Why should I vaccinate my dog for Rabies when I keep him inside all the time? Why should I vaccinate my cat for distemper when I keep her inside all the time? Will the sun continue to come up in the east if I’m late getting my pet in for booster vaccinations?
Great questions! So let’s talk about the practical side of vaccinations.
Vaccinations are different than antibiotics. We use antibiotics to treat a current infection. They take effect immediately. We use vaccinations to prevent a health problem from occurring. Giving a vaccination stimulates the immune system to increase your pet’s immunity against that disease, and it takes 2-6 weeks for that “building up” of the immune system. So vaccines do not take effect immediately.
Remember that there are two main things that determine if your pet will get sick when exposed to a disease. The first is the level of immunity that her body has against that disease. The second is the size of the dose of virus or bacteria that she is exposed to.
If your pet has a medium level of immunity to a disease, and is exposed to a small dose, she will not get sick. If she has a medium level of immunity and is exposed to a large dose then that large dose can overcome her immunity leading to illness.
For most of our patients, vaccinating moves their immunity from the “medium level” to a “high level”. As time passes their immunity drops, until the next year when the booster vaccination bumps it back up to a high level again. So the longer an owner waits after their pet is due for vaccinations, the lower their immunity drops, and the easier it is for them to get sick after being exposed to even a small dose.
So now let’s tackle some of those good questions!
Why should I vaccinate my pet when I keep her inside all the time?
Let’s cover this question for cats first. Feline Distemper is another name for the upper respiratory infections that cause sneezing, runny nose and eyes, and loss of appetite in cats. It is VERY contagious, which means that it is easily spread and a small dose can cause disease. It’s most commonly spread when cats sneeze in each other’s faces. But these organisms can live for a short period of time on surfaces like food/water bowls or even our clothes. So although cats that are indoor all the time are not exposed to other cats that may be infected, they do have access to people or things that may have been contaminated by an infected cat and then brought into the house. I have unvaccinated indoor cats that get these upper respiratory diseases.
The same logic applies to dogs and their Distemper/parvo vaccinations. The most common issue that we are vaccinating for in this case is Parvovirus, a virus that causes severe diarrhea and 40% to 60% of infected dogs die. Most of us have stepped in a doggie poop at some time or another, and tracking a bit of poop into the house that is infected with parvovirus can happen without us even knowing it. The vaccine does a good job keeping dogs from getting Parvo, and almost all of the cases that I see are in dogs whose owners decided not to vaccinate.
Why should I vaccinate my pet for Rabies?
When discussing most vaccines we are talking mostly about protecting the pet. When discussing Rabies vaccine we are also talking about protecting people. Rabies is spread when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound – often a bite wound. The chance of most of my patients contracting Rabies is very very small. However, almost every person who has ever got infected and started showing signs of Rabies has died. So, it’s kind of like getting struck by lightning – the chance of it happening is very small, but if it happens the repercussions are huge. The fact that Rabies kills people is why the government has set rules that make sure it’s given by a veterinarian, and it is also why it can be a legal liability issue for the owner if their unvaccinated pet bites someone.
My neighbor vaccinates his dog for Lyme disease, my other neighbor does not? Why?
Some vaccines we administer based on the pet’s lifestyle. We don’t want to give pets vaccinations unless they are necessary. For example, Lyme disease is spread by ticks, so we recommend that vaccine for dogs that have lots of tick exposure. Quiet a few hunting dogs get Lyme vaccine, but a lot of poodles do too if they go camping every weekend!
Bordatella vaccine is another example. This vaccine helps protect against Kennel Cough (an infection of the windpipe). We recommend that dogs that are being boarded, go to puppy classes or the dog park regularly, or have other similar exposure to other dogs should be vaccinated.
What about cats? Well, when it comes to lifestyle dependant vaccination recommendations for cats, Feline Leukemia is a good example. Cats are different from other species in that they have a virus called Feline Leukemia Virus (FELV). This virus causes leukemia in infected cats. It is not treatable, is fatal, and is prevalent in the “outdoor cat population”. So if your cat has exposure (even through the screen door) to outdoor cats, he has potential exposure to FELV, and should be vaccinated.
Why do all of the kittens born at my place get a runny nose/eyes every year?
Most of those cases are the caused by the “distemper” viruses I talked about above. Kittens are dependant on protection they get through their mom’s milk until they are 6-8 weeks old. So making sure that all of the cats on your place are current on their vaccinations will help in two ways. The higher the mom’s immunity level is, the higher the level of protection she passes to the kittens in her milk. Also, the more cats that are vaccinated, the fewer sick cats are present, and so the exposure dose for the kittens is lower.
My dog and cat are getting old, do they still need vaccinations?
Disease is most common in very young and very old animals because their immune systems are the weakest. As your pet moves into his or her “senior” years, vaccinating becomes even more important.
Do you have any questions about vaccinations that I did not cover here?
Do any of you have things that our clients should remember when heading out on vacation with their pets? Just put them in the comments!