Importance of vaccinations

Guess what August is? National Immunization Awareness Month! Is there any better time than now to discuss vaccines?! I think not!! Okay, I’m done with the exclamation points. I just get really excited about immunizations. I mean, what could be greater than having a little injection that can eradicate a deadly disease or lessen the severity of a highly contagious illness? Not much and that makes for a very short list, my friend. Today’s blog will discuss: why your pet(s) need to be vaccinated (even indoor-only pets), risks from vaccines, what to expect after vaccines and Mountain View Veterinary Services vaccine schedule.

Before I really get into discussing vaccinations, I want point out that the diseases and illnesses that vaccines cover can include viruses that can pass directly from one animal to another (i.e. Parvo, distemper, Rabies) and bacterial infections from intermediate hosts to your pet (i.e. Lyme Disease and Leptospirosis).

A disease caused by a viral infection can be made into a vaccine in one of two ways: modified-live or killed.  A modified-live vaccine uses a virus that has been modified to stimulate the immune system but not result in infection. This creates a more thorough immunity but the vaccine can produce the disease it is trying to prevent. A killed vaccine uses large amounts of dead virus to stimulate the immune system. If the virus in question is particularly deadly (such as rabies), it is not worth taking any chances with a live virus vaccine.

When a puppy or kitten is born, its immune system has not had a chance to mature. The baby is susceptible to many different types of infections. While it is true that the baby does receive some antibodies from the mother, there are a lot of variables that can plays a role in the young one’s life. Here is a list of some of those variables:

  • Was the mother ever vaccinated
  • Birth order
  • How well they nursed (especially within the first 24 hours after birth)

Maternal antibodies don’t stay in the offspring’s system for very long. Between 14-20 weeks of age, the mother’s antibodies dissipate and the offspring has to work on its own immunity. That is where vaccinations can help boost their immune system. We recommend puppies start their DAP (canine distemper, hepatitis, adenovirus and parvovirus) vaccine at 8 weeks of age, and then they will need vaccinated again at 12 and 16 weeks of age. Kittens will have the same age schedule with the FVRCP (feline rhinotracheitis virus, calicivirus and panleukopenia) vaccine. Due to each individual’s immune system, we start at 8 weeks of age to gain some early protection for those whose immunity ends at a younger age. Even adult animals who we have no known vaccine history, we recommend they receive their first vaccine along with a booster. This is to make sure the body has produced enough of an immune response to the vaccine. Vaccine “boosters” (the second or third vaccine in a series) need to be done 3-4 weeks apart because if it is given too soon, the body hasn’t had enough time to properly respond to the first vaccine and if given too long after the first vaccine the series needs to be restarted to ensure proper levels of immunization. You should not vaccinate a pregnant pet using a modified live vaccine. If a pregnant pet is vaccinated, it can lead to birth defects and/or abortion of fetuses.

Vaccinations are divided into “core” vaccines that every pet should have, and “non-core” vaccines that a pet should have depending on exposure risk.

For dogs and cats, their core vaccines are DAP (for dogs) / FVRCP (for cats) and the Rabies vaccine. The Rabies vaccine is required by law at 12 weeks of age. Here at MVVS, the first series of DAP/FVRCP vaccines and first Rabies vaccine is good for one year. If you keep up to date with their vaccines, the remaining vaccines will be good for three years due to the concentration of antibodies (or titers) in their system. Indoor only cats need to be vaccinated against rabies due to… 1. it is the law and 2. wild animals that could have rabies (such as bats, raccoons and other cats) that could potentially get into your home. Even the droppings (feces) of rabid animals can transmit Rabies to whatever mammal comes in contact with it. Since Rabies is a completely fatal disease, it is best to protect your furry friends. According to PA Dept of Health, July 2016 had 12 confirmed cases of Rabies in Franklin and Cumberland counties. Of those confirmed cases, these animals were raccoon, cats, bat, skunk, fox, groundhog and cows. All of Pennsylvania has seen an increase in Rabies over the past two years.

Another disease that Pennsylvania is continuing to see a rise is Lyme disease. That is why we highly recommend our dog patients receive Lyme vaccines. Puppies will have their Lyme vaccine series start at 16 weeks of age and will need a booster in 4 weeks. After this initial series, it is boostered every year.

Beyond those vaccines, Mountain View Veterinary Services will make other vaccine recommendations based on an individual pet’s needs and lifestyle. For cats that go outside or live with feline leukemia positive cat, we recommend the Feline Leukemia vaccine. Kittens at 16 weeks of age can receive their first vaccine and will need a booster in 3-4 weeks. Before cats receive the feline leukemia vaccine, they should be tested for the disease. For dogs that go to the groomers, go to the dog park, kennel or doggie daycare, we recommend the Bordetella vaccine. The Bordetella vaccine helps protect against kennel cough (a highly contagious upper respiratory infection). A lot of groomers, kennel facilities and doggie daycare facilities require the Bordetella vaccine. Bordetella can be given either every 6 months or yearly. For dogs that go hunting, camping, hiking and swim in ponds, we recommend a Leptospirosis vaccine. Puppies at 12 weeks of age can receive the Lepto vaccine and will need a booster in 3-4 weeks. The feline Leukemia vaccine, Lyme vaccine, Bordetella and Lepto vaccine are all considered 1 year vaccines.

It is important to realize that not every vaccine will be 100% in the prevention against the disease it is being vaccinated against. Part of this is due to the individual’s own immune system and the strain of virus that has affected the pet. Just like when you receive a flu shot, sometimes it works better than others.

Some common reactions after a vaccine can include:

  • Muscle soreness
  • Lethargy
  • Mild fever
  • Decrease appetite

Rare allergic reactions can happen with symptoms such as:

  • Facial swelling
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing

If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to give us a call. The rare allergic reactions should be seen by a veterinarian. We will make a special notation in their records and take the precautions they need when getting updated on their vaccines. For the mild cases, we suggest giving a certain antihistamine about 20 minutes before the vaccine is given.

A concern for feline owners is vaccine-induced Fibrosarcoma.

It is a form of cancer in the skin and subcutaneous connective tissue at the injection sites. Fibrosarcoma incidence is extremely rare. Different studies report an incidence between 1 in1,000 to 1 in 10,000 vaccines administered. Just like other forms of cancer, the reason why a particular pet develops this cancer is unknown. There are some indications that killed virus vaccines have a higher risk of incidence.

Remember, there are some concerns when a pet receives a vaccination but the life-threatening diseases and the huge expenses if they were to develop a disease far outweighs the mild reactions that can occur.

If you would like to know more information on any diseases that were discussed in this blog or would like to schedule vaccines for your pet, please contact our office at 717-477-8938 or


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