Why do we vaccinate dogs?
Just like with humans, there are some nasty, fatal viral diseases that dogs can be exposed to. Vaccinations during puppyhood help the body’s white blood cells produce antibodies to these viruses when your dog is exposed to them in later life, so they do not contract the illness.
What do we vaccinate for?
We at The Well Dog feel there are only four major viral diseases that dogs need to be protected from distemper, hepatitis, parvo, and rabies. Other vaccines are “lifestyle” vaccines and are only needed for animals with high exposure to certain diseases, like Bordetella (kennel cough), leptospirosis, rattlesnake, corona, etc. Presently, the only lifestyle vaccine we recommend is Bordetella for pets that need it for boarding, puppy classes, groomers, or other facilities that require it. It can be given within a week of the event. Immunity only lasts 6 months, although most places requiring it will accept it for 1 year. Bordetella in older dogs is nothing more than a cold, so we don’t feel it is a necessary core vaccine.
When are vaccinations given?
Puppies are given distemper and parvo vaccinations every 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age starting at 6-8 weeks of age. The number of vaccines they receive is based on when the vaccines start, not when they end. Here’s why.
Puppies do not receive antibodies from moms while in the womb. They receive them in mom’s first milk (colostrum) when they begin nursing. They can only absorb these antibodies through their intestine and into their bloodstream the first 3 days after birth. That is why it is important that puppies begin nursing as soon as possible.
These maternal antibodies protect the puppy from disease, but they also prevent vaccines from stimulating the puppy’s immune system. Colostral antibodies in the puppy’s bloodstream are at their maximum in the first 3 days and then begin to decrease to zero by 16 weeks of age. The rate of decrease is different for each puppy, so we never know when mom’s antibodies will no longer interfere with vaccinations. By giving a vaccination every 4 weeks until 16 weeks, we know that all puppies will have received probably 2, but at least one effective vaccination.
This program also protects puppies that did not receive colostral antibodies due to poor antibody production by mom, poor milk production by mom, delayed feeding by the puppy, or a pediatric intestinal problem that blocked the absorption of antibodies from the intestines. For these cases, every vaccine will stimulate immunity in the puppy.
This vaccination schedule ensures every type of puppy is protected without having to perform expensive, repeated blood titer tests to check each puppy’s protective antibodies against disease.
Dogs are then re-vaccinated for distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus at 1 year and 4 months of age. Hepatitis vaccine is given at this time because it will not suppress immunity. Studies show hepatitis vaccine suppresses puppy immunity for weeks after the vaccine. This does not occur in adult dogs, so we wait until that first adult hepatitis vaccination at 1 year and 4 months. Distemper, hepatitis, and parvo vaccines are only needed every 3 years after that.
At The Well Dog, a puppy receives a rabies vaccination at 4 months of age then another at 1 year and 4 months of age, and then every three years as well.
What about blood titers rather than vaccinations?
We encourage all dogs to receive their appropriate puppy series and first adult vaccination for distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus. Vaccines can then be given every 3 years or blood titers can be done every year after 3 years because many dogs will remain protected for longer than 3 years from these vaccines. With titer testing, dogs only have to be vaccinated when it is found that they don’t have adequate antibody protection in their blood.
Titer testing is not an option for rabies vaccination. Rabies vaccines are given to protect humans, not dogs. Rabies in all animals and humans is always fatal, so the human public health departments mandate a rabies vaccine in dogs and sometimes cats. Because these regulations come from the human health departments, we veterinarians have no control over the requirements. We are not permitted to titer test and vaccinate when antibodies against rabies are inadequate.
The Well Dog Place follows the law with regards to rabies vaccination without exception. For the protection of our staff, every patient must be current for rabies.