Vaccines for Dogs and Cats
(Courtesy of veterinaryparter.com)
Why do Baby Animals Need a Series of Shots and how many do they need?
When a baby kitten or puppy is born, its immune system is not yet mature; the baby is wide open for infection. Fortunately, nature has a system of protection. The mother produces specific milk in the first few days after giving birth. This milk is called colostrum and is rich in all the antibodies that the mother has to offer. As the babies drink this milk, they will be taking in their mother's immunity. After the first couple of days, regular milk is produced and the baby's intestines undergo what is called closure, which means they are no longer able to take antibodies into their systems. These first two days are critical to determining what kind of immunity the baby will receive until its own system can take over.
How long this maternal antibody lasts in a given puppy or kitten is totally individual. It can depend on the birth order of the babies, how well they nursed, and a number of other factors. Maternal antibodies against different diseases wear off after different times. We DO know that by 16 to 20 weeks of age, maternal antibodies are gone and the baby must be able continue on its own immune system.
While maternal immunity is present in the puppy’s system, any vaccines given will be inactivated. Vaccines will not be able to "take" until maternal antibody has sufficiently dropped. Puppies and kittens receive a series of vaccines ending at a time when we know the baby's own immune system should be able to respond. We could simply wait until the baby is old enough to definitely respond as we do with the rabies vaccination but this could leave a large window of vulnerability if the maternal antibody wanes early. To give babies the best chance of responding to vaccination, we vaccinate intermittently (usually every 2-4 weeks) during this period, in hope of gaining some early protection.
When a vaccine against a specific disease is started for the first time, even in adult animal, it is best to give at least two vaccinations. This is because the second vaccination will produce a much greater (logarithmically greater) response if it is following a vaccine given 2 to 4 weeks prior.
If a Vaccine Lasts a Person his or her Whole Life, why do I have to Vaccinate my Pet Annually?
In the U.S., vaccines are licensed based on the minimum duration they can be expected to last. It is expensive to test vaccines across an expanse of years and it is not generally done. We know most vaccines last at least one year and have not been willing to take a chance on whether they might last longer without knowing for sure.
It is also important to realize that some diseases lend themselves to prevention through vaccination while others do not. For a vaccine to generate solid long-lasting immunity, the infection must be fairly generalized to the entire body (like feline distemper or canine parvovirus) rather than localized to one organ system (like kennel cough or feline upper respiratory viruses). Vaccination for localized infections tends to require more frequent boosting whereas there is potential for vaccination for systemic disease to last for many years.
Since the mid-1990s most veterinary teaching hospitals have restructured their vaccination policies to increase the duration of some vaccines from one year to three years. Many private veterinarians are following those guidelines for these vaccines. The important thing to realize is that this kind of extension is not possible in all situations or for all vaccines.
What Vaccines Should I get for my Pet?
What vaccines are recommended to an individual pet depend on many factors: what kind of exposure to disease does the animal have, what diseases are common in the area, what kind of stress factors are in the home situation, etc. When you consider the multitudes of vaccine types and combinations and the many different situations dogs and cats live in, it is not too surprising to find that almost every veterinarian recommends a different group of vaccines. The best advice is to hook up with a veterinarian that you trust and go with their recommendation. If you wish to determine what shots you want on your own, hopefully this web site will be of use.
What Vaccines Should I get if my Pet is Indoors almost Completely?
Both the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association have published guidelines for vaccination. Vaccinations are divided into “core” vaccines that every pet should have, and “non-core” vaccines that a pet should have depending on exposure risk.
For cats, core vaccines are the basic distemper shot (FVRCP) and rabies vaccine. Many people are surprised that rabies is a core vaccine and is considered important even for indoor-only cats but when you consider the consequences of rabies exposure (which can certainly happen indoors) and the legal consequences of owning a biting animal (what happens to the animal generally is dependent on its vaccine status), it is not hard to see why this vaccine is important.
For dogs, core vaccines are the basic distemper shot (DHLPP) and the rabies vaccine. Since dogs do go outside for walks, for grooming, to the vet’s office etc. most veterinarians recommend vaccine against kennel cough for canine patients.