Have you ever wondered how vaccines work and/or why our puppies and kittens require a series of shots? A puppy or kitten will have frequent vaccination visits during the first few months of their life and for some owners this process can seem tedious. Here is a breakdown of why these vaccine visits are so important for the health of your pet.
While nursing, puppies and kittens receive natural immunity from their mother in the form of maternal antibodies. These antibodies circulate in the blood and protect them from viral and bacterial attack while their own immune system is developing. However, these maternal antibodies also interfere with the vaccine’s ability to activate the immune system. As your puppy/kitten ages, these maternal antibody levels decline, making it possible for the vaccines to stimulate a protective response from their own immune system. By 6 weeks of age, 25% of puppies have a strong immune response to vaccinations, and by 14 to 16 weeks of age the maternal antibodies have fallen enough to allow a full immune response in 90% of puppies.1 For this reason it is vitally important to repeat vaccinations for puppies/kittens every 3-4 weeks through 16 weeks of age to ensure that their immune system is properly activated. The following chart is a helpful visual representation of this process. 2
Since vaccines are designed to offer your pet the best protection against environmental attack you may wonder why some pets receive vaccines that others don’t. Vaccines are generally divided into two categories: core and non-core. Core vaccines are intended to protect your pet against diseases that are widespread in the area in which you live and are easily transmitted. At Columbia Animal Clinic core vaccines for our canine patients include: Rabies, Parvovirus, Adenovirus, Leptospirosis, and Distemper while Rabies, Herpesvirus, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia virus make up core vaccines for our feline patients.
Non-core, or lifestyle vaccines, protect against disease(s) your pet may become exposed to as a result of their routine, such as boarding, grooming, or traveling. Lifestyle vaccines for our canine patients include Bordetella, Influenza, and Lymes and Leukemia for our feline patients. The best way to decide which lifestyle vaccines are right for your pet is to speak with your veterinarian. They will walk you through a lifestyle risk assessment designed to determine your pet’s exposure risk. An example of such a risk assessment can be found HERE.
Once your puppy or kitten is finished with their vaccine series please do not assume that they are protected for life. Vaccine boosters will be needed at regular intervals throughout their life to maintain optimum protection. Your veterinarian will inform you of the booster schedule and answer any questions you may have. The ultimate goal is to build off of the foundation provided by the initial vaccine series and ensure your pet is well protected throughout their life.
Carol Hudecek, LVT- Columbia Animal Clinic