You’ve most likely heard about the importance of immunizations from your veterinarian. Vaccination against disease to promote immunity is an important topic which directly affects the health of your pet.
At Harmony Veterinary Center, we have chosen our vaccines based on the latest studies in effectiveness and safety. We vaccinate each animal in a way that keeps them safe from disease and suffering 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. Vaccines are crucial to promote immunity against diseases that affect the rest of a pet’s life and promote long-term health. But what exactly is immunity?
What Is Immunity?
Immunity is when a body is resistant to a particular disease. It can occur naturally or be produced by prior exposure to a disease or vaccination. Immunity is measured with antibodies, a protein in the blood that identifies and attacks foreign objects such as pathogenic bacteria and viruses. If a pet has antibodies against a pathogen, it means their body has been educated to recognize that pathogen can identify and fight off the pathogen and avoid the symptoms of the disease caused by the pathogen.
When puppies and kittens are first born to a healthy mother with a strong immune system, her milk — known as colostrum — carries maternal antibodies which can protect the newborns against diseases. Drinking colostrum protects a newborn puppy or kitten from many common diseases for a few weeks. The maternal antibodies begin to wane and leave puppies and kittens vulnerable to diseases, especially as their immune systems are weak and they are still growing rapidly. For this reason, we strongly recommend to start vaccinating at 8 to 10 weeks old, for both puppies and kittens.
Vaccines work by containing the pathogenic agent of a particular disease. It is a miniscule amount of the bacteria or virus that will not cause the active disease to occur. When given, the body’s immune system recognizes the vaccination as something potentially harmful that it must fight off. The antibodies work to neutralize it, then help produce a memory of how to fight it off in case of future exposure. This is why a young dog or cat may experience mild soreness, fever, or discomfort after receiving a vaccine — it is what is known as an immune response.
Boosters serve to remind the immune system about how to fight a specific disease. This is especially important for kittens and puppies up to 1.5 years of age as their bodies are still developing and need more consistent care to ensure they do not contract these diseases.
In comparison to natural immunity at birth , vaccinations last much longer in the body, keeping animals safe for a longer period of time.
In pets with weakened immune systems, vaccination can have a higher risk. If they are not able to easily fight off the non-active pathogen present in the vaccine, a pet has a higher chance of complications. Talk to your veterinarian if you are concerned about this possibility. We will comprehensively assess your pet to determine the best approach.
Vaccines for Dogs
Dogs receive the DHPP vaccination, which combines four vaccines in one: Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus. Distemper is a highly infectious virus that attacks the lungs, and later affects the brain and spinal cord, causing death or a life with neurological issues. Hepatitis is a virus also known as Adeno-1 and Adeno-2, causing liver inflammation and loss of vision. Parainfluenza is an upper respiratory virus that is highly transmittable, dogs that experience parainfluenza can develop additional problems such as kennel cough. Parvovirus is also a highly contagious disease which attacks cells in the intestinal tract and the immune cells, which can be fatal. The DHPP vaccine can easily eliminate these diseases in a dog and has even rendered some, like distemper, rare. However, others such as parvovirus are still a constant threat and require protection. We give DHPP vaccinations starting at 8 to 10 weeks old and boostered them at four week intervals until the puppy reaches 16 to 18 weeks old. Then we administer another dose after one year, and continue to booster once every three years to remind the immune system how to fight off these four diseases.
Rabies is also critical to vaccinate against. In the state of Colorado, it is required for all dogs to be vaccinated against rabies. It is a devastating and fatal disease which can be spread to any mammal, including humans. Rabies cannot provide natural immunity after contracting the disease, as dogs cannot recover from it. The rabies vaccine is given at 16 weeks and boostered in one year, after that the vaccine is administered every three years to ensure protection.
Non-core vaccinations may be recommended based on your dog’s lifestyle. If your dog will stay in kennels or doggy daycares, a bordetella vaccine is typically required and vaccination against canine influenza may be required. Bordetella is also known as “kennel cough” and is highly contageous. Canine Influenza acts a lot like the flu in humans and is mainly seen in shelters or high-density boarding kennels. Both diseases travel through the air and move extremely quickly, easily affecting dozens of dogs in close proximity.
Leptospirosis, also called “lepto,” is a bacterial disease, often contracted by drinking contaminated water. It affects the liver, kidneys, and other major body organs. Raccoons are the main carriers of lepto in Colorado. It is recommended that a dog be vaccinated against lepto if they like to swim and play in water, hike near water, or travel to warm climates where there is a higher risk of infection. Talk to your veterinarian to find out if your pup is a candidate for the lepto vaccine.
Lyme disease is carried by ticks and most commonly seen in the midwest and along the east coast of the United States. It affects the joints, causes decreased appetite and fever, and can even affect the kidneys, in which case the disease is fatal. If your dog is traveling to a state with a high Lyme incidence, it may be wise to have them vaccinated against this disease.
Vaccines for Cats
Cats receive the FVRCP vaccine, which provides immunity against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. FVR is an infectious upper respiratory disease caused by Feline Herpesvirus (type 1) and can infect cats of all ages. Calicivirus is also an upper respiratory infection that is highly contagious. Panleukopenia is also called Feline Distemper virus that decreases the white blood cells in a cat’s body, weakening their immune system, intestinal tract, and leaving them susceptible to many more harmful and deadly diseases. The FVRCP vaccine is extremely effective at reducing, almost eliminating, the possibility of your kitty contracting these three diseases. It is first given at 8 to 10 weeks old and is boostered at four week intervals until the kitten reaches 16 to 18 weeks old. Then we administer another dose after one year, and continue to booster once every 3 years to remind the immune system how to fight off these four diseases.
Rabies vaccinations for cats are as critical as for dogs and also required by the state of Colorado. The first vaccine is given at 16 weeks and boostered one year later. After that the vaccine is administered annually to ensure protection. There is a three-year rabies vaccine for cats however it is much more expensive and potential reactions against it have not yet been widely tested. As in dogs, rabies is a devastating and fatal disease that can be transmitted to humans or any mammal.
If your cat goes outdoors and comes into contact with other cats, we strongly recommend Feline Leukemia vaccinations. This virus affects the cells of the immune system, creating lifelong problems for a cat. Stray cats often carry this virus, but it is preventable through vaccination.
All cats need FVRCP and Rabies vaccinations, even when they are indoor-only. They may not be directly exposed to wildlife, but disease can be brought in through us humans, other animals in the household, contamination, and more. If you want to know more about why we vaccinate cats, visit our website and talk with your veterinarian.
For older animals, adult cats and dogs, or pets with an unknown vaccination history, talk with your veterinarian to personalize a vaccination schedule that is just right for your furry friend. Whether or not your pet receives vaccinations, their immunity is extremely important in not only protecting themselves, but protecting the community. Pets who are medically unable to receive vaccinations, depend on herd immunity to keep them safely away from disease. When working together as a community, we can encourage pet immunity and give our furry friends the healthy life they deserve.