Why do baby animals need a series of shots, and how many do they need?
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 14-20 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.
In the U.S., 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 so this is not generally done. If a vaccine is licensed by the USDA for annual use, this means it has been tested and found to be protective to at least 80% of the vaccinated animals a year after they have been vaccinated. Some vaccines are licensed for use every three years and have been tested similarly. Do these vaccines last a lifetime? We cannot say that they do without testing and this kind of testing has yet to be performed.
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.
Since the mid-1990’s most veterinary teaching hospitals have restructured their vaccination policies to increase the duration of some vaccines from one year to three years based on independent studies rather than on the studies used by the USDA for vaccine licensing. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has vaccination guidelines for cats living in different exposure situations and the American Animal Hospital Association has guidelines for dogs. These guidelines can be found at:
It is important to realize that these are just guidelines and different regions and different pet lifestyles will justify modifications.
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):
To view the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center Vaccination policy and recommendations click here.
For dogs, core vaccines are the basic distemper shot (DHLPP) and the rabies vaccine. Since dogs do go outside for walks, for grooming, to the vet’s office etc. we recommend vaccine against Kennel Cough for all our canine patients though these are not listed as "core" by the aforementioned organizations.
These terms apply to vaccine against viral infection.
In general, live virus vaccine is preferred as the most thorough immune stimulation will occur with it but there are some circumstances where killed is better. A killed virus vaccine can never revert to virulence, which means there are no circumstances under which the vaccine can produce the disease it is trying to prevent. If the virus in question is particularly deadly (such as rabies), it is not worth taking any chances with a live virus vaccine even for superior immunity.
There are several reasons why a pet might get sick from a disease it is vaccinated against. Not every pet is able to respond to vaccination due to inherent individual immunological issues. Some vaccines are not intended to prevent infection but are intended to blunt the symptoms of the disease should infection occur (as with the feline upper respiratory infections).
In most cases, the pet got sick because of incomplete vaccination. This situation generally involves a puppy that did not finish its puppy series of shots or got exposed to infection before the shot series could be completed. True vaccination breaks are extremely rare but if you think your pet may have experienced one, your veterinarian will need to issue a report to the manufacturer.
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.
If you are looking for a low cost method of vaccination, we suggest a low cost vaccination clinic rather than trying to give vaccine on your own.
Recombinant vaccines represent the very cutting edge of vaccine technology in both veterinary and human medicine. 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." While the USDA recognizes four categories of recombinant vaccines, only the "Vectored Virus" Category is commercially available.
With Vectored Virus vaccines, the viral DNA responsible for stimulating the patient's immune system is cloned into a live harmless virus. The harmless virus is injected into the patient where it travels innocuously within the body stimulating the patient's immune system to respond to the cloned viral DNA. In this way, the benefits of a live vaccine can be realized for a virus that is normally considered too dangerous for a modified live vaccine. Presently, recombinant vaccines are available for feline rabies, feline leukemia, Lyme disease, and canine distemper.
So 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 when compared to killed virus vaccines. Since the virus used in recombinant vaccines is alive, there is no potentially harmful adjuvant included in the product (see below). There is also a zero chance of the vaccine virus reverting to virulence and causing infection.
An adjuvant is a material added to a killed vaccine to assist in the generation of immunity. When a killed vaccine is injected, the body recognizes that a foreign substance is present and begins to break it down and remove it. If this process happens too quickly, the viral proteins will not be present long enough to generate an immunological response. Adjuvants help hold the killed virus in place and stabilize it so that its presence can be prolonged and provide a more complete stimulation of the patient's immune system.
Adjuvants have become controversial in cats especially and may be associated with tumor (especially fibrosarcoma) formation. It appears to be desirable to avoid the use of adjuvanted vaccines in cats.
For more information of the Feline Leukemia Virus click here.
Antibody levels against certain infections can be measured in a patient's blood sample. These antibody levels are called "titers." The idea is to measure a titer and determine whether or not a patient is protected against the infection in question so that unnecessary vaccination can be avoided. There is some controversy associated with this procedure:
Titering is available at many hospitals and if you are concerned about whether your pet is already protected, you should ask your veterinarian about titering.
Some muscle soreness, lethargy and mild fever persisting for a day or two are considered common (normal) 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. Vomiting can be a sign of impending shock and should be taken seriously after vaccination. 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
Click here for more information on allergic reactions to vaccines.
Another reaction that has received tremendous press lately is the vaccine-induced fibrosarcoma, a form of cancer in the cat. See the next question.
Click here for more information on this problem.
As mentioned, in the mid-1990’s recommendations for annual canine distemper and feline distemper vaccination shifted to every three years for these vaccines. The reason for this is not that annual vaccination was found to be harmful; it simply became accepted as unnecessary.
Many people have speculated that annual vaccination is responsible for cancer, immune-mediated diseases, kidney disease, and most common ailments of senior dogs and cats. So far, there is no clear evidence that annual vaccination has increased the incidence of any specific health problems.
Vaccination is an important part of a pet's health and it is should not be skipped over. If cost is a problem there are several approaches one may take but each has advantages and disadvantages.
OPTION ONE: Omit the Examination and Choose Vaccination Only
Prices vary tremendously from veterinarian to veterinarian. Some veterinarians are not comfortable administering vaccinations without completely examining the pet first. Others allow you the option of coming in for "vaccination only." Obviously, an exam at least annually is of crucial importance to an elderly pet or a pet with a known history of illness and you never know when your veterinarian will pick up an important finding but if money is tight, skipping the exam is an option. In some states, "vaccination only" is not an option or there may be restrictions.
OPTION TWO: Vaccinating Your Pets Yourself
In most states, vaccines are available over-the-counter at the regular pharmacy at substantial savings. Of course, this presupposes that you know how to administer the subcutaneous needle and that you are comfortable disposing of the the syringe. Many people find it worth it to pay more for a trained professional to administer the shot but if you have the training, this is an option that can save you money.
OPTION THREE: Vaccination Clinic
These clinics are springing up everywhere to provide streamlined "shots only" service. These clinics may be mobile (traveling monthly or weekly to your local feed or pet supply store) or may be located in your own regular veterinarian's office. Here are some tips on what to look for in a clinic:
The Mar Vista Animal Medical Center is committed to preventive medicine for all patients. We follow the most up to date recommendations and use the highest quality vaccine products.
We have a low-cost vaccination clinic every Sunday from 9 AM to 11 AM. We wish all pets everywhere excellent preventive care at a reasonable cost.
Page last updated: 6/30/2016