As a veterinarian I often hear the question, why are kittens and puppies vaccinated so many times when they are young? A common misconception about kitten and puppy vaccines is that it is the veterinarian’s way of making money. If this were the case, I may not have vaccinated my own cats and dogs several times, but I did. The diseases that we are vaccinating against are highly contagious and can be fatal.
Some people may think that parvo and distemper, both feline and canine versions, are a thing of the past. While we don’t see the number of cases that we used to, we still see cases, and in fact the past week I have seen both a puppy parvo case and a feline distemper case. The reason they are not so prevalent is because of our vaccine protocols. One vaccine in a young animal is not enough. Vaccines always need boosters in order to develop full immunity. Vaccines work to stimulate the immune system to develop antibodies to fight off infectious diseases. Antibodies only stick around for so long, and that is why we have to booster some vaccines on an annual basis in our adult animals.
When any young animal is born, it is fed colostrum from its mother. Colostrum is an antibody rich milk, that contains antibodies from the mother that can help protect the offspring from fatal diseases. We consider these their maternal antibodies. There is a variation in the amount of time that these antibodies will last for. We don’t know exactly when they wear off, but it is between 6-12 weeks until the animal is about 16 weeks of age, to be sure they develop full immunity. Some breeders will administer vaccines before the animal is 6 weeks; this can be detrimental and cause the animals to develop diseases. Vaccines generally contain live viruses and should be handled and stored carefully, as well as administered by a licensed veterinarian.
Our furbabies are as much as an investment as our human ones. The cost does not end with adoption fee or the fee to the breeder. While the repeated kitten and puppy visits seem to be costly to some, the treatment of these diseases can be triple the cost of those visits. Treatment of these diseases are generally supportive, there is no cure, just like most viruses. It can be heartbreaking to veterinarians, their staff, and owners, knowing that these diseases could have been prevented. The life of a furry addition to your family is priceless, so please vaccinate your pet.
Lauren Hessey, DVM