Having your pet vaccinated is an important aspect to their health and as your veterinarian, their health is our top priority. To ensure that they receive the appropriate ones and avoid being under- or over-vaccinated, we comply with the American Animal Health Association’s guidelines.
The Vaccines We Use
We use the Merial vaccines due to their low rates of adverse reactions. We use Merial vaccines for rabies, canine distemper/parvo (DA2PP), lyme, leptospirosis, feline leukemia, and feline distemper (FVRCP). The only non-Merial vaccines that we use are those which are not available from Merial; in particular, bordetella.
The Merial vaccines have the following advantages:
- All feline viruses are either non-adjuvanted or use recombinant DNA technology. These reduce the risk of granulomas (nodular inflammation) at the injection site, which, in severe cases, can develop into sarcomas (malignant soft-tissue tumors.)
- All the Merial vaccines we use are mercury-free. Mercury is found in Thimerosal, a preservative used in multi-dose vaccine vials. All of our Merial vaccines are shipped in single-dose vials, which do not contain Thimerosal.
How Vaccines Work
All vaccines work on the same principle. Our bodies, as well as those of other animals, contain a multitude of antibodies which target specific bacteria and viruses. Our bodies respond to infection by producing the antibodies needed to fight the specific pathogen. In the case of a pathogen which an animal has never been exposed to, the immune system can learn to produce new antibodies that will fight that invader. Unfortunately, if the infection is strong enough, the body may not be able to produce antibodies quickly enough.
Vaccines give the immune system an advantage by exposing it to a milder version of the infection. The vaccine contains just enough of the infectious material to teach the immune system how to generate antibodies, without actually sickening the patient. Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in modern medicine, and are responsible for the good health of billions of humans, not to mention our animal friends.
Types of Vaccines
There are three types of vaccines in use today:
Modified Live Vaccines: These are the oldest form of vaccine. The vaccine contains the actual virus that is being protected against, but in modified form: it is weakened, usually through chemical means. Modified live vaccines are generally safe, but there is a very small possibility that they could cause the disease they are designed to prevent. For this reason, rabies vaccines never use live viruses.
Killed Vaccines: These vaccines also make use of the target virus, but the virus is not live. Many killed vaccines contain a substance called an adjuvant, which is a chemical irritant that is designed to stimulate the immune system at the point of injection. Adjuvants are the reason that many vaccines cause soreness, but this is actually a good thing: it rallies the body’s defenses to that location, so that antibodies for the virus will be created. Unfortunately, some animals, especially cats, can be hypersensitive to adjuvants, and the injection may result in a reaction, or even a granuloma or sarcoma at the injection site.
Recombinant Vaccines: These vaccines are created through the use of genetic engineering. The specific technology used is called recombinant DNA. In this technique, a small portion of the virus’s DNA is removed from the original virus, and is then implanted in a benign virus, called the host. The modified host virus is then used to as the basis of the vaccine. The body responds to the host virus, but also learns to identify the harmful virus due to the presence of the additional DNA.
Merial vaccines make use of the canarypox virus as the host. This technique is patented by Merial; no other animal vaccines can make use of this virus. The canarypox virus is especially good for this technique because it cannot replicate in mammals; it stimulates the immune system but cannot spread.
Rabies: The rabies vaccine is mandatory for all dogs in Santa Cruz County. Initial at 16 weeks, boost one year later, and every three years thereafter.
Distemper/Adenovirus 1 and 2/Parainfluenza/Parvo (DA2PP):Initial series of three starting at 8 weeks (4 weeks apart), boost one year later, and every three years thereafter.
Bordetella: This vaccine protects against “kennel cough”. Recommended for dogs that visit dog parks or stay in boarding facilities. Initial at 8 weeks, with annual boosters thereafter. Some boarding facilities may require boosters every six months.
Leptospirosis: Recommended for dogs that roam outside or have exposure to wildlife. Initial at 10 to 13 weeks, boost 4 weeks later, annual thereafter.
Lyme: Recommended for dogs that might be exposed to ticks. Initial after 9 weeks of age, boost 4 weeks later, annual thereafter.
Rattlesnake: Recommended for dogs who have frequent exposure to rattlesnakes. Initial at 16 weeks, boost 4 weeks later, annual thereafter. ***Does not prevent bites or poisoning but slows down reaction to venom to allow time to get medical attention.***
Rabies: Initial at 16 weeks, and annually or every three years thereafter. Rabies is a serious threat to cats and we require this vaccine for all of our feline patients.
Rhinotracheitis/Calici/Panleukopenia (FVRCP): Initial series of three starting at 8 weeks (4 weeks apart), boost at one year, and every three years thereafter.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV): Highly recommended for all kittens, with continued boosters for outdoor adult cats. Initial after 8 weeks of age, boost 4 weeks later, annual thereafter.