Vaccinations

The importance of the Family Veterinarian

Just as your good health depends on your family physician, your pet also benefits from a long term relationship with your veterinarian. Your family veterinarian will become familiar with your pet and be able to identify potential problems early, when treatment is often easier and less expensive.

Each year when you and your pet visit your veterinarian, your pet receives far more than just health-protecting vaccinations. Your family veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and not findings on your pet's medical records for reference during subsequent visits. Over a period of years, this record will help your veterinarian note any changes which might affect your pet. If your pet is injured or becomes ill, your family veterinarian is always there to provide aid and assistance.

Your pet depends on both you and your family veterinarian for lifelong health care.

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The importance of Annual Physical examination

The importance of regular physical examinations cannot be overlooked. This examination performed by veterinarian is valuable both to your pet and to you. Problems can be discovered during the exam even in apparently healthy pets. The findings of the exam give your family veterinarian the necessary information to assess your pet's health status. Your veterinarian will then make recommendations for any diagnostics, treatment and preventive health care procedures, such as vaccination, heartworm prevention, dental prophylaxis. Detection of disease or behavioural problems early in their course provided the best opportunity for success therapy and often with less expense.

 CANINE VACCINES

Rabies

This is a fatal infectious disease of all mammals including dogs, cats, livestock and humans. Infected wildlife and unvaccinated animals are the major source of this virus. In Canada, wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats pose an ongoing risk of rabies. Following a bite from an infected animal, the disease develops slowly over days to months. Rabies is a major health hazard so it is extremely important that your pet be vaccinated against it. In many cases vaccination is required by municipal law and for travel outside Canada.

Canine Distemper (CDV)

Distemper is a very serious viral disease. Nearly every dog will be exposed to distemper virus in its lifetime, and when infection occurs it is often fatal. Symptoms may include listlessness, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, nasal and ocular discharge, and skin disease. In its final stages it may cause convulsions and paralysis. Death may occur one to three weeks after infection. Dogs who survive a distemper infection can have lifelong complications. The virus can be airborne and enter the body through the nose or mouth, or it can be spread by direct dog-to-dog contact. Vaccination against distemper virus is essential for all dogs and is part of routine vaccination protocols.

Canine Adenovirus (CAV1 or CAV2)

Depending on which adenovirus a dog is infected with, the complications can vary from mild (cold/flu-like) symptoms from which they will recover with supportive therapy, to serious liver disease. A vaccine has been developed to protect against both Type-1 and Type-2 adenovirus.

Canine Parainfluenza (CPi)

Parainfluenza is highy contagious disease which results in upper respiratory infections. This virus does not generally cause severe disease. However, it can make your dog more susceptible to secondary bacterial and viral infections which can ultimately lead to severe implications.

Canine Parvovirus (CPV)

Parvovirus typically attacks the lining of small intestine and leads to anorexia, severe vomiting and diarrhea, which can be bloody. Another form of parvoviral infection in young puppies can lead to damage to the heart and sudden death. Primarily, the virus is spread through contact with or ingestion of an infected animal's stool. It can also be spread by contact with contaminated animals, insects, or objects. Puppies 6 weeks to 6 months old are most commonly affected, though any age of unprotected dog can be infected. Vaccination is important because even with aggressive treatment parvovirus is often fatal.

Canine Leptospirosis (Lepto)

Leptospirosis is currently growing concern in Canada. It is a serious infectious disease of both animals and people and caused by Leptospira bacteria. The early stages of leptospirosis appear as flu-like symptoms which can be easily confused with other diseases. If not detected early in the course of disease, the bacteria can damage the liver and kidneys and potentially be fatal. Puddles, ditches, and slow-moving streams are all environments that can harbour Leptospira and can indirectly infect your dog.

Canine Cough (Kennel Cough)

This is highly contagious disease that is commonly caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria and is transmitted through close contact with infected dogs. For this reason, the dogs at greatest risk of contracting canine cough include those who visit dog parks, daycares, kennels, training classes, shows, etc. Two forms of the vaccine are available – intra-nasal or injectable. Ask us for more information.

Lyme Disease

Dogs get Lyme disease from the bite of tick infected with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Symptoms may include intermittent lameness, painful or swollen joints, inappetance and lethargy. Ticks carrying Lyme bacteria have been found in all 10 Canadian provinces and 48 continental USA states and may inhabit urban and rural lawns and gardens as well as fields and forests. Cool, wet weather in the spring and fall increases your pet's risk of contracting Lyme disease. Canine Lyme disease is largely preventable by using tick control, tick checks and vaccination. Vaccination can help protect your dog from this disease all year.

FELINE VACCINES

Rabies

This is a fatal infectious disease of all mammals including dogs, cats, livestock and humans. Infected wildlife and unvaccinated animals are the major source of this virus. In Canada, wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats pose an ongoing risk of rabies. Following a bite from an infected animal, the disease develops slowly over days to months. Rabies is a major health hazard so it is extremely important that your pet be vaccinated against it. In many cases vaccination is required by municipal law and for travel outside Canada.

Feline Viral Rhinitracheitis (FVR)

This is most common upper respiratory infection in cats. Clinical signs include moderate fever, inappetence, sneezing, discharge from eyes and nose, open mouth breathing and/or coughing. Even successfully treated, FVR can lead to a lifelong infection. Vaccination is extremely important.

Feline Calicivirus (FCV)

This is another virus that affects the upper respiratory tract. It accounts for approximately 40% of all respiratory diseases in cats. The severity of infection may vary but symptoms often include moderate fever, ulcers and blisters on the tongue. Even successfully treated, infected cats can become chronic virus carriers with lifelong clinical signs of sneezing and runny eyes.

Feline Chlamydiosis

This disease causes a relatively mild upper respiratory infection, particularly affecting mucous membranes of the eyes. Symptoms include tearing and sometimes sneezing and nasal discharge. Boarding you cat increases its risk of chalmydia infection and disease.

Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper)

This is a widespread disease that is often fatal. Clinical signs of panleukopenia include fever, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Since most cats are likely to be exposed to panleukopenia in their lifetime, vaccination against illness is of key importance.

Feline Leukemia (FeLV)

This virus attacks the immune system and leaves the cat vulnerable to a host of secondary infections. Transmission usually occurs through contact with other cats. Those cats which live in multi cat households or are allowed to roam outdoors are particularly at risk.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV or Feline AIDS)

This is not the same virus as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). FIV causes suppression of immune system and chronic susceptibility to other infections. Cats with FIV may remain apparently healthy for several years before their immune system becomes too weak to fight off other diseases. There is no cure for Feline AIDS. As with Feline Leukemia virus, cats from multi-cat households and those ventures outdoors are at greatest risk of FIV.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Vaccinations

What are the disease risk considerations?

Age and Nutrition: Both young and old animals are the most susceptible to infectious disease. Multiple booster shots are generally required to achieve immunity in puppies and kittens. Good nutrition is an important consideration in achieving and maintaining immunity through vaccination. Easy access to a consistent supply of fresh, clean drinking water is also important for your pet's health.

Gastrointestinal parasites: Regular fecal checks and appropriate deworming procedures are an essential component in maintaining the health of your pet and maximizing its resistance to disease.

Stress: Boarding your pet, moving or adding a new pet to your family may increase the stress on pet family members. Whenever these changes are planned, it is wise to get appropriate advice on possible new or additional immunization requirements.

Wildlife and livestock: Wildlife is known to carry diseases which can harm you and your pet. Many of these animals are common to both urban and rural settings. Raccoons, skunks, squirrels, rodents, coyotes, foxes, bats, feral dogs.

Proximity to livestock may also increase the risk of leptospirosis and giardiasis in dogs.

Weather patterns and seasonal changes: A heightened risk of leptospirosis is thought to be associated with increased rainfall while Lyme-carrying ticks are known to be more active in the spring and fall.

Surface water: Puddles a, ponds, ditches, sloughs, streams, lakes, rivers and marshes may all contain disease-causing organisms that can cause illness in your pet.

Outdoor activity: Regular exercise plays a necessary and integral role in the health of allo pets. However, with this activity comes the risk of contracting disease-causing organisms carried, secreted and excreted by other dogs and wildlife. The daily walk that you give your dog may expose him/her to many invisible pathogens.

Insect vectors: If you live in or take your pet to areas of known tick-population, we may recommend vaccination against Lyme disease. It is also important to consider heartworm prevention for pets during mosquito season.
Vacation Travel: Making an advance visit to veterinarian is a wise idea should you plan taking your pet on vacation. Many diseases vary in their prevalence from area to area and requires additional immunization.

Frequency of Veterinary Visitation: Recent research has demonstrated that there is a strong positive relationship between regular/annual visits to your veterinarian and the health of your pet. Your veterinarian will make preventive recommendations based on the specific wellness needs of your pet.

Does my pet need immunization against all of above diseases?

Every pet's immunization needs may vary according to many different diseases prevalent in its environment and the relevance. We will help you evaluate these risks and address your pet's specific vaccination needs.

Is single set of vaccines not enough to protect my pet?

Many factors need to be taken into consideration when your pet is vaccinated. For first few weeks and months of an animal's life, maternal antibodies may interfere with an effective vaccine response. Vaccination in the presence of maternal antibodies is a common cause of vaccine failure. The length of time the maternal antibodies remain effective varies from pet to pet, so your pet will get initial series of vaccinations to stimulate the protective immunity. Over time, protective immunity can decline, so booster vaccinations are recommended to maintain the highest level of immune readiness.

Is vaccination cost-effective?

Vaccination is a valuable preventive measure against infectious disease, and can help avoid potential illness and hardship for both you and your pet. Vaccination is a relatively inexpensive and safe way of preventing diseases that jeopardize the life of your pet and may cost much more to treat.

What risks are associated with vaccination?

Vaccination recommendations always take into consideration the health of your dog and their lifestyle. This ensures that you dog receive only necessary vaccines and that the potential for adverse effects is minimized. Though vaccination can result in adverse effects, they are generally rare, mild, of short duration, and resolve on their own – often without treatment. The health benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risks.

Why do baby animals need a series of shots and how many do they need?

When a baby kitten or puppy is born, its immune system is not yet mature; the baby is wide open for infection. Fortunately, nature has a system of protection. The mother produces a special milk in the first few days after giving birth. This milk is called "colostrum" and is rich in all the antibodies that the mother has to offer. As the babies drink this milk, they will be taking in their mother's immunity. After the first couple of days, regular milk is produced and the baby's intestines undergo what is called "closure," which means they are no longer able to take antibodies into their systems. These first two days are critical to determining what kind of immunity the baby will receive until its own system can take over.

How long this maternal antibody lasts in a given puppy or kitten is totally individual. It can depend on the birth order of the babies, how well they nursed, and a number of other factors. Maternal antibodies against different diseases wear off after different times. We DO know that by 16-20 weeks of age, maternal antibodies are gone and the baby must be able continue on its own immune system.

While maternal immunity is present in the puppy's system, any vaccines given will be inactivated. Vaccines will not be able to "take" until maternal antibody has sufficiently dropped. Puppies and kittens receive a series of vaccines ending at a time when we know the baby's own immune system should be able to respond. We could simply wait until the baby is old enough to definitely respond as we do with the rabies vaccination but this could leave a large window of vulnerability if the maternal antibody wanes early. To give babies the best chance of responding to vaccination, we vaccinate intermittently (usually every 2-4 weeks) during this period, in hope of gaining some early protection.

When a vaccine against a specific disease is started for the first time, even in adult animal, it is best to give at least two vaccinations. This is because the second vaccination will produce a much greater (logarithmically greater) response if it is following a vaccine given 2-4 weeks prior.

If a vaccine lasts a person his or her whole life, why do I have to vaccinate my pet annually?

Vaccines are licensed based on the minimum duration they can be expected to last. It is expensive to test vaccines across an expanse of years and it is not generally done. We know most vaccines last at least one year and have not been willing to take a chance on whether they might last longer without knowing for sure.

It is also important to realize that some diseases lend themselves to prevention through vaccination while others do not. For a vaccine to generate solid long lasting immunity, the infection must be fairly generalized to the entire body (like feline distemper or canine parvovirus) rather than localized to one organ system (like kennel cough or feline upper respiratory viruses). Vaccination for localized infections tends to require more frequent boosting whereas there is potential for vaccination for systemic disease to last for many years.

What do I do if my pet skips a year of vaccination?

It depends on the vaccine. Here are our hospital recommendations for adult animals who skip an annual vaccine (though other hospitals are likely to have different recommendations as vaccination policy tends to be very individualized to the practice):

  • Feline Distemper (FVRCP), Feline Leukemia (FeLV) - Vaccinate normally. It is not necessary to re-start the initial series.
  • Rabies - a three year vaccine can be given anytime after the initial one year vaccine. This means that if a year is skipped, the next rabies vaccine given will still be a three year vaccine. One year vaccines can be boosted at any time and will be good for one year from the time they are given.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis - Although we do not generally recommend this vaccine, if one skips a year and wants to assure that good titers are present, the initial series should be restarted.
  • Canine distemper, canine parvovirus, nasal bordetella (kennel cough) - Vaccinate normally. One does not need to restart the initial series as though the pet is starting over fresh.

What is the difference between a live and a killed vaccine?

These terms apply to vaccine against viral infection.

The goal of vaccination is to present the virus in question to the patient's immune system in as natural a way as possible so as to best mimic the stimulation obtained by natural infection yet skip the illness experienced by the patient.

There are two ways to achieve this goal. One way is to use killed vaccine. Here, large amounts of dead virus are injected into the patient. They filter into the immune system & lead to stimulation. The other way is to use a live virus that has been "modified" such that actual disease does not result in infection. By using live virus, a more natural stimulation is obtained as the live viruses follow through the same steps of replication that the real ("street") virus would.

Which method is best remains somewhat controversial. Some experts feel that killed vaccine is best as there will never be a chance that the patient can contract the actual disease from the vaccine if a killed vaccine is used. Proponents of live vaccines have been able to demonstrate that far stronger immunity can be generated by the live vaccines. While our hospital stocks some killed vaccine available upon request, we feel that the live vaccine indeed produces better protection and this is what we use on a routine basis unless we have an option to use a recombinant vaccine (see below).

Can a pregnant pet be vaccinated?

It is important that live vaccines (see above) NOT be used in pregnant pets. This is because a "modified" virus that will not cause illness in the mother, may still be strong enough to infect the unborn puppies or kittens. Killed vaccines may be given during pregnancy though, as a general rule, it is best not to give any medical treatments during pregnancy if it can be avoided. While the administration of killed vaccines is commonly performed in large animals and food animals, it is not routine for dogs or cats.

Why is a feline leukemia test required prior to vaccination?

The feline leukemia virus has potential to be latent in a carrier cat without any signs of illness and this carrier state can persist for years. During this time, the cat is contagious and at risk for numerous problems. Many people want to skip the test to save money but, in fact, it is of great importance to know if a cat is harboring this infection. Knowing that a cat is positive allows one to save money by not unnecessarily vaccinating for feline leukemia. Further, if an owner is aware of a cat's positive status, the pet can be kept away from other cats thus preventing the spread of the disease. An owner can prepare financially for expected treatments needed for this cat if the owner is aware of the positive test. We feel strongly that testing is very important whenever one obtains a new cat as a pet.

What is a "recombinant vaccine" and is it really better than the other available vaccine types?

For generations, we classified vaccines as either "killed" or "modified live" (see above). With the advent of genetic engineering, there are now new vaccines that do not fit this classification: the "recombinant vaccines." The USDA classifies recombinant vaccines into four groups:

Category I: Subunit Vaccines

Remember that the immune system is stimulated by the shape of a foreign proteins. (One's body knows what protein shapes are natural to its own cells and will attack most other shapes. Unfortunately, some organisms, such the AIDS virus and the feline leukemia virus, have protein shapes which actually turn the host immune system off!) When it comes to designing a vaccine against an organism, one thought is that it is not efficient to use the entire "dead body" of the organism to stimulate the immune system. The idea here is that it would be more efficient to use only the protein shapes that are stimulatory to the immune system. Shapes that might be detrimental could be omitted as could be any neutral shapes.

A subunit vaccine contains only the proteins which stimulate the immune system to attack. By manipulating DNA that codes for these most stimulatory proteins, we can mass produce a purified solution and immunize with only the antigen we want and no extraneous antigens. The Genetivac brand of Feline Leukemia Vaccine (not currently on the market in the U.S.) is an example of a subunit vaccine.

Category II: Gene Deleted Vaccines

The traditional modified live vaccines take the infectious agent and change it chemically or mutationally so that it can still infect the host (and thereby stimulate the immune system) but no symptoms of disease result. The stimulation that results is generally excellent as the immune system is stimulated in exactly the same sequence it would be in a natural infection and currently, modified live vaccination is felt to be far superior in efficacy relative to killed virus vaccination. Concern has been voiced, however, regarding the possibility of live virus reverting to its virulent form.

The Gene Deleted Vaccines address this concern. They are, in a way, modified live vaccines with the modification being that the genes allowing for creating physical illness have been deleted.

Category III: Vectored Virus Vaccines

Here, the DNA for the stimulatory proteins described in the subunit vaccine area is inserted into harmless viruses. The live harmless virus is able to provide a very natural immune stimulation and will express the stimulatory proteins native to a harmful virus. In this method, one gets the benefits of the modified live vaccine with the benefits of the subunit vaccine.

Category IV: Other

At this time there is only one vaccine type in the "other" category: the "naked DNA or RNA" vaccine. Here, DNA from the infectious agent is injected into the host. No proteins. No putting the DNA inside any viruses. Just plain raw DNA.

This DNA is taken up by the local muscle cells and soon the proteins coded for by this DNA are being produced. The immune system thus receives its stimulation without risking exposure to an infectious agent of any kind.

So why are these vaccines better than the traditional ones? The chief benefit seems to be the reduction in vaccine reactions since there are less extraneous proteins to cause unnecessary immune stimulation. This makes vaccination not only safer but less likely to be associated with unpleasant fever or muscle inflammation. With respect to the recombinant rabies vaccine for cats, recombinant technology has allowed this vaccine to be manufactured without "adjuvants." Adjuvants are special chemicals that stabilized "killed" vaccines and are felt by many to be linked to inflammatory vaccine side effects as well as to the development of the vaccine associated fibrosarcoma. Recombinant vaccines represent the very cutting edge of vaccine technology in both veterinary and human medicine.

Can vaccines hurt my pet?

Some muscle soreness, lethargy and mild fever persisting for a day or two are considered common reactions to stimulation of the immune system. Vaccine reactions beyond this are unusual but possible. Allergic reactions characterized usually by facial swelling and hives are a strong sign that special care should be taken in administering vaccinations. Since allergic reactions potentially can become worse with each episode, it is important to take heed of these signs as severe reactions can result in shock or even death.

Can vaccines cause cancer?

The fibrosarcoma is an especially aggressive form of cancer that can affect cats spontaneously or by viral induction via the feline sarcoma virus. Recently, fibrosarcomas have been removed from areas of the body typically used for vaccination and, to the surprise of the veterinary profession, particles of aluminum based vaccine ingredients (called "adjuvants") were discovered within the tumor. The working theory is that vaccination may induce this form of cancer in rare cases (between 1 in 1000 & 1 in 10,000 cats). The killed feline leukemia vaccine and the killed rabies vaccine have been implicated as being more likely to be involved. The problem is definitely not a matter of simply changing to non-aluminum based adjuvants but is more complicated. A list of preventive measures has been issued by most veterinary associations.