Veterinarians Are Not “Vaccinarians”. . . .Immunizations And What You Should Be Asking Your Veterinarian

Veterinarians Are Not “Vaccinarians”. . . .Immunizations And What You Should Be Asking Your Veterinarian

With the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in humans, people are realizing the importance of immunity and vaccination. Veterinary medicine is no different. In fact, our profession has vaccines against certain strains of corona virus. For example, There are two forms of Canine Coronavirus: Enteric Canine Coronavirus (CCoV) and Respiratory Canine Coronavirus (CRCoV). Vaccines that protect against Enteric Canine Coronavirus infection do not provide protection against the respiratory form of this disease. The Enteric Canine Coronavirus (CCov); Respiratory Canine Coronavirus (CRCoV) are not the same virus as SARS-CoV-2, that is responsible for causing the COVID-19 infection.

We all know the reasoning behind vaccines—to generate an immune response against a disease. Here are 3 questions I common get asked as a veterinarian that can better help you be a more informed pet parent to your veterinarian!

1. Why does my puppy & kitten require these series of vaccines and what happens if I miss the a series?

Let’s at least define what an antibody and antigen are first! An antigen is a substance that induces a response from a body’s immune system. In this discussion, when we talk about antigens, we mean a form of the diseases that commonly infect puppies and dogs (parvovirus, distemper, parainfluenza, etc)

Antibodies are the immune system protective substances that recognize and destroy the agents of disease (antigens). Colostrum from the puppy or kitten’s mother are being administered at birth (commonly referred to as passive immunity). Antibodies a puppy or kitten receive from its mother interfere with a vaccine response, so a series of vaccines is typically recommended to ensure that the puppy or kitten receives a vaccine as early as possible after maternal antibodies subside. Research has shown that the passive immune response starts to taper off around 5-6 weeks of age. Therefore, vaccines are repeated in order to make sure the puppy receives a vaccination as soon as his immune system is able to respond as we want it to – to respond by developing antibodies to the disease antigens in the vaccines (referred to as active immunity).

A vaccine is a form of disease antigen that has been altered in some way so that his immune system will recognize it as a foreign invader and respond to it by destroying substances that resemble that antigen in the future. Some vaccinations are made with “killed” viruses (rabies vaccine for example); some are genetically altered so they resemble the disease antigen but cannot make the animal ill (“modified live”). An example of this is the Bordetella vaccine (also known as kennel cough). Still others are highly weakened, live strains of the disease.

When we administer a vaccine to a puppy, we are in effect training his immune system to recognize the disease antigen and mount an immune response to it – to form antibodies that will recognize and destroy those antigens whenever the dog comes into contact with them again.

2. Why Does My Puppy or Kitten Need ALL of These Vaccines?

Just like in human medicine, veterinary medicine has come a long way in identifying infectious diseases and finding vaccinations for them both in large animal (horses, cattle, pigs for example) and small animal (ferrets, dogs, cats, etc). I first break down the list of vaccines into 2 big categories—Core vaccines and Non-core vaccines. Core vaccines.

Core vaccines are considered to vital and required to all pets based on risk of exposure, severity of disease or transmissibility to humans. Non-core vaccines are given depending on the dog’s exposure risk. Every dog is REQUIRED by law to have a current rabies vaccine. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, a disease that is transmissible to humans that often leads to fatalities. Distemper and parvovirus in dogs and cats is another core vaccine that is required. We want your pets to live a long and healthy life. These diseases are still out there. They are not eradicated. Make sure they are vaccinated against rabies and the distemper/parvo combo vaccines.

Noncore vaccines include a discussion with both you and your veterinarian. Is your dog going to doggy day care often? Will he or she be around other dogs at doggie day care? Will they be a service dog, hunting dog, indoor only dog, swimmer, etc? Is your cat going to be with other cats? Will they be indoor or outdoors (hopefully you answer indoor)? 

These questions allow the veterinarian to cater a vaccine protocol that best suits the dog’s lifestyle. I will say after practicing for many years that MOST dogs require all of the non-core vaccines. Hurricanes, natural disasters, warmer climates, international pet adoptions are just several reasons why I personally recommend vaccines against kennel cough, canine influenza, leptospirosis and lyme disease.

3. My pet is 13 years old. Why should they keep receiving their vaccine?

Great question! This involves another great conversation with your veterinarian. Just like humans that become senior citizens, their immune system can become more compromised. I have had many patients that were undergoing chemotherapy, receiving drugs for immune-mediated diseases, have had labwork disturbances and more. Therefore, we decided it was in the best interest of the pet to hold off a vaccine that would allow tittering. A titer test is a measure of antibodies in the blood, providing a check of disease immunity. The results of a titer test then allow a veterinarian to determine whether a vaccination is required. This titer test involves a simple blood draw.

The sample is analyzed and results are returned within 10-14 days. Not EVERY vaccine involves a titer. You are still required by law to have a rabies vaccine (again, another conversation to have with your veterinarian). However, you can elect to have a distemper/parvo titer done on your dog and cat.

I know I have said this several times in this article and I truly mean it. TALK TO YOUR VETERINARIAN. You are paying for their expertise and advice in that office visit. Empower yourself so you AND your veterinarian can create a vaccine protocol that best suits your furbaby. Veterinarians are highly trained and educated professionals, not “Dr”. Google.

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