If you have a dog or a cat at home, you’ve probably taken them to your veterinarian for vaccines. Have you ever wondered what the vaccines were for or what type of vaccines were given? Most of us are too busy to find time to research pet vaccines, so we rely on our veterinarians to choose the safest and most appropriate vaccine. There are lots of different vaccines available and some are safer than others. There’s also a wide variation in vaccine schedules and guidelines. It’s important to know that not every pet needs every vaccine. The decision to vaccinate should be based on your pet’s lifestyle and risk factors. Your veterinary team is there to explain the vaccines and the risks and benefits of giving them.
If you are just looking for the basic information on what vaccines your pet needs, read on. If you want a reliable source of additional information, check out the American Animal Hospital Association (www.healthypet.com) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (www.catvets.com).
Vaccines: The Basics
Pet vaccines are divided into 2 different categories: Core and Noncore. A Core vaccine is a vaccine that all pets need regardless of their lifestyle. There are really only two Core vaccines, Rabies and the Distemper Combination. Noncore vaccines are vaccines that are given based on the individual pet’s lifestyle and risk factors. Examples of Noncore vaccines are Lyme, Leptospirosis, and Bordetella in dogs and Feline Leukemia in cats.
Core Vaccines for Dogs
- Distemper Combination- This vaccine protects your dog from the most common and deadly contagious viruses including: Distemper, Adenovirus and Parvovirus. Puppies get several DAP vaccines initially, but then it should be given once every 3 years for adult dogs.
- Rabies- Rabies is a virus spread by saliva and bites. It is required by law to protect people and animals from this deadly disease. The vaccine is given once every 3 years for adult dogs.
Noncore Vaccines for Dogs
- Bordetella- This is one of the causes of “kennel cough”, is a contagious bacteria that causes a severe cold and cough. Dogs that have exposure to other dogs need this vaccine every year.
- Lyme- Lyme disease is a bacteria that is spread by ticks. Any dog that has exposure to ticks in the yard, camping, at the cabin or walking in the park should be vaccinated yearly.
- Leptospirosis- Leptospirosis is a bacteria that can be found in lakes, ponds and anywhere wildlife have been. We do see exposure to Lepto in the Plymouth and Wayzata area because of the abundant wildlife.
Core Vaccines for Cats
- Distemper Combination- This vaccine protects your cat from the most common and deadly contagious viruses: Rhinotracheitis (Herpes), Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (Distemper). Kittens get several Distemper vaccines initially, but then it should be given once every 3 years for adult cats.
- Rabies- Rabies is a virus spread by saliva and bites. It is required by law to protect people and animals from the deadly disease. Several types of vaccines are available and may be given annually or every three years.
Noncore Vaccines for Cats
- Feline Leukemia- This vaccine prevents a highly contagious virus that is spread from one cat to another through saliva and bites. Even though this vaccine is considered Noncore, new recommendations call for testing and vaccinating all kittens until 2 years of age and then only according to risk and lifestyle. Cats that spend any time outdoors or have exposure to other cats should be vaccinated annually.
While there are several other Noncore vaccines available for pet’s with unique risk factors, these are the most commonly used and widely recommended vaccinations. The overall goal of vaccinations is to prepare your pet’s immune system to fight off diseases that they are exposed to. If too many vaccines are given, or if the vaccines are given too often, pet’s can develop allergic reactions or immune system disorders. So, they key is to give the vaccines often enough but not too often. As you can imagine, this can be tricky. This is why it’s so important to develop a strong relationship with your veterinary care team. They can help you determine what is best for your pet.
What Questions Should I Ask About My Pet’s Vaccines?
All of the technical information about vaccine types and administration can be overwhelming for pet owners. Ask your veterinarian the following questions to determine if your pet is being vaccinated appropriately.
- How often do you recommend the Distemper Combination Vaccine?
- The Distemper Combination vaccines should be given once every 3 years. Duration of Immunity studies have shown that, when appropriately vaccinated, both dogs and cats will have adequate immunity for at least 3 years. Puppies and kittens do need several of the vaccines initially.
- How often do you give Rabies vaccinations?
- If you’ve read the recent Star Tribune article on Rabies vaccinations, you may be wondering how often the vaccine really should be given. For dogs, the Rabies vaccine should be given once every 3 years to provide good immunity. Giving the vaccine more often than this can cause adverse immune reactions.
- What type of Rabies vaccine are you using for cats?
- Rabies vaccines for cats are usually given annually. It is safest to give cats a nonadjuvanted vaccine to reduce the risk of vaccine associated cancers. Northwest Animal Hospital uses a nonadjuvanted annual vaccines for cats
- How can you make vaccines less stressful for my pet?
- Just going to your vet’s office can be scary for your pet. There are ways to make the experience less stressful for both you and your pet. Your veterinarian should be able to distract your pet while the vaccines are given. Some vaccines, like Bordetella, can be given orally instead of being injected or forced up the nose. The Bordetella vaccine used at Northwest Animal Hospital is made to taste like chicken broth and most dogs will lick it and never know they were vaccinated.
- Do you give the Leptospirosis vaccine separately or combined with another vaccine?
- Leptospirosis is a disease that is becoming more frequent in Minnesota because of the wildlife in the area. The vaccine only provides immunity for 1 year. Some veterinarians choose to include the Lepto vaccine in with the Distemper Combination vaccine. At Northwest Animal Hospital, we do not include it with Distemper since we only give Distemper once every 3 years. Instead, we include it with our Lyme vaccine since dogs that have exposure to Lyme disease have the same risk for exposure to Lepto. Combining these 2 vaccines means that we give fewer vaccines and have a lower risk of vaccine reactions. We also make sure that our vaccine protects from as many different types (or serovars) of the bacteria as possible. Some vaccines only protect from a few serovars.
- What happens if my pet has a vaccine reaction?
- If your pet has a vaccine reaction, your veterinarian can work with you to determine your pet’s risks for exposure to the diseases. In some cases, the risk of a reaction is higher than the risk of the disease and we can elect to discontinue the vaccines. This is usually not the case with Rabies vaccines since it is required legally. There are vaccines available that were designed to reduce the risk of vaccine reactions by limiting the extra proteins in the vaccine that are usually responsible for the reactions. Mild reactions can be prevented by splitting up the vaccines so only one vaccine is given at a time and by giving an antihistamine prior to vaccination.
The most important thing you can do as a pet owner is to find a veterinarian that you trust to help inform you and make decisions that will keep your pet healthy for years to come. Ask your veterinarian how often they take continuing education classes to keep up with the latest vaccine research. Ask why they choose the vaccines they do. Make sure they are following the vaccine guidelines established by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners. These organizations set the gold standard for vaccine guidelines for pets. Don’t base your vaccine choices on price, since it’s very difficult to compare apples to apples when it comes to vaccines.
If you have questions about your pet and vaccination recommendations, we’d be happy to consult with you. Please call Northwest Animal Hospital in Plymouth at 763-475-2448 or visit our website at www.nwveterinarian.com.