Pet Connection: Vaccinations can protect your pet, the animal community

In case you’ve been on a deserted island for the past few months, vaccinations are in the news. Fearing vaccine-related reactions or other concerns, some people are leery not only of vaccinating their children against preventable illnesses, but also their pets.

Protecting against something you’ve never seen can be a difficult concept for both pet owners and veterinarians. Many veterinarians (and probably 90 percent of vet techs) who have graduated in the past 10 to 20 years have never seen a case of canine distemper.

For the pet owner who has also never seen or known a dog with the disease, it’s easy to begin to believe the threat doesn’t exist, isn’t serious or is overblown. Those of us who have been practicing longer (35 years, in my case) have seen the green discharge from the eyes and nose, the hardening footpads, the neurological signs and death. Many deaths.

We know this invisible and now infrequent killer can gain ground quickly in a community of dogs that are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated and kill indiscriminately and grotesquely. Distemper and parvo outbreaks occur in shelters across the country every week because approximately half of the dogs coming in have never been vaccinated.

For 35 years I’ve told pet owners, if you love your dog or cat specifically, and dogs and cats in general, you’ll get your pets vaccinated not only to give them potentially life-saving protection, but also to put an invisible blanket of protection over the whole pet community.

That doesn’t mean your pet needs every vaccination out there. Your pet’s vaccination program should be individualized, based on factors such as his age, health, medical history, lifestyle (is he a homebody or does he go to dog parks or cat or dog shows?), and the prevalence of disease in your locale. Here’s what you should know:

▪  Dogs and cats should receive core vaccines – those that protect against the most common and most serious diseases. In dogs, core vaccines are distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis and rabies. In cats, they are panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus) and rabies, as required by law.

▪ For a minimal vaccine program, veterinary immunology expert Ronald D. Schultz recommends a first vaccination no earlier than 8 to 10 weeks of age (6 weeks for shelter animals), followed by one or two more doses, the last when the animal is 14 to 16 weeks or older. Get a titer test two or more weeks after the final vaccination to make sure the immune system has responded to the vaccines.

▪  At one year, your pet can receive a booster vaccination or titer to ensure he has antibodies to disease. Then you can simply do titers every three years for the rest of the animal’s life and revaccinate as needed, or you can revaccinate every three years for the rest of the animal’s life.

▪  In dogs, give non-core vaccines, such as those for leptospirosis or giardia, only if your pet is at high risk of the disease. The coronavirus vaccine is not recommended by the current guidelines. In cats, vaccines with little or no efficacy include those for feline infectious peritonitis, feline immunodeficiency virus, virulent calicivirus and bordetella. Alice Wolf, an internal medicine specialist and professor of small-animal medicine at Texas A&M University, advises against giving those vaccines to cats.

▪  Some animals are more at risk of vaccine reactions than others. They include certain breeds, such as akitas, American cocker spaniels, American Eskimo dogs, Great Danes and Weimaraners; young puppies or kittens who are stressed from being transported to new environments; animals who are sick or have a fever; animals with white coats and pink noses or with dilute coat colors; and small dogs in general. Talk to your veterinarian about ways to reduce the risks.

The buzz

News about cats has been fodder for journalists for more than 140 years. University of Illinois journalism professor Matthew C. Ehrlich, intrigued by New York Times articles on cute cat videos and cats and wildlife interactions, decided to dig deeper into the cultural history of cats in journalism, specifically in the paper that publishes “all the news that’s fit to print.” He found nearly 700 articles, from the 1870s to the present, portraying cats as commodities, heroes, villains, victims, women’s best friends and urban symbols. The stories, he suggests, are more than fluff, offering insights into our evolving relationships with animals.

▪  Sometimes it’s good to think inside the box. In a study published in the November 2014 issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Dutch veterinarian Claudia Vinke of Utrecht University in the Netherlands reported that newly arrived cats who were provided boxes to hide in at a shelter had significantly decreased stress levels, adjusted more quickly to their new surroundings and were more interested in meeting people.

▪  Ever think that maybe you’re just a little neurotic when it comes to caring for your pets? Turns out that could actually be good for them, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, and California State University, East Bay. “Helicopter” pet owners tend to be highly conscientious and enjoy close relationships with their animals.

Kim Campbell Thornton

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books.