The first few months of your puppy’s life are filled with many important responsibilities. For you at home, that means lots of love, training, and teaching him to be a good pet. For us at Aldie Veterinary Hospital, that includes making sure we’re working together to make sure he’s healthy and protected against diseases and parasites. Your first vet visit can be overwhelming, and information from Dr. Google can be confusing and scary. Please feel free to ask any questions about diseases, vaccines, and preventive measures you may have. We are here to help and provide you with evidence-based information.
There are two main groups of vaccines for your puppy: core and non-core. Core vaccines are essential vaccines for all dogs to receive throughout their lives. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) lists the rabies vaccine and the combination distemper/parvovirus/adenovirus vaccine in this category. These are dangerous, contagious diseases which are typically preventable with appropriate immunization.
The need for a “noncore” vaccine is based on each individual dog’s lifestyle. There are four main vaccines listed by AAHA for this category. Your veterinarian is the absolute best resource to help you determine if your dog should have these vaccines; be sure to tell them about where your dog will live, if he will travel, and if he will be around other dogs often, so that you can work together to create a tailored, individual vaccine plan to protect him.
Let’s start by discussing the core vaccines: rabies and distemper.
Rabies, of important note, is 100% fatal and can be transmitted to humans via contact with saliva from infected animals. Because of this risk, all dogs over the age of 16 weeks are required by Virginia law to be up to date on their rabies vaccination. The rabies vaccine is given once as a puppy, then boostered once at 1 year of age, followed by once every 3 years from then on. In the event of an altercation with a wild animal outside, the vaccine is often boostered again as a precaution.
Virginia State Law has very strict protocols for unvaccinated dogs who are exposed to possibly infected wildlife, or if there is a dog-human bite incident. Depending on the scenario, these protocols range from strict quarantine to euthanasia, so it’s important for your dog to stay current on this vaccine. In our area, raccoons are the number one source of rabies, though other animals like foxes, skunks, and bats could also be carriers. You can help decrease your pet’s risk of encountering one of these animals by securing trash cans and other food sources outside, and always being vigilant about watching your pet outside.
Veterinarians often refer to this vaccine as just the “distemper vaccine,” but, it is actually a power-packed combination vaccine that offers protection against distemper virus, parvovirus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza virus. These are all viruses which are transmitted amongst dogs through sneezing, coughing, or sharing bowls. Some viruses can also be passed directly from a mom to her pups.
Distemper virus starts with respiratory/eye symptoms before progressing to neurologic disease. It can be fatal, and some pups that survive will have lifelong deficits. Parvovirus causes severe gastrointestinal disease with profuse vomiting, dehydration, and diarrhea. Affected puppies require intensive care in a hospital for many days at best, but unfortunately many do not survive. Adenovirus affects the lining of blood vessels and can damage many important organs, including the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and eyes. Infected dogs may require blood transfusions, or may not survive the disease. Parainfluenza virus is a highly contagious respiratory virus which causes signs such as nasal discharge, coughing, and fever. Young puppies are at the highest risk for contracting all four of these diseases and suffering from complications associated with them.
Fortunately, we can keep your puppy safe from these diseases with appropriate vaccination. This starts with a vaccine once around 8 weeks of age, then a repeated booster every 3-4 weeks until he/she is over 16 weeks of age. Puppies younger than 4-5 months of age are most susceptible to these diseases, so it’s important to stay on schedule with frequent boosters. He likely has some immunity to these diseases from his mom, but over the first few months of life, her immunity will wear off, and we need to be there with our vaccine to take over protection duties. Your dog will receive another booster at 1 year of age, and then every 3 years from then on, similar to the rabies vaccine.
Bordetella bronchiseptica is more commonly known as kennel cough. This is a respiratory disease that’s easily shared amongst dogs at parks, veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, doggie daycare, etc. This vaccine is a liquid absorbed across the lining of the nose or mouth. No shot needed, and most dogs just think we’ve given them a weird tasting bit of squeeze cheese. At Aldie Veterinary Hospital, we consider this a core vaccine for all our patients, to ensure the safety of all our patients when they come into the clinic for exams, boarding, or treatments.
Making It Fun
Aldie Veterinary Hospital staff members are trained in how to make the vaccination process as easy as possible for your pet. Squeeze cheese, peanut butter, baby food, or other yummy snacks are great distractors and often the puppies don’t even notice the small needle used to give their vaccinations because they are so excited about the treats!
Stay tuned for next week’s blog which covers the three non-core, or lifestyle based, vaccines!
Much love from a happy, healthy, and vaccinated Skipper!
“Kennel cough” is a nickname for a constellation of about a dozen different canine infectious upper respiratory illnesses: viruses and bacteria, some normal inhabitants of the airways which can become opportunistic infections, and some pathologic invaders. All of these diseases look the same clinically: a coughing dog (dry/hacking or quiet/moist), often with runny eyes or runny nose. “Kennel cough” does not mean to signify any disease in particular. Most of these illnesses are self-limiting and don’t pose a major health threat on their own, but the more typical real-life scenario is a patient fighting a mixed-bag of multiple infectious agents which combine to create life-threatening disease. Not all of these diseases have vaccines, therefore we strive to prevent what we can, and that way if they catch an illness that was not immunized for they may not develop a more severe situation.
One of these preventable illnesses is Bordetella bronchiseptica; a highly contagious bacterial species which typically causes an aggravating inflammation of the large airways in the chest (trachea and bronchi). Bordetella is most likely to manifest as clinical illness in the youngest populations of dogs; we continue to vaccinate the healthy adults as they are usually catching it and shedding it, but we would never know it as they aren’t coughing. For Bordetella, it is best to use an intranasal vaccine (just like a FluMist), which is the easiest, most safest way to vaccinate an individual. It also targets the airways where the disease occurs.
It is important to remember that immunizations will not guarantee that the illness can be 100% prevented, but they will reduce the severity of the illness in the individual and reduce the shedding of the agent among the group. Immunizations are there to protect not only the individual, but the population as well. By inciting“herd immunity,” we can better prevent the presence and spread of illness in the general group.
A veterinary hospital lobby is a hotbed of nose-to-nose contact, excited sneezing and vocalizations (think saliva and nasal secretions in the air), in a facility where we have a unique challenge to admit and treat ill patients while simultaneously seeing wellness visits with healthy patients. Added to this mix is a general decrease in natural immunity due to the stress of coming in that many patients feel, and everyone is concentrated into a relatively small space. This challenge is managed with a multimodal approach of environmental hygiene, strategic planning of appointments/procedures, biosecurity measures, and clear-cut administrative policies (such as immunization requirements, also known as “core” vaccinations). Without certain policies in place, a veterinary hospital would become a major source of disease.
This concept applies to any facility where concentrated/stressed populations exist, such as grooming salons, doggie daycare, boarding, and dog parks. Any exposure to these areas would thus be an indication for this core vaccine. Therefore, any dog whose lifestyle includes these interactions should be vaccinated for Bordetella at least once per year, and forever monitored for any signs of “kennel cough.”