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Pet Health: Vaccinations critically important for companion pets

“Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective health investments in history.” — Seth Berkley, CEO of the Vaccine Alliance

Many times when I go to work, there are one or two tiny puppies in the isolation room suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting, looking miserable from the parvo virus. Some do not make it home. This does not need to happen! Timely vaccination could have prevented their sufferings.

Your veterinarian is the best person to address your situation, but here are some guidelines.

Proper protection should start with vaccinating the mother before she gets pregnant. A vaccinated mother will have an immunity that she transfers to her babies. In an ideal breeding situation, it is assumed that the puppies are protected for the first 8 to 9 weeks of their life. However, we see an inordinate number of puppies whose mothers were not vaccinated and do not fall under the “ideal” category. 

That’s why many veterinarians will recommend starting the first distemper/parvo vaccine as early as 6 weeks of age. Vaccines should be given every 2-4 weeks until the puppies are 16 weeks old. For high-risk situations, the last vaccine can be given at 19 to 20 weeks of age. So, if you start at 7 weeks, the sequence will be 7, 10, 13 and 19 weeks. If you adopt an unvaccinated older dog, you will need to give the initial vaccine and one booster three weeks later.

Now about rabies. Dog, cat and ferret owners are required by Alabama law to have their pet immunized for rabies when the animal reaches three months of age. The rabies vaccine must be given by a veterinarian, or a licensed vet tech in the presence of a veterinarian. Many communities hold annual low cost rabies vaccination clinics. I have seen rabies vaccines given in a town-sponsored event for as low as $5!

Frequently I get asked if the vaccine from the co-op is as good as ours. I don’t have an answer, as I have not come across a study comparing both. My recommendation is to go through your vet as they provide a lot more than just a “shot.”

I feel the puppy/kitty visits are THE most important vet visits of all! This is the time where early health issues are discussed and lifelong health habits are established. However, if getting to a vet is impossible for you, I have to suggest that you get your vaccines from a place that stores and handles their vaccines properly.

Last, but not least, here’s a little bit on cats. Cats also get a parvo-like disease called Feline Distemper or Panleukopenia. Vaccination should start as early as 6 weeks and be boosted every 3 weeks until they reach 16 weeks. Outdoor cats should also get Feline Leukemia vaccine.

Now, for the folks who are little leery of “over vaccination.” The issue of what constitutes “over vaccination” and related health problems is a highly contentious issue and best kept aside for a consultation with your vet.

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works part time at Grant Animal Clinic and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative.