Vaccination, the Mystery Revealed (Canines)

When considering getting a new puppy or kitten, one of the most important decisions you can make is regarding vaccination. Vaccines have many benefits, but can also have risks associated with them. It is important to be well informed so that you can make the best choices for your beloved pet. Vaccines can be broken up into two categories, core and non core vaccines. Core vaccines are recommended by the AVMA and are in the case of rabies, required by law in most states. Non-core vaccines cover less virulent or less common diseases.

Both dogs and cats should receive a rabies vaccine. This applies to indoor and outdoor pets as rabies can be spread by bats and other animals. This vaccine is required by law in Virginia. Rabies is a vicious disease that is 100% fatal if contracted. The disease itself presents in two forms, furious or dumb. The furious form is the stereotypical rabid dog. The dumb form includes trouble eating and vague neurologic signs. In addition, your pet can give you rabies if you have contact with its saliva once it is infected. If your pet is not vaccinated and is attacked by an animal or bites someone one of two things occurs. Your pet is either placed in six months of quarantine by the Virginia health department or your pet will be euthanized and the sent for testing by Virginia State law. Dogs and cats are eligible for vaccination once they pass 15 weeks of age. They should receive a booster at one year of age and then a booster every three years thereafter.
Puppies should receive the DHPP vaccination series starting shortly after six weeks of age. This important combination vaccine protects your dog from multiple diseases that can cause pneumonia, diarrhea and even seizures. Parvovirus is included in this vaccine and is a very common disease in this area. It attacks the cells of the intestinal tract, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea. Left untreated, parvo can be fatal, especially in puppies. In addition the parvo virus is very hardy and can survive in the environment for many months. We have seen many cases of parvo this summer. It is very sad when a puppy dies of an easily prevented disease. Fortunately, aggressive treatment is usually successful, but often requires days of hospitalization and is expensive.

Leptospirosis is another bacterium that may be prevented through vaccination. It is not a core vaccine. Dogs that love the outdoors are more likely to be infected with Lepto. Leptosporosis is a bacterial disease that is transmitted through the urine and contaminated water. It mainly affects the kidneys and liver. Leptospirosis can be fatal and also can be transmitted to humans through contact with infected urine. The vaccine protects only against the most common forms of lepto in our area. We usually only recommend this vaccine for high risk animals. This vaccine can only be given after 12 weeks of age and requires a yearly booster. It is the most common vaccine that causes allergic reactions.

Lyme is disease is extremely common in our area. There is a vaccine available for Lyme disease. However, the vaccine does not prevent the disease. It only shortens the course of infection. Transmitted by the deer tick, Lyme disease can cause arthritis, neurologic problems and even kidney disease in dogs. This vaccine should be given to dogs that have a high risk of tick bites. Combined with proper parasite control such as Frontline Tritek or Advantix, the vaccine provides good protection for your puppy. This vaccine should not be given before 12 weeks of age and requires a booster 3-4 weeks after the first shot. Thereafter, a yearly booster should be sufficient.

Kennel cough is commonly seen in dogs that are exposed to large numbers of other dogs such as boarding, show dogs, and working dogs. Kennel cough is a highly contagious infection of dogs that causes a harsh cough that sounds like human bronchitis. It is rarely fatal but can be very uncomfortable. Kennels and groomers will require this vaccine. There are two forms of this vaccine, injectable and intranasal. The intranasal form has been shown to be more effective, but not all dogs will allow the administration. The bordatella vaccine is a non core vaccine. It can be given at six weeks of age.

All of these vaccines have certain risks associated with giving them. Reactions are rare, but do occur. Vaccination by definition stimulates an intense immune response. Acute allergic reaction, fever, pain and swelling at injection site, hives, and anaphylactic shock are all potential consequences of vaccination. Sometimes this can result in the body’s immune response turning against itself. The rise of immune-mediated conditions such as thrombocytopenia (body destroying its own platelets), hemolytic anemia (body destroying its own red blood cells), polyarthritis, glomerulonephritis etc. have all been linked at times to vaccination.
Making well informed decisions regarding which vaccines to give is one of the most important aspects of having a happy, healthy pet. You must choose your vaccines based on your pet’s lifestyle. All puppies should receive their DHPP vaccine and rabies. Be careful if you choose to buy the vaccines at a coop or feed supply store. The vaccines themselves are good, but the way they were stored can cause them to be ineffective. If you do purchase them, make sure you keep them cold with an icepack on the way home. The best way to insure proper vaccination is to receive them at your veterinarian. It is important to note that most vaccines are not effective until around three to four weeks after being given. The body has to have time to recognize the disease and build up immunity to it.

Dr. McKenna


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