Q: Why do kittens/puppies need a series of vaccines?
A: Kittens and puppies are born with an immune system that is not quite mature, which means there is a possibility for infection. Just like humans, the mothers carry milk for their newborns. The mothers produce a certain kind of milk called colostrum, and it is only produced the first few days after giving birth. This milk is rich in antibodies, and when the kittens/puppies drink it, they will be taking in their mother’s immunity. After the colostrum is run out, the mothers produce regular milk, and the babies are no longer able to take into their systems externally produced antibodies. There is a very narrow window of time in which the newborns can acquire a stronger immunity, until their own systems can take over.
There are many factors affecting how long this maternal antibody lasts, and each animal is different. Some elements include how well they nursed, the birth order of the babies, and various other reasons. Because of these individual factors, the acquired antibodies wear off at different times. These antibodies are gone between 14-20 weeks of age, and the babies must be able to carry on with their own immune systems.
Puppies and kittens receive a series of vaccines, because while their systems contain maternal immunity, any vaccine given will be inactivated. The series of vaccines ends at a time when we know the maternal antibodies have sufficiently dropped, and the babies own immune system is able to respond. If we waited to give the vaccines at a time when the puppy/kitten is old enough to definitely respond, we risk leaving a large gap of vulnerability if the acquired antibodies wane early.
Puppies initially receive three total shots of DA2P (distemper/parvo combination vaccine), which is than boostered annually. They receive one vaccine to guard against Bordetella, or Kennel Cough, which is than boostered annually. Kittens initially receive three shots of FRCP (feline distemper/respiratory combination vaccine), which is than boostered annually. If they are an outdoor cat, it is recommended they receive a vaccine to guard against Leukemia, which needs one booster 3-4 weeks apart, and than annually. Puppies and kittens receive their Rabies vaccine at 14-16 weeks, which is boostered one year after, than every 3 years.
Q: Why do I have to vaccinate my pet annually, if a vaccine lasts a person their whole life?
A: According to studies that have been run, most of the vaccines have to be administered annually. Whether or not if any of these vaccines last a lifetime we cannot say. These kinds of tests have yet to be performed. It is important to realize that vaccination protocols are guidelines, and different regions and pet lifestyles will justify modifications.
Q: What happens if my pet skips a year of vaccination, or is late for their shots?
A: Depending on the vaccine and the hospital, there may be different recommendations for vaccine policy, according to the practice and its geographical location. Please call your Veterinarian for information on their policies.
Q: What vaccines should I get for my pet?
A: Many factors are taken into consideration when deciding vaccine protocol for individual pets: what is their exposure to disease, what diseases are common in the area, what stressors may be present, and many others. The best advice is to work with your veterinarian and go with there recommendations.
Q: What vaccines should I get if my pet is almost completely indoors?
A: There are core vaccines that every pet should have. For cats, this includes the distemper shot (FRCP) and rabies vaccine. Rabies is considered core even for indoor animals because when you consider the consequences of exposure to rabies (which can definitely happen indoors) and the legal repercussions of owning an animal that bites, it is easy to see why this vaccine is important. For dogs, this includes the distemper/parvo shot (DA2PP) and the rabies vaccine.
Q: What is the difference between live and killed vaccine?
A: Vaccines are meant to copy the stimulation obtained by natural infection, while skipping the infection. With the killed vaccine, the dead virus is injected into the patient in large amounts. This leads to a stimulation when it filters into the immune system. A live vaccine is modified in a way so that the virus creates an immune response, but the disease does not result in infection. Immunity will be produced that is similar to that of a real infection.
A live vaccine will stimulate a more thorough immunity, but a killed vaccine can never revert to virulence (in no way can the vaccine produce the disease it is trying to prevent). In deadly cases such as a rabies, superior immunity with a live vaccine is not worth taking the chance.
Q: Can vaccinated animals still get sick?
A: The response a pet has to a vaccine is dependant upon their individual immunities. In some cases, such as infections from feline upper respiratory, the vaccines are not intended to prevent infection, but simply blunt the symptoms should the infection occur.
It is extremely rare for a fully vaccinated animal to still get sick with the disease, but if this is the case, your veterinarian will need to issue a report to the manufacturer. In most cases, pets can get sick because the vaccinations were incomplete. This could be either a puppy/kitten that did not finish the series of shots, or they got exposed to infection before the series could be completed.
Q: Can a pregnant pet be vaccinated?
A: During pregnancy, killed vaccines may be given, though as a general rule, it is best not to give any medical treatments if it can be avoided. Live vaccines (please see above) should never be used in pregnant pets. Even though these live vaccines will not cause illness in the mother, it may be strong enough to cause infection in the unborn puppies/kittens.
Q: Is the Feline Leukemia test required before vaccination?
A: A cat can be infected with the feline leukemia virus, even for years, without having any signs of illness. At this time they are contagious and have the potential for numerous problems. Many people want to skip the test to save money, but knowing that a cat is positive allows you to save money by not unnecessarily vaccinating for feline leukemia. If an owner is aware of a cat’s positive status, they can prevent spreading the disease by keeping their cats away from other cats. An owner can prepare for any financial obstacles that go along with expected treatments for their cat. Testing is important for new cats being welcomed into a household.
Q: Can vaccines hurt my pet?
A: After being vaccinated, some pets can experience muscle soreness, lethargy and mild fever which can persist for a day or two. These side effects are considered common reactions to the immune system being stimulated. Unusual and strong reactions can include allergic reactions (face swelling, hives) and even vomiting. These signs should be taken seriously, and your veterinarian should be notified as soon as possible. Severe and rare reactions can result in shock or even death.
Q: Can vaccines cause cancer?
A: In very rare cases, fibrosarcomas (aggressive form of cancer)have been removed from areas of the body typically used for vaccination. Within these masses, particles of the aluminum-based adjuvant (ingredient in vaccines) were discovered. These rare cases occur 1 in 1 000-10 000 animals, mainly cats. This problem is not easily rectified, and the risks of not vaccinating outweigh the potential risk for a cancerous mass.