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Posted on 12-30-2015

Vaccines are often a hot bed of discussion these days: usually on the human side of the medical field, but certainly veterinary staff members often hear a lot of questions about why we continue to recommend vaccines be administered.

We often hear "my pet doesn't need vaccines, it doesn't go anywhere". It's hard to find a pet why truly does not go anywhere, especially dogs. And, even if they're homebodies, they are often exposed to other pets through fences or from visitors to the house. Infectious diseases often live in non-living objects (think of the flu virus hanging out on a door handle, Parvo does the same thing on shoes). Another challenge we face is that we over vaccinate animals. Vaccine protocols are tailored to the individual needs of patients. It may seem that all animals get vaccines all the time, but in fact animals of different ages receive vaccines at different intervals. The intervals are setup in different ways.

Rabies vaccine intervals are always determined by state, county, or city government officials who then tell veterinarians how often to give rabies vaccines to our patients. Rabies vaccines are required by law in Montana to be administered to dogs and cats (even indoor only pets). The importance of not having people contract rabies from pets cannot be understated (as rabies is nearly universally fatal), which is why by and large, except in medically exempt cases, we cannot decide not to give this vaccine to your dog or cat.

There are other vaccines which the veterinary community determines to be what we call "core" vaccines. These vaccines protect your pet against diseases likely to cause significant risk of death, or severe illness which can be detrimental to your pet's long term health and your wallet. In dogs, this would be the DHPP vaccine: Distemper-Hepatitis-Parainfluenza-Parvo. In cats this is called FVRCPC vaccine: Viral rhinotracheitis-calici virus-panleukopenia-chlamydia. These diseases are considered common place in the environment, long lasting in environments, and potentially deadly. In puppies and kittens, much like in children, a series of vaccines is given to protect against these diseases. Once animals are older, it's widely acknowledged that our immune system strengthens and these vaccines are not given as often. Unfortunately, as we become even older, our immunity wanes, so we don't necessarily stop giving vaccines due to age as a blanket policy. In addition, most of the diseases we are trying to prevent are easily transmissible from pet to pet, last long periods of time in the environment, and can be carried without signs in vaccinated pets but shed into the environment to make un-vaccinated animals ill.

Other vaccines that are important considerations are vaccines for Feline Leukemia virus (FeLV) in cats, and Kennel Cough vaccine in dogs. FeLV is an easily transmitted virus in cats that leads to chronic suppression of the immune system, infections, and cancers in cats. Any cat in contact with other cats should get this vaccine each year. It is not known if the immunity provided by the vaccine lasts longer than a year, therefore until research is provided that it lasts longer we do recommend annual vaccines. The only cats who should not have this done would be those who live exclusively indoors, and are never for any reason exposed to other cats. Kennel cough in dogs is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection that rarely causes serious issues, but the near constant coughing can cause serious sleep deprivation and throat irritation. Any dog in contact with other dogs, even if it's just through a fence should keep this vaccine up to date. The vaccine is not a viral vaccine, so its immunity is not long lasting.

There are plenty of sources out there that will offer advice on vaccinations in one direction or another. The only source that should be genuinely trusted is a licensed veterinarian who is familiar with your pet's health and history and can help you make educated and often legal decisions about the vaccines that are best for your pet.

Dr. Dawn

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