As our veterinary professors wisely taught us, a thorough physical examination is the foundation of good medicine. We use our knowledge and experience to look, listen, and touch in order to gain insight into your pet’s health. (Thank you Dr. Francis Fox)
We perform as thorough an examination of your pet as he or she will allow, checking all body areas for problems. For puppies and kittens, monthly exams during first few months of life look for normal growth and development. We’ll administer vaccines and parasite preventatives based on your pet’s risks and lifestyle.
For adult and aging pets, we look for signs like joint pain, dental disease, lumps and bumps, internal organ function, and mental function that may need some help for improved quality and length of life. Laboratory tests and/or imaging with X-rays and ultrasound may help to uncover and define problem areas better. We’ll discuss parasite prevention and ways for your pet to remain healthy. We’ll teach you about any medical conditions so that you can make wise choices concerning your pet’s well-being. And we’ll always try our best to answer all your questions.
Vaccinations work to prevent disease by exposing your pet’s immune system to a very weakened form of the disease. Your pet’s immune system will fight off the disease by forming cells and antibodies that will remember the disease organism and how to defeat it before it has a chance to make your pet sick. In almost all cases, your pet will not develop signs of illness from the vaccine. Booster vaccinations are like repeated infections given to remind the immune system of the disease, stimulating your pet’s immune system to clear the disease organism once again.
Rarely, a booster vaccination may cause an undesired immune reaction. Some reactions include anaphylactic shock or allergic reactions, or the vaccination may make existing immune diseases–like allergies–worse. Very rarely, they may cause life-threatening blood disorders or even malignant tumors at the site of injection.
Research and clinical experience has shown that annual vaccinations for our adult pets are no longer necessary or wise. Extending the intervals between immunizations for common diseases is more prudent and may help to reduce the risk of vaccine-associated conditions and reactions.
Our recommendations for pets living in our geographic location are as follows.
All puppies should receive vaccinations for Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvo, (DHPP) and Rabies. Ideally DHPP given at 8, 12, and 16 weeks, and Rabies given between 12 and 16 weeks, with both repeated one year later. The most important booster is the 16 week DHPP and Rabies vaccinations. (Dogs 12 weeks or older with no vaccine history should receive two DHPP vaccinations four weeks apart and one Rabies vaccine).
All kittens should receive vaccinations for Panleukopenia (feline distemper), Herpes and Calici virus (FVRCP) and Rabies. Ideally FVRCP given at 8, 12, and 16 weeks, and Rabies given between 12 and 16 weeks, with both repeated one year later. The most important booster is the 16 week FVRCP and Rabies vaccinations. (Cats 12 weeks or older with no vaccine history should receive two FVRCP’s four weeks apart and one Rabies vaccine). Kittens who will be outdoors or reasonably expected to escape outside should receive two doses of feline leukemia vaccine, 12 and 16 weeks.
Adolescent dogs and cats (one to two years old) should receive a single booster of their juvenile vaccines.
Adult dogs and cats vaccinated according to the above protocol generally maintain protective immunity against those diseases for at least three years and more often 5 to 7 years. A blood test (= vaccine titer) can measure the amount of antibodies circulating in your pet’s bloodstream and help to determine the need for booster vaccinations. We recommend a titer test three years after the adolescent vaccine, then periodically afterward depending on the results. We then give specific boosters for only the low- or negative-titer diseases. If titers are not performed, then boosters are given every three years or at the discretion of the owner and doctor together based on lifestyle and risk. Rabies vaccination is required by NYS law every three years regardless of titer results unless there is an overwhelming medical reason not to vaccinate.
Additionally, adult cats retain lifetime immunity to panleukopenia (distemper) if vaccinated as a kitten and adolescent, and may only require herpes and calici virus boosters (FVRC) every three years or as determined by titers and/or lifestyle and risk. Feline leukemia vaccine is recommended annually for all young cats. and every 3 years for older outdoor cats.
Other non-core vaccines such as Bordetella (kennel cough), Lyme, and Leptospirosis for dogs may be given annually based on lifestyle and risk.
The only vaccine required by law is Rabies.
For more information, log on to www.dvmvac.com . Dr. Ford is a professor of veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University and sits on the American Animal Hospital Association’s vaccine task force.