As part of a preventative care routine, vaccinations can help protect your pet from life-threatening diseases. While nursing, pets receive antibodies and nutrients from their mother’s milk. When nursing stops, pets become more susceptible to illnesses because the antibodies from their mother's milk do not last long. For this reason, routine vaccinations for puppies and kittens start at the age of 6 to 8 weeks old, and will continue at certain intervals throughout adulthood. After being vaccinated, most young pets take about 5 days to build protective antibodies, with complete protection taking about 14 days. Many initial vaccines require multiple dosages given over a short period of time, and most require booster shots every 6 months to 3 years. Pets who have been vaccinated have an advantage over those who have not. When a disease is detected, your vaccinated pet’s immune system quickly responds, decreasing severity of the illness or preventing it altogether. In rare cases some pets will not develop immunity from their vaccinations or may react to a vaccine.
It is important to note that vaccinations are preventative, not curative. A vaccination will prevent an illness, but if your pet is already suffering from a disease, a vaccine will not cure them.
Core and non-core pet vaccinations
Core vaccinations are those that are recommended for all pets, and non-core vaccinations include those that are only administered to pets considered to be “at-risk.” Necessary vaccines depend on local regulations, geographic location, and your pet’s lifestyle. We will discuss the best options for your pet according to their risk of exposure.
Bordetella (kennel cough) is a non-core vaccine that is given to puppies at risk for kennel cough. Kennel cough (or infectious cough) can be spread wherever dogs congregate such as kennels and groomers. The vaccination can be given to puppies as early as 7 weeks old.
Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus (DHPP) is a core vaccine that protects against these 4 common viral diseases. Your puppy will receive their first vaccination between 6 and 8 weeks old, and booster shots will be given every 3 to 4 weeks until your puppy is 15 to 18 weeks old. A booster vaccination is administered after the first year and every third year following that.
Rabies is a core vaccine for cats and dogs and is legally required in all states. It is first administered after 12 weeks of age, and booster shots are given throughout their life.
Lyme vaccine is considered a core vaccine in many northeast states where Lyme disease is endemic. This is first administered when puppies are 10 to 12 weeks old, with a booster in 2 to 3 weeks. Annual boosters are recommended for dogs that reside in areas with exposure to ticks carrying Lyme disease.
Leptospirosis is a non-core vaccine intended to prevent a bacterial infection in the kidneys and liver that is spread through wildlife urine, especially rodents. This disease has resurfaced in many areas in the northeast, so has been in more common use.
Heartworm – Heartworm prevention is considered to be very important as heartworm disease can be deadly. Heartworm disease has spread from the south and is now seen in the northeast on a regular basis. Preventive medications are given to dogs monthly for the extent of their life. A routine heartworm test is performed annually.
Feline Herpesvirus, Calici Virus, Feline Distemper are considered core vaccines which protect against these 3 common viral diseases. Your kitten will receive their first vaccinations between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks, and they will need to be repeated every 3 to 4 weeks until your kitten is at least 12 weeks old. A booster vaccination is administered in 1 year and then every 3 years for at-risk cats.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is a non-core vaccine, but is considered very important for cats that spend time outdoors. The first vaccine is given when a kitten is a minimum of 10 weeks old and a booster is given 2 to 4 weeks later. Booster shots are updated annually for indoor /outdoor cats.
Preventable canine diseases and symptoms:
Adenovirus is a life-threatening disease that causes hepatitis.
Distemper is a life-threatening disease that causes diarrhea, pneumonia, seizures, and vomiting.
Heartworm is a life-threatening parasite contracted through mosquito bites. These parasitic worms reside in the lungs and if left untreated, spread to the heart. Early symptoms include coughing and exhaustion, especially when exercising. Rarely, the worms get lost within the host and spread to other parts of the body, causing blindness, neurologic signs, or seizures. Without treatment, heartworms build up in the lungs and heart, eventually resulting in congestive heart failure.
Leptospirosis is a a life-threatening disease that causes severe liver and kidney damage and may cause hemorrhaging within the lungs. Symptoms include loss of appetite, yellowed eyes (jaundice), vomiting, lethargy, and urine that is dark brown in color.
Lyme is a disease transferred through ticks. It is most common up here in the northern hemisphere. Symptoms include circular skin rashes, depression, fatigue, fever, and headaches. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught in earlier stages.
Parainfluenza and Bordetella are both illnesses that are highly contagious and cause kennel cough. While it is generally not life-threatening, symptoms include a non-stop runny nose and excessive coughing.
Parvovirus is a potentially life-threatening disease that results in diarrhea, vomiting, and deterioration of the white blood cells.
Rabies is a fatal disease attacking the central nervous system that can affect all mammals (including people). Because there is no cure for rabies, animals that contract the disease are euthanized. The greatest risk of keeping the pet alive is that the disease can be spread to humans.
Preventable feline diseases and symptoms:
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a retroviral disease (one that duplicates itself and integrates with the host’s DNA) that causes immune suppression. Most cats that have the illness appear normal for years until the disease eventually depletes the immune system entirely, resulting in death.
Feline Leukemia Virus is a potentially life threatening virus that causes chronic immune suppression, leading to frequent infection and illness. It often results in cancer.
Herpesvirus and Calicivirus are highly contagious viral illnesses that cause fever, malaise, runny nose, and watery eyes.
Panleukopenia (also known as Feline Distemper) is a life threatening disease that causes pets to suffer dehydration, diarrhea, low white blood cell count, and vomiting.
Pet vaccination concerns
Similar to human vaccinations, pet vaccinations do carry a risk of side-effects. While negative side-effects do exist, it is important to note that your pet is statistically more likely to develop a life-threatening illness when not vaccinated, than to suffer adverse results from a vaccination. None-the-less, it is important to remain informed so you can ask your veterinarian the appropriate questions at your pet’s appointment.
After being vaccinated, the injection site can be swollen or sore. Some pets also have a reduced appetite, fever, and experience lethargy. These side-effects should diminish over the next 24 to 48 hours. If you notice your pet’s side-effects are not subsiding, please contact our office. Very rarely, pets develop an allergy to a vaccine. Allergies can be detected within minutes of receiving a vaccination and if left untreated, can result in death. If you witness any of the following, contact our office immediately: collapse, non-stop diarrhea, continual vomiting, difficulty breathing, itching, or swelling of the legs or face.
Regulations regarding rabies vaccinations
While the federal government does not mandate pet vaccinations for rabies, most states implement their own laws regarding pet vaccination. Vaccination laws also vary from country to country, so if you plan on moving, be sure to check necessary requirements to ensure a smooth transition for your family.
States in which your pet can receive exemption from being vaccinated include: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey (dogs only), New York, Oregon (dogs only), Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. All other states require rabies vaccinations by law - for all pets.
If you have any questions about vaccinations or scheduling new pet vaccinations, please contact our office!