Immunizations, or vaccinations, protect our pets from infectious diseases. Dogs and cats (and people!) are susceptible to contagious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungal organisms. By giving vaccinations to protect against these disease-causing agents, we help our pets to increase their immunity. Immunity is security from a particular disease-it may develop from acquiring a disease and then recovering (kind of risky, especially if the disease is usually fatal or has severe side effects), or by being effectively immunized. Several factors contribute to effective immunization: the patient's age, health status, the type of vaccine and how often it is given, and others.

Puppies and kittens (and children) have immature ("weak") immune systems and need a series of vaccinations to protect them from infectious diseases. These vaccinations are best given at two to four week intervals beginning at six to eight weeks of age and continuing until the puppy or kitten is at least four months old. It is also best to limit the young animal's exposure to other dogs/cats during this time and to have visitors wash their hands before handling so as to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Once a puppy or kitten has completed its initial vaccination series, booster vaccinations are given every one to three years, depending on the level of immunity developed along with other factors.

When certain vaccinations are given to an animal for the first time, they need to be followed by one or more booster vaccinations two to four weeks later in order to be most effective.

Currently available vaccines for dogs include: DAP (distemper-hepatitis-adenovirus--parainfluenza-parvovirus), Corona, Bordatella, Lyme, and Rabies. Distemper is a serious and usually fatal disease of the respiratory, intestinal, and nervous systems. Hepatitis is an infectious disease of the liver. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease causing kidney infection. Parainfluenza is a serious respiratory "kennel cough" virus. Parvo is a serious, often fatal, intestinal virus. Adenovirus is a serious respiratory infection. Coronavirus is a contagious disease of the intestinal tract. Bordatella is a bacterial infection, one of the causative agents of kennel cough. Lyme disease is a rickettsia (bacteria-like organism) transmitted by ticks and between animals; it most commonly causes fever, pain and arthritis, and can be transmitted to humans. Rabies is a fatal viral disease of the nervous system; it can be transmitted to humans.

Currently available vaccines for cats include: FVRCP+ (feline viral rhinotracheitis-calicivirus-panleukopenia-chlamydia), FeLV (feline leukemia virus), FIP (feline infectious peritonitis), and rabies. Feline viral rhinotracheitis is a serious respiratory disease of the herpes family which reoccurs with stress. Calici virus is another serious viral respiratory disease which also causes painful ulcers in the mouth. Panleukopenia is a usually fatal viral disease of the intestinal tract and other systems. Chlamydia is an infection of the respiratory system and eyes. Feline leukemia virus causes an infection leading to immune system suppression and anemia; it increases susceptibility to other infections and to cancer, and is usually fatal. Feline infectious peritonitis is a fatal viral disease affecting blood vessels and the nervous system.

The diseases we currently recommend vaccinating all dogs for include DAP, Bordatella, and rabies. Depending on the risk of exposure, Lyme, Leptospirosis and Rattlesnake venom vaccinations are available. The diseases we currently recommend vaccinating cats for include FVRCP, FeLV, and rabies. For indoor only cats, fewer vaccines are recommended as risk of exposure is lower.

Some risks are involved with vaccinations. Most animals will be fine post-vaccination. A few may seem a little lethargic, wanting to sleep more for approximately twenty-four hours after the vaccination. Occasionally an animal may have an allergic reaction, with symptoms ranging from mild (shivering, shaking, perhaps vomiting) to severe (facial swelling, congestion, difficulty breathing). Severe allergic reactions require immediate emergency veterinary attention. Mild reactions may require no treatment but should be noted in the event they reoccur next time with more severity-if so that vaccine should no longer be given!

In addition, some vaccines occasionally cause a firm swelling at the injection site (most often rabies, but occasionally FeLV and others). This is rarely a cause for concern, as this reaction will gradually fade over the course of a few weeks. If the lump is still present two months later, however, it needs to be looked at and possibly biopsied and removed. Very rarely, and in cats in particular, a vaccine injection can cause a tumor to develop. These tumors are called vaccine-associated sarcomas and are very aggressive, rapidly growing cancerous tumors. When they occur, it is most often in middle-aged or older cats that have received annual boosters on a regular basis, although this varies. Rabies and FeLV vaccines are the vaccines implicated in causing this tumor. For this reason, we advocate giving these immunizations less often in adult cats, depending on risk (e.g. every three years instead of every year).

Despite the possible risks and side effects of immunization, they are far outweighed by the benefits. We see far fewer cases of distemper, parvovirus, feline leukemia, etc, than in years past. These cases are heartbreaking as the patients will often die despite lengthy (and expensive) treatment. And although vaccination is not 100% assurance against illness-a small percentage of animals get sick despite immunization, for a variety of reasons-it is far better to prevent illness from occurring than to treat serious diseases after they occur. Call Morena Pet Hospital at 619-275-0888.

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