Vaccines are laboratory prepared substances acquired from killed or weakened forms of a causative agent of disease for the purpose of building the immunity of the body against infectious diseases. Puppies or kittens acquire passive immunity through lactation from the mother’s milk as well through the placenta. With time this immunity decreases and vaccinations are necessary to build the bodies immunity (active immunity). Most of the diseases vaccinated against are incurable, highly infectious and often lead to death.

Vaccinations can be categorized as core and non core vaccines. Core vaccinations are normally administered to dogs and puppies with no known vaccination history against diseases that are known to cause high morbidity and mortality and are very infectious. They are incurable and often lead to death. Non core vaccines on the other hand are highly treatable and often administered to pets according to their lifestyle and geographical location.

Canine Vaccinations

According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) vaccine guidelines the core vaccinations to be given to dogs include:

Rabies is a viral disease transmissible to humans. It causes neurological signs in all warm blooded animals and is incurable. It affects the nervous system leading to symptoms such as hallucinations, hydrophobia, hypersalivation, anxiety, paralysis and death. It is transmitted through saliva from a bite of an infected animal.

Canine distemper (CD) and is a multisystemic (affects the respiratory, nervous and gastrointestinal systems) viral disease passed from one dog to another through direct contact with fresh urine, blood, saliva, sputum or sharing feeding bowls. It progresses quickly to the brain causing seizures once infection has set in. Other common symptoms include discharges from eyes and nose, fever, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, paralysis and ultimately death.

Canine hepatitis  (CAV-2) is an acute liver infection caused by the adenovirus type 2. It’s transmitted through urine, feces, blood, saliva and nasal discharges from infected dogs. There is no known cure. Infected dogs are treated symptomatically.

Canine parvovirus (CPV) is an infectious disease characterized by odorous bloody diarrhea. It is fatal in puppies and spreads through the fecal oral route. It mostly affects unvaccinated puppies less than 4 months old. It attacks the gastrointestinal system causing bloody diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite and dehydration. Death occurs within 48 to 72 hours. It is incurable and symptomatic treatment is usually advised. It spreads quickly and can cause death in a whole litter of puppies.

The vaccination schedule for the above diseases is as follows:

6-8 weeks – CP

9-11 weeks – CP, CD, CAV-2

12 weeks – CP, CD, CAV- 2, Rabies

16 weeks –

CP, CD, CAV- 2, Rabies

Booster vaccine should be given between 6 month to 1 year of age and revaccination after  3 years for CP, CAV-2 and CD. Rabies should be boosted once annually.

Dogs with unknown vaccination history should receive 2 doses 3 to 4 weeks apart of CP, CD, CAV-2 and a single dose of the rabies vaccine.

Non core vaccines are administered in dogs depending on their lifestyle and geographical location. They are self limiting and are easily treatable. These include:

  • Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi): It is spread by the deer tick common in the East Coast of the United States especially in outdoor dogs. It causes fever, swollen joints, loss of appetite, lameness and lethargy. It is also transmissible to humans.
  • Canine parainfluenza: This constitutes the canine kennel cough complex. It is spread through direct contact, nasal secretions and sharing of infected feeding bowls. It affects the respiratory system. Common symptoms include coughing, nasal discharge, loss of appetite and lethargy.
  • Leptospirosis: Caused by a bacteria called leptospira and is spread by rodents. It causes inflammation of the kidneys and at times affects the liver and the respiratory system. The bacteria is found in soil and water in warm to hot climates. Dogs that spend a lot of time in water or around rodent are prone this disease and should therefore be vaccinated.

Other canine vaccines such as Canine Enteric Coronavirus , canine adenovirus-1, and rattlesnake envenomation are usually not recommended. They have little clinical significance offering minimal protection, can cause adverse effects and are readily treatable.

Feline Vaccinations

Core vaccinations

These include:

  • Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV1)
  • Feline Calicivirus
  • Feline Panleukopenia Virus Vaccines
  • Feline Leukemia Virus Vaccine
  • Rabies virus vaccine

Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV1), Feline Calicivirus and Feline Panleukopenia Virus Vaccines should be administered parenterally to kittens as from 6 to 8 weeks of age every 3 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. Cats over 16 weeks of age should be  given 2 doses the same vaccines 3 to 4 weeks apart and a booster shot given at one year of age. Thereafter revaccination is recommended three years later.

Rabies on the other hand should be administered between 12 to 16 weeks of age. In adult cats with no known vaccination history, a single dose of the vaccine should be administered. Killed vaccines should be boosted at one year of age and thereafter revaccinated at 3 years of age. Recombinant vaccines on the other hand should be boosted once annually.

The Feline Leukemia Virus Vaccine is normally administered in FeLV negative kittens and adult outdoor cats which may be exposed to cats with no known vaccination history.  Vaccinations are carried out in 3 to 4 week intervals until 16 weeks of age. Thereafter boosters are given annually in recombinant vaccines or after three years in inactivated or killed vaccines. Adult cats naturally acquire resistance to infection after 16 weeks of age.

Feline non core vaccines include:

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Vaccine : Does not offer complete protection and only recommended for outdoor cats.
  • Feline Chlamydia felis Vaccine: offers short term and incomplete immunity. Recommended in areas where the disease is endemic.
  • Feline Bordetella bronchiseptica Vaccine: recommended in young kittens especially those in large multiple cat populations.