Vaccinations for Our Dogs and Cats: Yes or No?

by Barbara Murray
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Adequate vaccinations are vitally important for the health of puppies and kittens. This is one action we can take to insure that each tiny animal has the best protection possible against illness and disease as well as prevent the spread of several potentially fatal diseases among our furry friends. However, after our tiny ones become adult cats and dogs, I'm not so sure about all this. Anyway, read on.

Puppies and Dogs
Not all puppies need the same vaccinations. Where you live is a factor in what your puppy will need. Your veterinarian knows which ones are necessary and which ones are optional and can explain this in detail. However, several necessary vaccinations are needed on schedule regardless of your geographical location.

A veterinarian holds a puppy in the exam room.A simple and recommended schedule to follow is to have your pup receive the first of the core vaccinations at six weeks of age and then let the vet's office determine the proper schedule to follow. The first vaccinations puppies need are for distemper, measles and parainfluenza. At 10-12 weeks of age, the DHPP combination vaccination should begin. DHPP stands for distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus. You puppy will need two more vaccinations for DHPP, scheduled from the time of the first one and then possibly a booster every one to two years depending on what your vet recommends for your area.

The first rabies vaccination should be given between the 12th and 24th week of life. Another rabies shot at approximately one year of age is recommended and then additional regular rabies shots every one to three years for the life of your dog. How often rabies shots are required also depends on local laws. Different areas have different regulations. You will need to learn what's appropriate for your area.

Talk with your vet about optional vaccinations for bordetella, coronavirus, leptospirosis, and Lyme disease, because if these are needed or wanted, the first bordetella vaccine should be given at six to eight weeks of age. Bordetella is the main cause of kennel cough and has known to be fatal.

Remember too, that your puppy will need protection from heartworm disease. Although, there is no vaccination against this condition, there are preventive medications available. Read our article on heartworm prevention and talk with your vet about the risks. You can start preventive meds when your puppy is around 12 to 16 weeks of age, if you so choose. Be aware that some preventative medications cause great harm if heartworm disease is already present.

In the veterinarian world, there is no consensus on what vaccinations adult dogs need. Some vets think unnecessary vaccinations cause more harm than good. Others think annual vaccinations are a must. If you think that too many vaccinations are risky, a titer test is one option. This test measures your dog's immunity levels against various diseases to see if a booster is required. Your vet can explain these in more detail.

Kittens and Cats
Kittens need the first vaccination at age six weeks. This is a combination vaccine to help prevent calicivirus, feline distemper and rhinotracheitis. This combination vaccine is the first in a series that should be given on the schedule recommended by your vet, typically, again at 12 and 16 weeks of age.

A veterinarian vaccinates an unhappy kittenWhether or not annual adult boosters are given depends on the environment in which your cat lives, the breed and age of the cat, your vet's recommendations, local laws, and your personal requirements. For example, all cats at risk of exposure to feline leukemia virus should receive the FeLV vaccination. Any cat that goes outside needs up-to-date rabies shots at all times. Discuss these with your vet based on the day-to-day activities of your cat. For example, if your cat does not and cannot get outdoors, your vet may recommend fewer vaccinations. However, be aware that at some time an open door may lure your cat out before you have time to react. It happens all the time to cat owners. Sometimes it days before the pet returns.

Vaccinating adult cats every three years against calicivirus, feline distemper and rhinotracheitis is the recommendation of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. However, the AAFP also recommends that you follow the advice of your own vet as she or he knows the risks in your local area much better. Cats at high risks for these diseases may need the annual boosters also.

Deciding for Your Pets
Catherine O'Driscoll, founder of Canine Health Concern, is a strong advocate for the "no vaccination" way when it comes to dogs. Writing for Dog Naturally Magazine, she sites numerous articles published in scholarly and scientific journals that warn of serious life-threatening disease and illness resulting from vaccinations.

Conversely, organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, along with many others advocate for vaccinations.

The American Kennel Club, the Humane Society of the United States, and the ASPCA offer valuable information to pet owners without taking one side or the other. For example, the Humane Society of the United States advocates strongly for rabies vaccinations for community cats and also offers information on sarcoma in cats resulting from standard vaccinations. In other words, the organization offers a ton of educational materials and lets the reader decide.

The only advice I can offer is to discuss your options with a veterinarian you trust if you're having trouble making a decision one way or the other. Forget the personal opinions of others as a source for finding out what your pet needs. Do your research, trust your instincts and talk with a professional that knows your pets personally.

In my opinion, it's a personal decision each pet owner must make. I can say from my own experience, if you see one puppy die from parvo, you'll be a parvovirus vaccine advocate the rest of your life. Rabies vaccinations -- always, annual boosters and such I'm not so sure about. I think the titer test is the way to go.

What do you think about vaccines for cats and dogs?

NOTE: You can post comments on my Facebook page. The conversation started immediately after this article went live with strong for and against opinions. Join in.


Additional References:
American Kennel Club: First-Year Puppy Vaccinations; A Complete Guide
ASPCA: Vaccinations for Your Pet
Pet Education: Vaccines and Vaccination Schedule for Cats and Kittens