It’s flu season again, and this year is already looking like it’s going to be a doozy. As I took my child in to the pediatrician to get his flu vaccine, I was so very thankful that they had the nasal vaccine, as this type of vaccine goes over a lot better than a needle in my particular three year old.
I feel like my thoughts regarding nasal vaccines in pets is exactly the opposite. I’d much rather have to give a quick injection than approach the part of the pet that is closest to its teeth with a syringe of liquid! While nasal vaccines amount to little more than a spray in one or both nostrils, dogs and cats don’t seem to appreciate this particular kind of vaccine. So why on earth do we bother with them?
Let’s first address the vaccines themselves, and the diseases for which they exist. The most common intranasal vaccine in veterinary medicine is the Bordetella (or kennel cough) vaccine. Like the human influenza virus, kennel cough is a respiratory disease. And like the nasal form of the flu vaccine available for humans, the nasal form of the Bordetella vaccine protects dogs locally, right where the organisms responsible for causing the illness try to gain entry into your dog.
Because intranasal vaccines are given at the site of potential infection, they are considered more protective by some veterinarians. Studies have shown that intranasal vaccines act to protect your pet more quickly than the equivalent injectable vaccine does. In fact, a single intranasal kennel cough vaccine can protect your dog in 72 hours! For comparison, the injectable version takes about a week to provide protection.
That’s not the only benefit of an intranasal vaccine, either. In addition to faster protection, intranasal vaccines result in higher nasal antibody levels, less shedding of organisms when challenged with the disease (meaning less chance they’ll spread the disease), and fewer symptoms when challenged with the disease. Because no vaccine is 100% effective, your pet can still get sick if exposed to a condition even if they’ve been vaccinated. But pets who have received intranasal vaccines have fewer signs of illness.
There is an intranasal option for cats, too. Commonly called the FVRCP vaccine or feline distemper vaccine, this injectable or intranasal vaccine protects against feline panleukopenia, feline herpes virus, and feline calici virus. While the intranasal virus works well against herpes and calici virus, it may not work as well against panleukopenia. However, cats in high risk situations, such as catteries and shelters, will benefit from the quick onset of protection that comes with intranasal vaccines.
There is a downside to intranasal vaccines, however, in that they must be given in one or both nostrils, a procedure that many pets dislike. Most vets have developed a technique that works well for them, whether it be the slow and steady approach or the shock and awe approach. Additionally, intranasal vaccines may cause transient mild sneezing, but that’s a side effect I’m willing to take for a year of good protection!