If you thought the puppy and kitten vaccine series was confusing, hold onto your hat! Here’s where the confusion really starts.
Let’s talk cats, because in some ways they’re a bit easier. Kittens finish their vaccine series at about 4-6 months of age. Got it. Inside only kitties basically need two vaccines- FVRCVP (we call this one distemper) and rabies. Kitties that go outside should also get vaccinated against feline leukemia, and some vets will recommend that all kittens have a series of two feline leukemia vaccines. There are a couple other vaccines available, but they are largely considered unnecessary. So at 4-6 months we give a distemper vaccine and a rabies vaccine. These are considered protective for a year. At about 18 months we booster those vaccines, and feline leukemia when needed. Fair enough?
Let’s make it interesting. There are a few different manufacturers of vaccines, and they produce vaccines with different booster recommendations. For example, at Twin Maples we currently use a feline distemper vaccine that is protective for 3 years (after the booster at 18 months of age). Other vets use one that is boostered yearly. Our Rabies vaccine, on the other hand, needs to be boostered yearly, where some others are good for 3 years. Confused yet? The length of immunity expected from a vaccine has several factors affecting it. Suffice it to say for now that we use the vaccines that we feel are the most safe as well as protective. Feel free to ask us why.
Dogs are yet another story. Let’s go back to the puppy. She got her last vaccines when she was 4-6 months old. One year later she is in for her exam and vaccines. At this time we will give her the DHPP and rabies vaccines. If she needs them we will give bordetella and/or leptospirosis. Again, at Twin Maples we follow a 3-year interval of the three basic, or core, vaccines. So after this year, this dog will come in once a year for an exam. Each year she will get one of three core vaccines- distemper, parvo, or rabies. In addition she will get any non-core vaccines (bordetalla, leptospirosis) that are needed, based on her lifestyle. The core vaccines we use have been shown to provide immunity for at least three years. The non-core vaccines generally do not reliably produce immunity for more than a year. Basically, we cycle through the three core vaccines so we’re not loading the system all at once, then adding non-core protection if needed.
Sometimes we get off track with the cycle- we take that one pet at a time and try to get back to a rotating schedule.
There are some folks who do not want to vaccinate. They are concerned about effects from the vaccines that might be detrimental to their pets’ health. Now, I’m not going to lie. Vaccines are not 100% safe. They are very close to 100% safe, and they are very effective and absolutely save lives every day. I am pro-vaccine. But there are some pets that cannot be vaccinated. There are a very few that have vaccine-related allergic reactions. Most of these can be prevented by giving fewer vaccines at each visit, or giving an antihistamine before vaccinating. A very, very few pets can have a life-threatening vaccine reaction. Those should not be vaccinated. Yes, we leave them at increased risk of infectious disease, but that is a choice we have to make.
What about titers in place of vaccines? Good question. There are blood tests available that essentially try to determine the strength of the body’s response to an infectious organism. In some cases, titers can be used to determine if immunity is strong enough to delay vaccination. But here’s the rub- a positive titer test does not necessarily equal the immune system’s ability to fight off the infection. It’s the best test we have, but it is not perfect. Also, the titer tests are expensive- as much as 10X more than the vaccine. Having a good, trusting relationship with your vet, being informed about current recommendations from groups like the American Animal Hospital Association, and being aware of your individual pet’s risk factors will help you and your vet tailor a vaccination protocol.
I want to close with an important point- the most critical part of that yearly visit with your vet? The exam. The vaccines should almost be secondary. If you choose not to vaccinate, I’ll argue with you, but we still need to be sure that your pet is getting a good exam at least once a year (twice is better). The exam might not look like much- some of us are quick and do the exam while we talk- but we are checking for signs of illness- major and minor things. And having that working relationship might just make everything a little easier if you have a major issue arise; we will have normal reports, we will know you and your pet, and we will be able to notice when something is off that can clue us in to an illness developing. As always, if you have any further questions, do not hesitate to call one of us at Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital: 937-866-5949.