If you’re getting a new puppy or kitten this spring, you need to plan on vaccinating your pet. If you want to brush up on what this means and what it’s all about, you’ve come to the right place!
What’s all the fuss about?
There’s another world out there living with us that we cannot see, but we can see the effects of its existence. This is the micro world of bacteria and viruses – the tiniest of organisms that can only be seen with a microscope and, in the case of viruses, only a very powerful one at that.
All organisms want to live, to survive, and to reproduce. Many so-called “bad” bacteria and viruses survive best in living tissue. Different families of these tiny bugs prefer to live in certain species of animals and invade certain areas of the body. Well, as you know, your pet’s body is also trying to survive and thrive. Fortunately it has been provided with its very own security back up response team – the immune system.
The immune system is made up of many workers and soldiers, but the ones most pertinent to our story are the cells that produce antibodies, the lymphocytes. These are tiny white blood cells that live in the blood stream and the tissues. Their job is to survey their surroundings and look for foreigners – those bacterial and viral invaders. Once they meet someone who doesn’t belong, they start to form very specific weapons against them called antibodies. These antibodies work to kill, slow, debilitate and hopefully just give the bad bug the boot out of the animal’s body.
The body needs to be exposed to bacteria and viruses in order to make its own antibodies, or it needs to be given the antibodies through another route.
When a baby kitten or puppy is born, its immune system is not yet mature; the baby is wide open for infection. Fortunately, the mother produces a first milk, colostrum, which is rich in antibodies. The antibodies from the mom will be passed on to the baby through the baby’s intestines during the first 24-48 hours of life. This protection shared from mom to baby lasts for only a period of time, however, and how long that is varies between individual puppies or kittens. We DO know that by 14-20 weeks of age, maternal antibodies are gone and the baby must be able to continue on its own immune system.
In the meantime, since we don’t know how the mother’s antibodies are doing, we give inactivated vaccines to puppies and kittens at about every 3-4 week intervals in order to give some early protection before their own immunity is really strong.
What are vaccines and why are they needed?
Vaccines can be thought of as little tiny bits of the bacteria or viruses that have been inactivated (killed or modified live), meaning they can’t cause the disease, but they resemble the bug enough to trigger the immune system. The immune system recognizes something foreign and makes its weapons against it. In this way, if it were ever to now come in contact with the real live, fighting bacteria or virus, it’s already prepared and can swiftly conquer the enemy before any signs of illness are even detected.
Common diseases that we see in puppies in kittens in this area are caused by viruses and bacteria and therefore we want to vaccinate them in order to prevent disease. This helps not only your pup or kitten, but also helps to decrease the spread of the disease in the general population.
Common core diseases in dogs:
• Parvoviral enteritis – otherwise known as “Parvo” – caused by canine parvovirus
• Canine distemper – caused by Canine Distemper Virus
• Some types of pneumonia and respiratory disease – caused by Canine Adenovirus Type 2 and/or Parainfluenza virus
• Canine infectious tracheobronchitis – caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria
In cats, common core diseases in our area are:
• Feline Upper Respiratory Disease – caused by Feline Herpes Virus (Rhinotracheitis) or Calici virus
• Feline Panleukopenia – Caused by Feline Panleukopenia virus (which is related to canine parvovirus, but not the same)
We recommend puppyhood and kitten hood vaccinations against the above viruses and bacteria. This means regular visits to your veterinarian during the first few months of life.
Ideally puppies and kittens should be vaccinated against the above infections at age 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and 16 weeks.
VERY IMPORTANT: It’s just not enough to vaccinate your pet once at 6 weeks of age. That would be like playing Russian roulette. In fact, the most important vaccine a kitten or puppy can have is at 15-16 weeks of age, when his or her immune system is mature enough to produce its own antibodies. Multiple vaccines during the first 2 to 4 months of age are the best way to help prevent disease.
There is also Rabies – caused by the Rabies virus – which, while not common in our area, is a serious disease with human implications and can be completely prevented with the vaccine.
We vaccinate against these diseases because many of them are very serious and even fatal. They may require aggressive hospital treatment and may have lifelong effects if the pet survives.
We want to help you help your puppy or kitten to have the best fighting chance against them.
Vaccinations are the way to go.
Make the appointment with your veterinarian and ask more questions about how vaccines can prevent disease in your kitten or puppy this spring!