Should you Vaccinate Your Cat or Dog? and if so how often?
A Little Veterinary Vaccine History
Vaccination is one of the most hotly debated topics in veterinary medicine today. The reason is because while on the one hand we want to protect companion animals from deadly infectious diseases, we are also very concerned with the problems created by over-vaccination.
When humans are vaccinated against diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and DPT, the immunizations given in childhood provide lifetime protection. They are not given again in that child’s entire life, much less repeated every year.
When I worked at a humane society 20 years ago, our protocol was to give puppies a five-way combination vaccine at 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 weeks, followed by an annual booster every year for the rest of their lives.
When I got to veterinary school and learned vaccines never wear off, I became quite confused about why vets recommend yearly re-vaccinations. So I asked Dr. Schultz how dogs and cats develop immunity.
Dr. Schultz explained that my questions were the same ones he asked back in the 1970s – how often do dogs and cats need to be vaccinated, and what vaccines are really required?
In the 1970s there weren’t a lot of vaccines available for pets, so according to Dr. Schultz, every time a new one became available, it was added to the syringe.
By the 1980s, there were 12 or 14 different vaccines being delivered as combination products. As an immunologist, Dr. Schultz knew that was not a good idea. And vaccinated pets were beginning to develop adverse reactions, so their bodies also knew the combination vaccines were a bad idea.
In 1978, Dr. Schultz and a colleague, Dr. Fred Scott developed and published a vaccination protocol. It called for pets to receive puppy or kitten shots, be vaccinated again at a year of age, and then be re-vaccinated every three years or less frequently thereafter.
Change is often a very slow process, and it wasn’t until 1998 that the American Association of Feline Practitioners issued guidelines very similar to what Dr. Schultz and Dr. Scott published 20 years earlier.
Core vs. Non-Core Vaccines
There are a lot more vaccines available today than there were back in the 1970s, but we now know there are certain vaccines, called the ‘core vaccines,’ that every dog and cat should receive.
Canine core vaccines include:
Feline core vaccines:
The diseases these vaccines protect against are very serious, with mortality as high as 60 to 80 percent in young animals. That’s why every kitten and puppy should receive these core vaccines very early in life.
All other vaccines are known as non-core, or optional. Only certain animals need non-core vaccines, as opposed to every animal needing the core vaccines.
I next asked Dr. Schultz for his thoughts on what vaccines are necessary for indoor-only cats that never come into contact with outdoor cats.
Dr. Schultz recommends only the core vaccine panleukopenia for indoor kitties. He explained the last dose should be at 14 to 16 weeks, because by that time the kitten will no longer have the protection passed from the mother cat.
Litters from immunized cats and dogs have some protective antibodies from their mothers at birth. These antibodies are systemic, but they have a finite life. They ultimately die off, but the level of immunity in the mother determines when that die-off occurs in the kittens or puppies. It is only when the antibodies from the mother die off that a vaccination actually immunizes the puppy or kitten.
What are your thoughts on the topic of vaccines for your pet? What do you choose to do in your home and why?