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Vaccine Protocols for Puppies and Kittens

Dr. Andy’s Recommendations on Vaccine Protocols for Puppies and Kittens

     There is much debate on when and how often puppies and kittens should be vaccinated.  Taking into consideration the advice of experts in this area of veterinary medicine, I have devised a program that is focused on keeping your puppies and kittens healthy.   

     If the mother of a puppy or kitten has been well vaccinated, she will pass on this protection to her offspring.  Studies have shown that this protection will generally last for up to eight weeks of age, so vaccinations given before the maternal protection wears off are unnecessary.  I like to begin my protocol at eight weeks with the first temporary combination vaccine.  I booster the combination vaccine when the puppy or kitten is twelve weeks of age.  Then at sixteen weeks I give all of the adult vaccines. 

     There are several disease entities that puppies and kittens, as well as adult pets need to be protected from.  The best known and most feared is rabies, which can affect any warm blooded animal including humans.  Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and is always fatal.  Rabies vaccinations are required by law for both dogs and cats, and must be given in order to receive a county license.   I carry both the one year and three year rabies vaccine, but in order for the three year vaccine to be legal it must be given initially two years consecutively.  The rabies vaccine is included in the annual adult vaccines and is not given until the puppy or kitten is at least sixteen weeks old. 

     The combination vaccine for dogs is often referred to as a 7-way or 5-way vaccine, because it protects against distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, parvovirus, and leptospirosis.  One of the most life threatening is distemper, which is a very contagious virus.  Distemper affects the respiratory and nervous system and is often fatal.  Adenovirus comes in two forms.  Type 1 infections cause infectious hepatitis, which is severe inflammation of the liver.  Type 2 is a contributing factor to kennel cough.  Vaccine for Type 1 is very reactive and not tolerated well, but luckily the vaccine for Type 2 is less reactive and cross vaccinates for both types of Adenovirus.  Parainfluenza is another viral respiratory disease that is often partly responsible for kennel cough.  Parvovirus is a very contagious virus that attacks the gastrointestinal system.  It causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and can quickly debilitate a young dog.  Parvovirus is treatable but it is very expensive and even with treatment puppies often do not survive.  Unlike some viruses, parvovirus is very hardy and can survive in some environments for several years.  The last disease covered in the combination vaccine is Leptospirosis, which is a bacterium that is carried by many wild animals.  Leptospirosis infections are very serious and can be transmitted to humans.  This disease causes kidney and liver failure and a high fever.  There are numerous strains of Leptospirosis that are very regional.  The vaccines I use protect against the four most commons strains found in the United States.  Leptospirosis is not included in the first temporary vaccine given to eight week old puppies, due to the fact that it can cause adverse reactions and generally young puppies should have limited exposure to the disease.  The combination vaccine for cats protects from four life threatening diseases, Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Panleukopenia, and Chlamydia Psittaci (Pneumonitis).  Rhinotracheitis and Chlamydia Psittaci are both respiratory infections that will cause a profuse discharge from the eyes and nose.  Calicivirus infections are very serious and can cause a variety of symptoms.  The most common symptoms are fever, excess salivation and mouth or tongue ulcers. Panleukopenia is a virus that is related to parvovirus in dogs.  It causes severe vomiting and diarrhea that leads to dehydration and can often be fatal.

     Bordetella is the other vaccine that I give with the adult canine vaccines.  This vaccine protects against a bacterial disease that is most often referred to as kennel cough.  Bordetella vaccinations are usually required by boarding and grooming facilities and if your dog visits these places on a regular basis, I recommend vaccinating every six months.

     The one other type of vaccine I keep in stock for dogs, but don’t routinely use, is the Lyme vaccine.  Canine Borreliosis is better known as Lyme disease and is carried by ticks.  The most common species of ticks in our area have not been known to carry Lyme disease, so for a dog that stays here in northwest Florida I don’t recommend the vaccine.  If a dog is travelling with its owner, especially to the northeast, I recommend the vaccination.  The vaccine needs several days to be effective and initially should be boostered at least once.

     Another condition that I recommend vaccination for outside cats is feline leukemia.  The disease is caused by a virus that is referred to as a retrovirus.  A retrovirus actually becomes part of the host DNA and is then replicated in every part of the body.  The disease can cause tumor growth nearly anywhere in the body.  It also attacks the cat’s immune system, making it more susceptible to other diseases.  Unfortunately, this condition is fatal either by associated anemia or infection with other disease entities.  I only recommend this vaccine for cats that are going to be outdoors and therefore exposed to other cats.  Testing for the disease is required before I begin a vaccination protocol.  When I include feline leukemia in a vaccination protocol, I begin when the kitten is twelve weeks old and then booster at sixteen weeks along with the adult vaccinations.  There is another disease that is very similar to feline leukemia and that is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.  This virus is almost identical to the virus that causes HIV in humans and is contracted in the same way.  Unlike HIV, there is a vaccine available for FIV in cats, but the efficacy is controversial.  I, like many of my colleagues, feel that the questionable effect of the vaccine does not warrant the cost.  FIV infections are not as common and in most cases are only contracted cats with a compromised immune system.  Vaccinating for feline leukemia offers some protection from this virus, but the best way to protect cats from these life threatening conditions is by keeping them indoors and eliminating intimate contact with other cats.

     While I have described my standard vaccine protocol, I evaluate each individual animal that is brought into my clinic.  With a complete medical history and physical exam, I tailor a personalized protocol for the specific needs of that pet.  My greatest concern is ensuring a long and happy life for your puppy or kitten.  If you have any questions feel free to call or come in to my clinic.  Our telephone number is 850-433-2812.  Our hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 8:00-12:00 and 2:00-5:00, Thursday 8:00-12:00 and Saturday 9:00-1:00.  We are located at 2101 N. Palafox Street, which is on the corner of Palafox and Jordan.