Vaccination - Harmony Veterinary Center Philosophy

At Harmony Veterinary Center, our vaccination philosophy is to vaccinate each pet in a way that keeps him or her safe from disease without over-vaccinating your pet. Vaccine technology has changed to allow longer intervals between vaccinations and to eliminate causes of vaccine reactions. We assess your pet’s lifestyle, life stage, and risk factors before personalizing a vaccination protocol. We Titer-test pets that are not good candidates for vaccination and we provide homeopathic support for all pets who receive a vaccination.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines consist of proteins, called antigens, from the disease we are vaccinating against. When injected into a patient, the immune system sees these antigens as foreign and responds to destroy them.  This process creates a memory of the antigen in the immune cells. When an animal is exposed to the actual disease, the memory in the cells causes an immediate and overwhelming immune response, allowing the body to fight the disease before it can take hold and cause problems. 

Depending on the vaccine, this memory can last a few months or a lifetime. So, it is necessary in most cases to booster the vaccine, reminding the immune system to recognize and fight that particular disease. There are several ways to make vaccines, and not all vaccines are created equal.  At Harmony Veterinary Center, we have chosen our vaccines based on the latest studies in effectiveness and safety.

Why vaccinate?

1.  Disease prevention.  Vaccines help prevent disease in pets and diseases that can transfer from pets to people. Illnesses like canine and feline distemper virus, almost epidemic 40 years ago, are now considered rare, due in large part to good vaccination programs.  Other diseases, such as K-9 parvovirus and rabies, are still a constant threat. 

2.  Minimizing your pet’s suffering.  Without vaccinations, puppies risk developing infections like Parvo, a potentially fatal infection that destroys the intestinal cell lining and the immune cells, leading to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, dehydration, and worse.  These dogs suffer terribly, and while most of them can be cured with aggressive treatment, including hospitalization, IV fluids, IV antibiotics, and pain medication, they go through a lot of physical and emotional trauma.

3.  Costs of care.  Treating a dog with Parvo can cost $2000 or more, while a vaccination is closer to $20.

4.  Long term health.  Many diseases are non-fatal, but create lasting effects in the body or shorten the life of your pet.  Distemper can lead to seizures later in life, while Feline Leukemia affects the immune system, allowing seemingly minor infections to become life-threatening.

Is age a consideration when vaccinating a pet?

Age is a consideration when choosing to vaccinate your pet. Young animals are often at more risk because they have less mature immune systems. Vaccination schedules for these young pets are designed to help them develop a strong, mature immune system. Middle age pets have the strongest immune systems.  Our veterinarians have chosen vaccines that have a long duration of immune response for these pets to promote health and avoid over-vaccination. Older or senior pet immune systems start to diminish so they may still need to be vaccinated depending on their lifestyle and risk factors. Our veterinary staff will work with you and your pets to customize recommendations to best support their immune systems as they age.

Do I have to vaccinate for Rabies?

Rabies vaccination is a core vaccination, but vaccine intervals are dictated by law rather than by scientific study. Colorado mandates that every pet be vaccinated for rabies with an initial vaccination, a booster a year later (regardless of the age the first vaccination was given) and then boosters every 3 years. Because this is a legal requirement, we cannot recommend any other schedule for rabies vaccination.  However, the law does provide an exemption process in cases where a medical problem, such as an autoimmune disease, would make vaccination potentially harmful to the pet.

What are Vaccination Titers? 

Titer levels are considered a measure of the body’s immune responsiveness and protection against disease at the time the titer was taken and not an indication of immunity going forward. At times it is indicated to test for vaccination titer levels rather than give a vaccination. Please feel free to discuss vaccination titers, their risks and benefits with our medical staff.

What vaccines are available?

There are many vaccines on the market, and they tend to fall into two categories:  Core vaccines, which are recommended for most patients, and non-core vaccines, which are recommended in certain geographic locales or living situations.  According to the American Animal Hospital Associations 2011 Vaccination Guidelines, the following vaccines are considered Core vaccines:

Dogs

  • Canine Distemper Virus.  This is a highly infectious virus that has been significantly reduced through widespread vaccinations over the last 30 years.  However, we still see dogs with K-9 distemper virus, and there are annual outbreaks of it in wild raccoon populations.  In infected animals it causes severe discharge upper respiratory symptoms, diarrhea, dehydration, and immune suppression.  While most dogs today can survive distemper, there can be lasting effects, such as seizures.
  • Canine Hepatitis.  Also known as Adeno-1 and Adeno-2, these viruses can cause hepatitis (liver inflammation) and respiratory problems respectively.  Since there were severe reactions to early Adeno-1 vaccines, today’s vaccines include Adeno-2, which protects against both viruses with few reactions.
  • Canine Parvo Virus.  Arguably the most serious disease we vaccinate for, K-9 Parvovirus infects rapidly growing cells, including the cells lining the GI tract and the immune cells.  When the intestinal lining is damaged, bacteria and toxins can get into the blood stream.  Since the virus also destroys the immune cells, the body has no way to respond to this invasion.  There is no antidote or cure for K-9 Parvovirus.  Only aggressive nursing care, with hospitalization, intravenous fluids, antibiotics and other medications to manage the symptoms will help these dogs through.  While most dogs with this treatment survive parvo, some dogs still die. 
  • Canine Parainfluenza.  This is an upper respiratory virus that can be transmitted from dog to dog. While the symptoms aren’t as severe as K-9 distemper, these dogs can still become quite ill. Parainfluenza is typically included with Distemper, Parvo, and Adeno-2 in a 4 way vaccine.  However, this is likely to change in the next several years as studies have shown this is better given in an intranasal format with Bordetella.
  • Rabies.  Rabies virus is present in all 50 states and around the world.  It is carried by wildlife and transmitted through bites from infected animals. The rabies virus causes holes in the brain, which lead to behavior problems, specifically fear or aggression. It is uniformly fatal, with only 2 cases of people surviving rabies infection in the last 150 years.  In Colorado, we used to see rabies only in the bat population, with about 20% of bats carrying the disease. However, in the last 2 years we have seen rabies in skunks and raccoons in several Denver-Metro areas.  Because we live in close proximity to these animals, our pets have lots of chances for potential contact with rabies.  This disease is a public health threat since our dogs or cats can potentially pass it to us.  Thus, vaccination for rabies is mandated by law. 

Lifestyle (non-core) vaccinations for dogs include:

  • Bordetella.  Bordetella is a highly aggressive, contagious bacterial form of kennel cough that often progresses to pneumonia and in rare cases can be transmitted to people.  Most boarding facilities, doggy day cares and groomers require this vaccine because there are usually a lot of dogs in a confined space. Bordetella is an airborne disease that will travel around a facility very fast so it is important to prevent it.  While the bordetella vaccine is very effective, it is important to know that there are hundreds of forms of kennel cough, like colds in people, which we cannot vaccinate for.
  • Leptospirosis. This is a bacterial disease transmitted in the urine of wildlife and is often contracted by drinking contaminated water.  In Colorado, raccoons are the main carriers. If your dog likes to swim or play in lakes and streams or you have raccoons in your yard, he is definitely a candidate for this vaccine. Cats do not get leptospirosis.
  • Lyme disease. Carried by ticks, this disease is seen more in the Midwest and along the east coast.  The type of tick carrying this disease has only recently made its way into Colorado, so routine vaccination for Lyme disease is not recommended unless your dog will be traveling to a state with high Lyme incidence.
  • Canine influenza.  This flu-like disease is seen mainly in shelters or very high density boarding kennels.  While only routinely recommended for dogs in these situations, some kennels and doggy daycares require this vaccine.

Cats

  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis.  This is an upper respiratory virus in cats that causes cold-like symptoms.  While usually self-limiting (cats recover like they would from a cold), cats are often significantly ill before they improve.
  • Feline Calicivirus.  Another respiratory virus, this one causes severe ulcerations around the eyes and nose.  Some strains of the virus can cause swollen joints and a few strains are aggressive and cause death.
  • Feline Panleukopenia.  Also known as feline distemper, this virus causes severe diarrhea and dehydration as well as upper respiratory symptoms.  Like parvo in the dog, the virus affects rapidly growing cells including the cells of the immune system. 
  • Rabies.  Rabies can affect cats in much the same way as dogs (above).  Some might think indoor cats aren’t exposed, but there are cases every year of cats catching bats that have gotten indoors.    Again, vaccination is mandated by law, regardless of perceived exposure risk.

Lifestyle (non-core) vaccinations for cats include:

  • Feline Leukemia.  This virus is a preventable disease transmitted from cat to cat, usually through bite wounds or consistent mutual grooming or other close contact.  Because this virus infects the cells of the immune system, it can create life-long problems for the cat. Stray cats often carry this virus due to their exposure to multiple other cats. If your cat goes outdoors and comes into contact with other cats (whether stray or not) you should consider this vaccine.

Vaccines - no longer recommended

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).  While the vaccine appears to be effective, it also produces a positive result on an FIV test.  Animals entering shelters are routinely tested for FIV, with positive animals being euthanized.  Since there is no way to distinguish a positive result from vaccination with a true positive, many cats have been euthanized incorrectly.  Until a better test is developed, this vaccine is not routinely recommended.
  • Giardia vaccine.  The vaccination was shown to reduce symptoms only, dogs could still be infected with giardia and pass it to other animals.  It has been removed from the market.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). It was found that cats with FIP developed the FIP symptoms due to the body’s reaction to the virus, not due to the virus itself.    This is a genetic trait, explaining why many cats in the same household with an infected cat did not develop the disease.  Since the vaccine was an inactivated form of the virus, cats with this genetic trait developed the same symptoms of FIP when they were vaccinated.  The vaccine was removed from the market.
  • Rattlesnake vaccine. While this vaccine neutralizes rattlesnake toxin in mice, the effects in dogs remain unproven. Since vaccinated dogs still need treatment if bitten by a snake, the value of the vaccine is under scrutiny.

The key to getting the most out of vaccinations while minimizing any ill effects for the pet comes from the schedule of vaccinations, the types of vaccinations used, and how they are administered.  At Harmony Veterinary Center, we work with you to determine the disease risk your pet faces and which vaccines are most appropriate at any given stage of life.

Author: Shelley Brown, DVM - Harmony Veterinary Center

© 2013 Harmony Veterinary Center,LLC.