Vaccinations are given for three primary reasons – to prevent our pets from becoming infected, to significantly reduce the severity of the disease if infection occurs, and to prevent the spread of diseases between pets and people. Effective vaccination programs have been responsible for dramatically reducing death and suffering in our pet and human populations. Though in general vaccines are incredibly safe, in very rare circumstances they can cause mild to life threatening allergic reactions or instigate certain autoimmune diseases. Therefore it is wise to give vaccines when necessary but equally wise to withhold vaccines when unnecessary. These concerns have caused the veterinary community to shift from “one size fits all” vaccine recommendations, to recommendations tailored to the needs and risks of each individual pet. Not all dogs and cats have the same risk factors for infectious disease, nor the same risks of vaccine related complications. At Well Pets, we will recommend vaccinations based on your pets lifestyle and risk factors.
Rabies is a core vaccine for both cats and dogs. It is a deadly neurologic disease that can infect all mammals and once symptoms are seen there is no cure. Rabies is a significant public health concern because it can be transmitted from pets to people. Therefore it is a federally regulated vaccine and vaccination of pet cats and dogs is mandatory in most states. If a pet bites someone and is not current on its rabies vaccination, this can result serious legal liability/consequences for the pet owner. Cats and Dogs can be vaccinated after 3 months of age and annually after that. 3 year vaccines can be used on dogs after they have received at least one rabies vaccine as an adult animal.
Canine Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and is often fatal. Puppies should receive parvovirus every 3-4 weeks from the age of 6-16 weeks.
Canine Distemper is a highly contagious virus that may appear first as an upper respiratory infection before progressing to a fatal neurologic disease. Puppies should receive Distemper vaccinations every 3-4 weeks from the age of 6–16 weeks.
For both Distemper and Parvovirus, unvaccinated dogs over 12 weeks of age require an initial vaccine and then a booster vaccine 3-4 weeks later. Historically Distemper and Parvovirus vaccines have been boostered annually in dogs, but more recent thought is once they’ve received two vaccines as an adult, most dogs can be given Distemper and Parvovirus booster vaccines on an every three year basis. However, many boarding kennels and grooming facilities still require annual vaccinations so this must be taken into account when considering how frequently to booster these vaccines.
Non Core Vaccines
Canine Bordetella/Parainfluenza (aka “Kennel Cough”) is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection similar to whooping cough in people. It is seldom fatal, but can cause a bronchitis that lasts for weeks and occasionally can lead to a more severe pneumonia. “Kennel Cough” – like signs can be caused by a number of infectious agents so this vaccine will not prevent every type of upper respiratory infection. However, Bordetella and Parainfluenza are by far the most common causes and create the most severe signs. All dogs that come in contact with other dogs can become infected, but those dogs that are groomed or housed with other dogs regularly, visit pet stores or go to bark parks are at higher risk and should be vaccinated. Bordetella vaccine is highly recommended for all puppies and annual booster vaccines are recommended. The intranasal version of Bordetella vaccine is given once to dogs 12 weeks of age and older and then boostered annually. The injectable version of Bordetella vaccine is also given to dogs over 12 weeks of age but requires a booster vaccine 3-4 weeks after the initial vaccination. After that it should be boostered annually. Some boarding kennels and groomers require revaccination every 6 months and this is also recommended for dogs competing in dog shows or agility competitions.
Canine Influenza is a less common but more severe respiratory infection because it attacks the lungs, causing severe pneumonia, and can be fatal. Since the incidence of Canine Influenza in Indiana is currently fairly low, we recommend this vaccine primarily for those dogs that are frequently in high intensity dog environments (grooming, boarding, dog shows, puppy daycare, bark parks, etc….). It is initially given as a two-vaccine series (3-4 weeks apart) to unvaccinated adults or puppies starting at 9 weeks of age, and then boostered annually.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection dogs can contract by coming in contact with urine of infected wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, possums, rats, and squirrels; as well as cattle and other farm animals. The bacteria can cause severe life threatening liver and kidney infections and unfortunately several strains of Leptospirosis can spread from dogs to infect people. We recommend Leptospirosis vaccine be given to dogs that live or are walked in areas where raccoons or possums are common, or if they live in or near rural areas or near livestock. We recommend more modern vaccines that protect against 4 strains of Leptospirosis be used, as opposed to older 2 strain versions. Initially Leptospirosis is given in a 2 vaccine series then boostered once annually. Typically puppies 12 weeks old and older, and unvaccinated adult dogs receive 2 vaccines 3-4 weeks apart and then annual boosters.
Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection in dogs and people and is spread by certain tick species. It is most common in the northeastern states and several Great Lake states including Michigan and Wisconsin. Though not as common, Lyme disease is definitely present in Indiana. It causes intermittent fevers, painful swollen joints and can cause damage to internal organs. Dogs with high exposure to ticks (particularly in areas where deer are plentiful) are most at risk. Dogs that go hiking, camping, hunting, or live near woods or fields frequented by deer should receive this vaccine. Dogs over 12 weeks of age should receive 2 vaccines 3-4 weeks apart and then be boostered annually.
** Important Safety Note – Vaccine reactions, though very rare, occur more commonly in toy breed dogs less than 10 pounds and certain breeds such as Pugs, Dachshunds, Boxers and Bull dogs. The risk of vaccine reactions also increases if more than three injectable vaccines are given at one time. Bacteria and viruses do not care whether your dog is small or large so if risk factors determine your dog needs certain vaccines, they should be given. However, wisdom dictates that safety trumps convenience, so at times it is wise to spread out the administration of vaccines to reduce the chances of a reaction rather than giving them “all at once.” If it is necessary to ask a client to return so that vaccine administration can be spread out, the full price for the vaccine package will be charged at the initial visit and the client will be advised to return for the delayed vaccine at the next scheduled clinic. Since there should be no additional exam needed, the returning client will not have to wait in line as those delayed vaccines can be given by the veterinarian or staff in between other clients.
It is common, for dogs, like people, to have some soreness at the injection site, perhaps run a very mild fever, be mildly lethargic or uncomfortable (panting/pacing sometimes seen,) and not have much of an appetite for 24-36 hours after vaccinations. Profound lethargy, extreme soreness or anxiety, or any sort of allergic reaction (multiple vomiting episodes, hives or facial swelling, etc.) are not normal and the pet should be taken to a veterinary hospital or after-hours emergency center if allergic reaction signs are observed. Please report any such events to us, because even though we cannot accept financial responsibility for these events (as they are a known risks associated with vaccination), the event should be documented in our records and reported to the vaccine manufacturer. Occasionally vaccine manufacturers will help offset the costs associated with emergency care, but this cannot be guaranteed. More importantly, administration of future vaccines will need to be modified to prevent further complications or harm.
Rabies is a core vaccine for both cats and dogs. It is a deadly neurologic disease that can infect all mammals and once symptoms are seen there is no cure. Rabies is a significant public health concern because it can be transmitted from pets to people. Therefore it is a federally regulated vaccine and vaccination of pet cats and dogs is mandatory in most states. If a pet bites someone and is not current on its rabies vaccination, this can result serious legal liability/consequences for the pet owner. Cats can be vaccinated after 3 months of age and annually after that. 3 year vaccines, though available, are generally not recommended for cats.
Feline Distemper (or Panleukopenia) is a highly contagious disease similar to parvovirus in dogs. It can cause severe diarrhea, and compromise of the immune system leading to overwhelming infection and death. Feline Distemper vaccines typically also contain protection against Herpesvirus and Calicivirus, viruses that can cause severe upper respiratory infections, oral ulceration, and conjunctivitis. Feline Distemper-upper respiratory vaccines are typically given as a three vaccine series in kittens from 6-16 weeks of age. Typically, adult cats receive annual boosters, but low risk indoor or geriatric cats can receive boosters every 2-3 years at the owners and veterinarian’s discretion.
Non Core Vaccines
Feline Leukemia is a viral disease that attacks the immune system of cats and is incurable, and in most cases fatal. Infected cats can show no symptoms for many months thus they can appear healthy yet spread the disease to other cats. Symptoms of disease may include fever, weight loss, sudden severe anemia, aggressive tumor formation, fluid accumulation in the chest or abdomen, and death. We recommend that all kittens and cats be tested for Feline Leukemia when adopted or prior to receiving vaccine (the vaccine has no benefit to infected cats). All kittens and young adult cats should be vaccinated to create immunity to the disease. Strictly indoor cats that have no possible exposure to potentially infected cats do not need continue receiving vaccines, but any cat that goes outside or has potential exposure to outdoor cats (even through a screened in porch or window) should be revaccinated annually. Remember that even if the risk is low, this is a fatal, incurable disease. The initial vaccine should be given to cats over 9 weeks of age followed by a booster in 3-4 weeks.
Feline AIDS (FIV)a
Feline Aids (FIV) Feline Immunosuppressive Virus is similar to HIV in humans. It attacks the immune system, is incurable, and has symptoms similar to Feline Leukemia. FIV is spread by close contact with an infected animal and most commonly through bite wounds. Cats that are outside a great deal or those that get into fights with other cats are most at risk. A vaccine is available for FIV but the major downside to giving it is that once vaccinated, they test positive for FIV (the vaccine, like the virus, creates antibodies and our current test reads “Positive” when antibodies are present/detected). Therefore, it is important to always test cats before they are initially vaccinated, and it is highly recommended to implant an identification microchip in cats once they are vaccinated. We recommend FIV vaccine on a limited basis and primarily for those cats that are outdoors a great deal and may fight with other cats.
Our goal at Well Pets is to understand your cat’s lifestyle and risk factors and tailor our vaccine recommendations to maximize its safety. If your cat’s lifestyle changes, its vaccine needs may change as well, so inform our staff if your formerly indoor only cat is now going outside (or vice versa), or if it has gotten into fights and has gotten bitten recently, or other changes such as the addition of other cats to the household who go outdoors. Though it is not uncommon for pets to experience mild to moderate lethargy or tenderness at the injection sites for 24 – 36 hours after vaccination, please let us know if past vaccinations have left your cat exceedingly tired or lethargic as we may wish to alter the timing of the vaccines to minimize this.
**Please Note: If your cat ever develops a lump at the injection site several weeks after receiving a vaccine, please let us know about this. The vast majority (99+%) of these lumps are called granulomas – they are a localized inflammatory reaction to the vaccine and are quite benign. Granulomas can occur several weeks after vaccination in dogs or cats, are typically about the size of a lima bean, are non-painful and usually shrink down or go away about 6-8 weeks after they appear. However, in exceedingly rare occasions (typically 1 in 10,000 cats) an aggressive mass called a sarcoma may form at an injection site months or even years after vaccines are given. These masses tend to grow rapidly, are life threatening and should be removed surgically as soon as possible if they occur. Early on it was believed that the use of adjuvants, a substance that enhances the immune response to vaccines, might increase the risk of vaccine related sarcomas. However, the majority of recent research indicates that certain cats are genetically predisposed to form sarcomas, and anything that causes inflammation under the skin (vaccines, bite wounds, foreign bodies, antibiotic injections etc.) may enhance the possibility of sarcoma formation. Since adjuvants increase the potency of vaccines by increasing the inflammatory response to a vaccine, some believe that the use of non-adjuvanted vaccines may decrease the risk of vaccine related sarcomas. This is a hotly debated topic in veterinary medicine, and though there is logic to the theory, the reality is that there is currently no hard data to support it. Our position at Well Pets is the risk of disease far outweighs the extremely small risk of developing a sarcoma, but we also acknowledge that statistics are meaningless if your cat is the 1 in 10,000 that develops a sarcoma. All of the vaccines we utilize are extremely safe vaccines, however, we do currently offer a non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine alternative for cats and it may be substituted for our regular vaccine for an additional fee. Please ask our assistants if this is something you would like to consider.