Dr. Lauren Dell, The Cat Vet of Hebron
After reading the popular press and animal health websites, many pet owners have questions about vaccines. We welcome your questions.
Q: Why do puppies and kittens need a whole series of shots?
A: The vaccine contains either a weak version of the bacteria or virus or key pieces of it to teach the immune system how to sniff out the enemy. The goal of the vaccine series is to educate the immune system to respond rapidly when exposed to germs and either fight them off completely or suffer only a much milder illness. A kitten gets temporary antibodies from momma that lasts a few months, but it doesn’t develop the ability to make its own until between 6 to 12 weeks of age. Repeated booster 2 to 3 weeks apart serve as critical “review sessions.”
Q: Why does my pet need a physical every time she gets her shots?
A: A sick patient’s immune system is already on the job and doesn’t need any distractions or extra chores. Some vaccines can make a sick animal a lot sicker. Others will merely fail to produce the desired immunity. In young animals, well pet physicals ensure your pet is reaching developmental mile-stones. A lot can change in 3 weeks.
Q: Haven’t we wiped out those contagious diseases? Why are we still vaccinating inside pets?
A: In the twentieth century, vaccinations brought countless epidemics under control, but we still regularly see cases of feline upper respiratory viruses and feline leukemia. Many diseases do not require direct contact with a sick animal but are caused by hearty viruses and bacterial that can be carried inside on people’s clothing and traveling insects like fleas.
Q: Why do adult pets need vaccines when people only get childhood shots?
A: Childhood vaccines are given to such a high percentage of the population in the US that we do not suffer epidemics of diseases such as typhus. However, adults travelling abroad need boosters. A large percentage of cats, including strays, are not vaccinated, so the most common contagious diseases continue to circulate. The feline leukemia vaccine is proven to absolutely require annual boostering to provide protection. While there are blood tests to measure antibody levels, there is no guarantee that the arbitrary level set by any given laboratory is protective and the tests are much more expensive than the vaccines.
Q: Isn’t my cat too old for vaccines?
A: Actually geriatric pets probably need vaccines more than healthy middle aged ones do. As your pet ages, the physical defenses against germs in the skin, airways, and digestive system become weaker. At the same time the production of antibodies is less efficient. It is human seniors who need vaccination against pneumonia and flu. Some people are afraid that a vaccination will overwhelm a geriatric pet. Our senior screening lab testing takes the guesswork out and gives us the data to make informed medical decisions for each individual.
Vaccines can have complications, including soreness, allergic reactions, and very rare problems like autoimmune disease and tumors (1 in 10,000 to 100,000 cats.) Unfortunately the diseases against which we vaccinate are very common. We will continue our policy of tailoring our recommendations to each individual pet’s needs.
Our recommendations conform to the American Association of Feline Practitioner’s Guidelines.