Pet Vaccination Schedule: The Ultimate Guide on Vaccines for Your Puppy & Kitten
Whether you’re a first-time pet parent or an experienced one, a new puppy or kitten always brings a shower of joy along. But with joy, come new responsibilities. From their food to training, to vaccination schedule – everything feels like a new mountain to climb. Vaccination is one subject that has always caused anxiety, even among experienced pet parents.
The internet is full of conflicting and confusing information. On one hand, there are veterinary journals and local municipal directives – mandating pets to be vaccinated annually; while on the other, there are holistic vets, seasoned breeders, and pet activists that are speaking up against over-vaccination. Some of this information is relevant to the Indian subcontext, while some aren’t. If you were reading up about the vaccination schedule for your pet, chances are, you’re confused as F right now!
The vaccination schedule for your pet dog or cat could be considerably different based on the local laws, climatic conditions, availability of vaccine at your location, or even the vet’s preference sometimes. Moreover, every pet is different. Your dog or cat may respond to a vaccine very differently than every other dog or cat in the world. While your vet may still be the best person to talk about this, here’s our take on vaccines for dogs and cats.
In this article, we will talk about:
- How Vaccines help our Immune System
- Types of Vaccines for Dogs & Cats
- General Schedule of Vaccination for Dogs & Cats
- Consequences of Non-Vaccination or Under-Vaccination
- Precautions to be taken during Vaccination
- Boosting your Pet’s Immunity; Supplementing their Vaccination
But first, what is Immunity?
Our bodies are under attack all the time; harmful bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens continuously make an attempt to infect our body and feed on its resources. Our immune system is the first line of defense against all such attacks. Call it the body’s own army, if you will.
The immune system is a smart defense system comprising of various complex biological structures and processes within an organism that protects it against diseases. When the immune system detects a foreign invader (antigen) in the body, it produces an antibody to fight the antigen and cure the disease. It also initiates repair works for any damage that has been caused by the disease. The immune system processes a lot of information and performs its duties through a series of complex biological and chemical processes in the body.
To identify pathogens from the body’s own healthy tissues, the immune system maintains a database of DNA information or ‘definitions’. A lot of these antibody definitions are passed on genetically from a mother to the newborn, and through breast milk in mammals. This is called the Innate Immunity of the body. The immune system also learns through experiences. Every time a new infection attacks the body, the immune system not only learns to fight it, but it also memorizes this for the future. The next time the same antigen attacks, the body already has a sample of the antibodies to produce. This is called the Adaptive Immunity or Acquired Immunity.
The immune system has two types of memory:
- Passive Memory – The type of immunity where the body is not producing any antibodies on its own, but borrowing them for use. Such immunity is usually short-term and lasts from a few days to a few months. Passive Immunity is usually observed in infants & newborns when the body is not strong enough to produce its own antibodies and derives them from the mother’s milk. Antibody serums such as the Human Rabies Immunoglobulin (HRIG) or the Anti-Tetanus Serum (ATS) provide a passive immunity in cases of a suspected infection.
- Active Memory – Active Immunity is long-term immunity acquired after an infection. It can also be artificially induced, through Vaccination. The immune system stores this information as B and T memory cells, that can be quickly replicated to produce antibodies in case of a disease relapse. Vaccination or Inoculation is one of the most efficient ways to stimulate and train our defense system, long before the actual infection.
What are Vaccines? How do they help our Immune System?
Every army needs training. Vaccines are the immune system’s training routine.
A vaccine is a biological preparation that develops an acquired immunity in the body against a disease. It typically contains an agent that resembles the disease-causing microbe and triggers an immune response in the body, leaving an Active Memory of antibody definitions for that disease.
The earliest cases of smallpox inoculation were recorded in 10th century China. However, it wasn’t until the late 1790’s when Edward Jenner first formally introduced the concept of vaccination. He saved hundreds of lives from the fatal smallpox disease by inducing an active immunity against it using a much less harmful but live cowpox virus. Louis Pasteur developed and introduced the second generation of vaccines in the 1880’s. These vaccines were derived from inactive or dead pathogens or parts of the antigen that could trigger the antibody response without inducing the actual disease in the body. Pasteur’s vaccines led to a revolution in the field of immunology. Inoculation has saved countless lives and has greatly improved the life expectancy of humans and many other species.
The idea is very simple. We introduce a small, controlled quantity of the antigens in the body, training the body’s active immunity to fight the disease when the real pathogens attack. There are majorly three kinds of vaccines currently available:
- Live Attenuated Vaccines are weakened (attenuated) form of the pathogens. The problem with Live Vaccines is that they’re difficult to synthesize and hazardous to handle, and can cause too much stress on the body, especially if the person or animal has a weak immune system.
- Inactive Vaccine or Killed Vaccines are dead viruses that do not cause the disease but still trigger an immune response. But Inactive Vaccines do not provide long-lasting and complete immunity.
- Subunit Vaccines are made by only a part of the pathogen, called the antigen – the part that actually triggers the immune response. Subunit vaccines can be further developed to include only the specific proteins or compounds that enable the antibody production. This typically makes the vaccines safer and specific in nature.
- DNA Vaccines, a new class of vaccines are now being developed. These vaccines will carry the specific gene information that’s needed by the body to produce antibodies against the antigens.
- Recombinant Vector Vaccines combine the physiology of one micro-organism and the DNA of another to immunize against complex infections.
There are other vaccine types like 4. Toxoid Vaccines and 5. Conjugate Vaccines, but they are not commonly used.
Once fully developed and available commercially, these vaccines will provide the safest and most effective method of active immunization.
Types of Vaccines for Puppies & Kittens
The vaccines for both, dogs and cats have been classified as core and non-core vaccines.
- Core vaccines provide protection from the common fatal diseases for dogs and cats and must be administered to all animals. Core vaccines are mandated by law for all domesticated dogs and cats in many countries.
- Non-core vaccines are optional but required in specific cases. For example, the kennel cough vaccine is recommended for all dogs with shorter snouts such as pugs or frenchies, or for dogs that are likely to meet and stay with other dogs.
In the case of cats, non-core vaccines are usually necessary only if your cat is an outdoor cat and meets other cats. For most Indoor cats, only core vaccination is sufficient. Your vet will be the best person to suggest the non-core vaccines for your pet, based on the prevalent practices of the land.
Vaccines for Puppies and Dogs
The core vaccines recommended for dogs in India are for the Canine Parvovirus (CPV2), Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), Canine Adenovirus Type-2 (CAV2 or the Hepatitis virus) and Canine Rabies Virus. Parvo, Distemper, and Hepatitis are all fatal viral diseases caused by these viruses respectively. These diseases are highly contagious, and if left untreated, quickly result in death.
Rabies is another deadly disease that your pup must be vaccinated for. Rabies Vaccine is the only core vaccine that’s necessary for the protection of humans as well as for the dog. The vaccination for rabies is mandated by law in several countries. Most pet boardings, airlines or even the Indian Railway does not allow pets that are not inoculated for Rabies.
ALSO SEE: How to Travel with Your Pet Dog or Cat
The non-core vaccines for puppies may include the vaccine for Kennel Cough (Bacteria Bordetella or Canine Parainfluenza Virus), Canine Coronavirus (CCV), Leptospirosis (Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae, Leptospira canicola bacterin vaccine), Lyme, Giardia, etc. These may be prescribed by your vet as required.
Vaccines for Kittens and Cats
The core vaccines for cats include Feline Panleukopenia virus (FPV or Cat Distemper virus) and Feline Rabies. These infections are highly contagious and mostly fatal. The Rabies vaccination for cats is mandated by law in many countries.
Vaccination against the Feline Leukemia Virus, Rhinotracheitis (Cat Herpesvirus), and Feline Calicivirus are optional non-core vaccines, recommended if your cat is going to be an outdoor cat, or will be meeting other outdoor cats. These vaccines can be skipped if your cat is going to be a strictly indoor cat. But talk to your vet before taking any decision on exclusions.
Combination Vaccines for Pets
A lot of pharmaceutical companies have developed Multivalent or Polyvalent Vaccines (commonly known as Combination Vaccines) for pets. They could either be a single vaccine designed to immunize against two or more strains of the same pathogen or multiple vaccines combined in one shot. A number of 6-in-1, 7-in-1, 8-in-1 and even 9-in-1 formulations are available at pharmacies and veterinary hospitals these days. There are both pros and cons to using combination vaccines.
The advantage that combination vaccines offer is that your pet doesn’t need multiple shots for all vaccines; they can be provided via a single shot, which translates to fewer vet visits. This also reduces the probability of your pet developing tumors at the vaccination site. The disadvantage with combination vaccines is that they put too much stress on your pet’s body. Vaccines are a stressful affair for your pet’s body anyway. When we combine multiple antigens, they put a cumulative stress on your puppy or kitten’s body. Sometimes, your pet may not need all the vaccines offered in the combination, or may need them at different schedules. The combination vaccines may not be a wise choice in such situations. Consult your vet before investing into a combination vaccine for your pet.
Schedule of Vaccination for Puppies & Kittens
As a rule of thumb, the inoculation process begins only when your pup or kitten is weaned off the mother’s milk completely, at about 5-8 weeks of age. Mother’s milk provides passive immunity for the first few weeks. However, if your pet did not get sufficient mother’s milk – which is the case with most breeder-dealt pups, or with rescued puppies or kittens who lost their mothers early – your vet may choose to start with the vaccination routine ahead of time. All core and non-core vaccines can be administered together (but not recommended) or often as a combination vaccine, except the Rabies vaccine.
Vaccination Schedule for Puppies or Dogs
The first shot of core vaccines for puppies must be given at 6 – 8 weeks, or approximately 2 months of age. The first booster to this shot must be given 3 – 4 weeks from then, and the second booster in another 3 – 4 weeks after the first one. That is, your puppy should have received at least three doses of the vaccine by the age of 14 – 16 weeks. The first annual booster is due at 1 year from this. After that, an annual (or 3-year renewal in some countries) is recommended.
The Rabies vaccine follows a slightly different schedule and is almost never combined with other vaccines. If the puppy’s parents’ vaccination status is known, the Rabies shot is due at 12 – 15 weeks of age. If the puppy’s parents’ status is unknown, as in case of rescued or stray puppies, Rabies vaccination is recommended immediately upon adoption. The Rabies shots must be spaced out from the other shots by at least 1-2 weeks.
Vaccination Schedule for Kittens or Cats
Kittens need fewer vaccines, but their schedule starts early. The first Rabies vaccine is given at the age of 5 – 7 weeks, followed by a booster in another 5 – 7 weeks. Thereafter, revaccination on every anniversary is precribed by most veterinarians. The Feline Panleukopenia Vaccine is essential when the kitten is 14 weeks of age. If you plan to make yours an outdoor cat, your vet may recommended additional non-core vaccines for your cat at this point.
Once all vaccination shots are complete, your puppy or kitten is free to go meet other doggos, kitties, and hoomans. Please note that this is a general schedule of vaccination only. Your vet may precribe a different routine, based on a number of different factors.
Risks of Avoiding Vaccination or Under-Vaccination
What would happen if you send a battalion of the army to the war-front without proper training or ammunition? That’s what happens to an unvaccinated body during a disease. Sure, the immune system is designed to combat infections, but it can only do so much against a powerful enemy, especially one that it has never encountered before. Vaccines offer a way for the body to get familiar with deadly pathogens, long before they attack the body with full force. This prepares the immune system for the fight!
Unimmunized, your pet is vulnerable to many deadly disease-causing viruses and bacteria. Not only are these diseases fatal for your dog or cat, but they can also affect the human members of your family, neighborhood kids or even communities at large. Uninoculated pets pose a serious threat to life. Imagine being bitten (or even accidentally scratched during rough play) by a dog that’s not vaccinated for Rabies. That could lead to horrific results.
That being said, there has been a lot of controversies around conventional vaccination schedules followed by the vetrinary community globally. New studies have shown that there could be serious health risks to your pet due to over-vaccination. Please talk to your vet and discuss these risks thoroughly before proceeding with vaccines for your darling puppy or kitten.
Things To Do During or Before Vaccinating Your Puppy or Kitten
Even though vaccination has some risks associated with them, the dangers of non-vaccination could easily outclass them. Let me just highlight here, that correct vaccination is super important for the health of your pet and your family. While it may still be a stressful experience for your dog or cat, a few handy tips will go a long way ensuring that they have a comfortable inoculation season and recover safely with a strong immunity for life.
- Allow the puppy or kitten to feed on mother’s milk for as long as possible, and only let them wean gradually to solid food. Make sure you pick a species-appropriate diet for your new family member – that supports their immunity from the very beginning.
- Keep your puppy or kitten away from stray or unvaccinated pets before their vaccinations are duly complete. Your baby is extremely vulnerable to contagious diseases at this stage. Make sure he or she has a safe and hygienic environment to live.
- Have a healthy conversation with your vet regarding your pet’s health, living environment and need for vaccinations. You should start understanding these as early as you get the pet home. You should be fully aware of the vaccines that are injected into your pet, while still being respectful to their qualification and experience. Being concerned and aware is your right and duty as a responsible pet parent.
- Vaccinations must always be administered to pets in correct dosages only. Small dogs are at particularly high risk, because the vet can easily go wrong with their dosage. Always insist on an optimum quantity only; not more, not less. More vaccine does not mean more immunity.
- Different vaccines must always be given at least a week apart, unless they’re combination vaccines. Mixing two or more vaccines could lead to unexpected results in your pet’s body. Try and keep their deworming schedule separate from their vaccination schedule, and at least a week apart from their shots.
- Always insist on a titer test before revaccination of your pet dog or cat. Even a weak titer indicates an active immunity. Titer positive pets do not need revaccination, but may still need a vaccine by law.
- Always check for fever or other signs of an infection before administering vaccine. Vaccinations must always be given to healthy pets. Vaccinating a sick pet could cause irreparable damage to their immune system and may result in severe complications. An army can only fight and win one battle at a time.
- Don’t vaccinate within a week of travel. If you’re planning to travel with your pet dog or cat, make sure that all vaccinations are complete at least before 7-10 days of your scheduled departure. Your baby may be subjected to a variety of new antigens during their travel – you don’t want them to be exposed while they’re dealing with a vaccine in their body. You also don’t want them to develop an adverse reaction while on your trip, when your vet will not be available.
- All adverse reactions must be reported to the vet immediately. Timely action can save your pet’s life.
- Do not administer the vaccine yourself. Vaccines must be given to your pet by a trained and registered veterinary practitioner only. Always insist for a vaccination card for your pet, duly updated and signed by your vet each time. Keep it at a safe place, and handy for cases of emergency.
How to Boost your Pet’s Immunity
The immune system is your body’s army. A duly immunized body is trained to defend itself from all fatal diseases. However, only a consistent supply of rations and ammunition can keep an army ready for all situations. Here are the key things you must provide to ensure your pet dog or cat has a healthy immunity all the time:
- Nutrition – Good nutrition is extremely important to maintain a healthy immunity. Needless to say, the puppy or kitten must feed on their mother’s milk for as long as possible. Mother’s milk provides essential antibodies and antioxidants to the baby. When the puppy or kitten weans off to real food, make sure the food is able to cater to their daily requirement of zinc, selenium, iron, copper; vitamins A, C, E, and B-6; and folic acid. The food you provide must also be rich in antioxidants. Kibble or other processed forms of dry or wet commercial pet food provide no antioxidants to your pet. Hence, they must come from real food sources like fruits, vegetables, and fresh meats. Overnutrition and obesity also reduce immunity. Hence, maintaining your pet’s weight is of paramount importance.
- Exercise – Discipline is an integral part of any army. The body’s natural defense is no different. It needs regular exercise to stay fit and active. A long walk or short sprint or swim every day should keep your dog’s immune system happy. Studies have demonstrated a clear correlation between the amount of exercise your pet receives and the number of antibodies and white blood cells (WBCs) in their blood. Moderate but regular exercise is known to affect the cortisone levels in our body, and in our dog’s body. Cortisone, also known as the stress hormone greatly impacts an individual’s immunity and the ability to recover from an infection.
To sum up, vaccinations are a difficult experience for pets and their parents. But correct & complete information and a little proactivity can keep your darling from all harms. Always have a clear and open communication with your vet, understand and assess your pet and his needs well, only vaccinate as much as necessary. Titer when in doubt! Focus on your pet’s nutrition and exercise. Offer him a clean and hygienic environment; feed him a species-appropriate, animal protein & fat-rich diet; love him and he shall always love you back for years to come.
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