Why Should You Vaccinate Your Pets?
By: Dr. Wade Matthews, DVM
This a good question to ask yourself or your veterinarian. We see contagious diseases all the time in veterinarian medicine, not all of them have a vaccine to protect your pet from the disease. In the early 1980s, there was not a vaccine for parvovirus. I literally had two to three pets each day for months come in for vomiting and diarrhea to be placed on IV fluids and antibiotics. Some of them made it and most of them did not. There was a high death rate due to the strength of the virus. We still diagnosis parvo in our patients. Thankfully it is less frequent than in those days and most pets survive if treated aggressively. I have seen firsthand how vaccines save pets’ lives. A major reason we see fewer patients with rabies or distemper is that the majority of the population is vaccinated for them. If we stop vaccinating these diseases will be much more prevalent.
It is important to remember that an annual wellness visit to your family veterinarian is more than just vaccinations. It is your pet’s annual physical. The benefit of an examination by a qualified veterinarian is tremendous. Your veterinarian has spent years of study and practice to recognize early signs of disease in your pet. It is the veterinarian’s role to provide valuable information to the pet parent to aid in making the best decision to help our family pets enjoy a long and happy life. A good physical should be given every year because there are many things an owner may not notice that a veterinarian can find.
There is good debate over which diseases our pets should be vaccinated for and how often we should vaccinate our pets. Until the mid-1990’s it was a routine practice to vaccinate our pets every year for common diseases. Studies of the duration of vaccine-induced immunity, or how long our pets are protected by a vaccine, changed that practice for the better.
How safe are vaccines? The theory most widely accepted is that vaccines have the rare potential for problems. Which vaccines your pet receives should be decided based on the risk factors for your individual pet. Does your cat go outside? Does your dog go to dog parks or the woods or to dog shows? These are the type of questions that need to be considered prior to vaccinating your pet.
Vaccines are often divided into core vaccines or vaccines that all healthy animals of that species should receive; and lifestyle vaccines. Lifestyle vaccines are diseases that your pet may or may not be exposed to based on where and how they live.
For cats, feline distemper and rabies are considered core vaccines. Feline distemper is actually known as panleukopenia. It is very contagious and has a very high mortality rate (death rate). The symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, not eating, lethargy and weakness. Rabies is a virus that causes neurologic disease and is almost always fatal after the onset of symptoms. All mammals can be infected. Some smaller mammals such as skunks and raccoons can harbor the virus for several years without showing signs. In dogs, cats, and people, the virus quickly leads to death. If exposed, immunoglobulin injections (proteins which attack the virus) may prevent those bitten or exposed from becoming infected but once infected the disease is considered fatal.
Feline distemper (FVRCP) should be given at 6, 9, 12 and 16 weeks of age. If you acquire your kitten at or after 12 weeks of age and it has not been vaccinated for feline distemper, he or she should receive two vaccines given 3 weeks apart.
Rabies vaccine should be given as a kitten between 12 and 16 weeks of age and then a booster should be administered at one year. It can be boostered every 3 years thereafter if an appropriate 3-year vaccine is used.
The other vaccine commonly administered to our feline family is feline leukemia vaccine. This is a lifestyle vaccine. If your cat lives totally indoors, feline leukemia vaccine is not advised. If your cat goes in the backyard or is on the lanai a conversation with your veterinarian will determine if feline leukemia is a good choice for your cat.
Dogs almost always have at least indirect exposure to other dogs due to their going outside to eliminate and most pet owners walk their dogs in the neighborhood. Dog vaccines can be divided into core vaccines and lifestyle vaccines. Core vaccines are vaccines that all healthy dog should receive. These are canine distemper, canine parvo, and rabies vaccines.
Canine distemper is a contagious, serious disease of dogs that causes respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms. It can be fatal. Canine parvo is also a highly contagious viral infection causing severe gastrointestinal (vomiting/diarrhea/ not eating) symptoms which can be fatal.
Puppies should be vaccinated for distemper and parvo at 6, 9, 12 and 16 weeks of age. If they have not started vaccines until after 12 weeks, they should be vaccinated at least twice. These should be given 3 weeks apart. A booster is given at 1 year and then every 3 years thereafter with an appropriately proven vaccine. Rabies vaccination is given between 12 and 16 weeks of age. At our hospital, it is commonly given at 14 weeks to reduce the number of vaccinations given at any one visit. This must be boostered one year later. Then it may be given every 3 years as long as the vaccine used is labeled for a 3-year duration.
Lifestyle vaccinations are vaccines given based on the exposure risk of your pet’s lifestyle. The lifestyle vaccines often needed by our canine patients are bordetella-parainfluenza, leptospirosis vaccination, and canine influenza.
Most dogs may be exposed to other dogs at some point. This may occur in the neighborhood, at the dog park, or at the groomer. This may expose them to bordetella or as it is commonly called Kennel Cough. Bordetella actually is the name of a bacteria which causes an upper respiratory infection or tracheobronchitis. Parainfluenza is a different virus than influenza, but like influenza, it causes respiratory infection. It is often part of the disease known as “Kennel Cough”. Bordetella and parainfluenza are often combined in one vaccine. This vaccine is administered to puppies between 6 weeks and 14 weeks of age. In our hospital, it is often given at the same time as the rabies vaccine at 14 weeks. It is repeated every year thereafter. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease passed by the urine of infected small mammals or standing water contaminated with infected urine. It is infectious to all mammals except cats (including humans) and there is a vaccine for it. This disease causes damage to the liver and kidneys. It is relatively easy to treat but often, by the time your pet is sick, the damage done to the kidney may be permanent. Influenza is an upper respiratory disease which can develop into pneumonia. It also has a vaccine to protect your pet. These lifestyle vaccines need to be discussed with your veterinarian to determine what is best for your pet.
The team of doctors and staff at the Animal Hospital of Dunedin are here to help answer any questions you may have on the best way to help keep your fur family healthy and protected from disease. Please call with any questions.