine.  If your pet is too thin, or overweight, or has fleas, or intestinal parasites, or an ear infection, it’s likely that no one will stop to mention it.  Their goal is to give your dog or cat a vaccine and be done with it.

But veterinary medicine is so much more than vaccines.  An annual exam (or semi-annual exam for older pets) allows us to keep thorough records on your pet.  By performing a thorough physical exam from the tip of the ears to the tip of the tail and everything in between, we can find minor problems before they become major.  Palpating your pet’s joints, examining his teeth, and palpating his abdomen can alert us to trouble spots that need addressing. 

Also, it is important to think about how vaccine protocols are changing.  Vaccines that used to be given yearly can now be given every three years, and vaccine safety standards are evolving as well.  Your veterinarian will treat your pet as an individual and tailor his or her vaccine schedule accordingly, rather than as one of hundreds of pets in an assembly line.

Hurrying through a vaccine clinic also denies your pet the opportunity to be tested for heartworm disease, which can be deadly, and intestinal parasites that not only cause illness in pets, but which are also zoonotic, meaning that they can infect you and your children.  A yearly exam at your veterinarian’s office can also allow for blood work to check the function of your pet’s major organs.  This is especially important as your pet ages.

I think it’s safe to say that vaccine clinics have their place.  They provide an inexpensive option for many people, some of whom would not pursue any kind of veterinary care otherwise.  But while rabies clinics certainly protect public health, they aren’t necessarily in the best interest of our pets.  If your pet visits a vaccine clinic for his vaccines, just remember that it doesn’t take the place of a thorough physical exam.  Also remember to take your proof of vaccination with you to your veterinarian’s office so that they can update your records to avoid over-vaccination.

One final word of caution: if your pet has had a vaccine reaction before, it’s really probably better to pursue vaccines only through your veterinarian’s office.  Vaccine clinics have limited staff and medications on hand.  Though rare, anaphylactic reactions to vaccines can occur and be life threatening, and that’s a chance you just don’t want to take!

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
vet tip of the week

Visit your vet at least once a year to keep your pet protected from preventable diseases.