Pet Vaccine Clinics: What You Should Know Before You Go

By: Celeste Treadway, DVM

TVMA Member
Austin, TX

Published July 2014

We all appreciate opportunities to save our hard-earned money. And all of us with school-aged children are familiar with the continual request for fundraising support, whether for the PTA, the band, a sports team or some other school-related organization. A fairly recent phenomenon in fundraising that is growing in popularity is vaccine clinics for our pets, a quick, cheap way to vaccinate pets while contributing funds to an organization. But what are the consequences of these “shot clinics” from a medical perspective? It sounds like a great idea to get your pet’s shots at a vaccine clinic for a lower price than you usually pay at a veterinarian’s office. A portion of the proceeds is returned to the group sponsoring the “clinic.” You save money. The organization makes money. It’s a win-win, right?

Things to Know Before Taking Your Pet to a Vaccine Clinic

The short answer is a resounding “maybe.” While you can save yourself a few dollars in some circumstances, there are several things you should be aware of before you decide if taking your pet to a vaccine clinic is really the best thing for its health:

  1. Most vaccines do not need to be given every year. In fact, most Texas veterinarians who stay abreast of the most recent best medical practices are recommending reduced vaccine frequency due to the increased awareness of the potentially negative effects of over-vaccination. Many common vaccines are now given at three-year intervals and in some cases are not continued at all in older pets. Other vaccines are continued annually, but whether or not they need these will depend on lifestyle and risk factors. Giving unnecessary vaccinations to your pet increases the possibility of harmful reactions.
  2. Quality differs greatly among the variety of vaccine products on the market. A tremendous amount of research has been put into developing vaccines that effectively protect while also reducing the likelihood of adverse reactions to other vaccines. Due to the higher cost of these new, high-quality vaccines, these are typically not the products that are administered at low-cost shot clinics.
  3. The skill, professionalism and equipment available at vaccine clinics will often not be comparable to what is standard at a veterinary clinic. Occasionally, a pet that has been administered a vaccination will experience an adverse reaction, ranging from facial swelling to anaphylactic shockAn extreme, often life-threatening allergic reaction to an antigen to which the body has become hypersensitive.. It is uncertain if a vaccine clinic will have a veterinary professional available with the knowledge and supplies necessary to treat an adverse reaction. Furthermore, the busy assembly-line environment of some shot clinics is not conducive to proper attention to your pet, and they may be unprepared for or inexperienced administering a vaccine to a frightened pet. It is unlikely that in these vaccine clinics the pet owner will be given the time and attention to inform the technician of the pet’s lifestyle and risk factors, sometimes leading to inappropriate vaccination. Additionally, someone in a vaccine clinic may not have the capacity to answer questions about the vaccine, in terms of storage, expiration, etc.
  4. An important part of your pet’s overall healthcare program is a comprehensive physical exam performed at least once a year. In human years, this is roughly equivalent to you or your child getting a physical every six to seven years. A comprehensive physical exam is an important opportunity to assess the wellness of your pet and to ensure it is kept as healthy and active as possible. Due to the meticulous attention required, a comprehensive exam is not something that can be done in the context of a busy shot clinic. If you use the shot clinic in place of a visit to a full-service veterinarian for a complete wellness physical, you may miss out on receiving information that is crucial to keeping your pet as healthy and active as possible. Some of the things that may be frequently found during a physical examination include obesity, arthritis, skin disorders, ear infections, prostate problems, cancer (skin, breast, testicular, mouth and lymph node cancers in particular are easily detected on a physical), heart murmur, heart arrhythmiasHeart arrhythmias are disturbances in the normal rhythm of the heartbeat. An occasional palpitation or fluttering is usually not serious, but a persistent arrhythmia may be life threatening. and more. More than half of the pets we examine have something abnormal on their physical exam, and often the owners are unaware of the problem until a veterinarian points it out. Finding these issues before they progress into more advanced symptoms allows us to keep your pet healthy, active and happy for as long as possible.

Take Advantage of Cost Savings While Protecting Your Pet

So how you can you take advantage of the cost savings associated with a vaccine clinic while still protecting the health of your pet in the most effective way possible? First, don’t skip the physical exam with your regular veterinarian. The value of preventive care is well-known in human medicine, and the same is true in veterinary medicine. Take your pet in at least once a year for a comprehensive physical. Next, at the time of the physical exam, discuss with your regular vet which vaccines, if any, your pet needs that year. You always have the option of having only those vaccines administered at a vaccine clinic. Lastly, find out ahead of time which types of vaccines the shot clinic will be using, and investigate whether those are the best choices for your furry or feathered friend. For example, Texas law allows a three-year rabies vaccine in adult dogs, but many shot clinics will give a one-year vaccine. It may be only $5, but it has to be repeated again in a year to be legal. This means more frequent vaccines for your dog and probably minimal actual savings to you over the span of three years. In cats, on the other hand, the vaccines least likely to lead to serious reactions are one-year, non-adjuvanted vaccines, but many shot clinics will use the same one-year product that they use in dogs, which is more reactive for cats.

Remember to that many locations require a license. Those licenses may not be available at a shot clinic. The license are often registered within the community so that your pet may be returned or receive care in the event you are away. Lifesaving vaccines and license are only part of the services a full-service veterinarian can provide.

Be an informed consumer and investigate the options ahead of time. Then ask which products will be used to ensure they are products you feel comfortable putting into your pet’s body. It is important to realize that wellness medicine is not just administering shots. A veterinary professional employs the skills of veterinary medicine to take into account the whole animal and its lifestyle and then makes recommendations for appropriate vaccinations.

Dr. Celeste Treadway practices veterinary medicine at Lakeline Animal Care in Austin, Texas.

  • Elizabeth Heintzelman

    Great advice! It’s a noble gesture for schools to offer those lost cost vaccine clinics but in all honestly, it’s something that should be left to the veterinary professionals. And as far as vet bills go, vaccine costs are the least of your worries!

  • Judy

    I find some of the information in this article to be misleading. I feel my vet is very well informed yet he advocates yearly vaccines because of seeing cases of these diseases in pets who are vaccinated less than yearly. Texas may only require three year rabies but some counties require it yearly!