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  A very important component of responsible dog ownership is keeping your dog up to date on vaccines that protect him from serious and even fatal diseases.  This information is offered as a help in understanding why your dog needs certain vaccines--your veterinarian should be your main source of information to determine which vaccines your dog needs and to tailor a vaccination schedule for your dog’s age and situation.

The goal of most vaccines is to prompt your dogs immune system to produce antibodies (protection) to diseases. This is usually done by injecting disease causing organisms that have been weakened to the point that they cannot cause disease but they can stimulate the dog’s immune system to produce antibodies that will protect against the real thing.

There are quite a few illnesses that can be vaccinated against. Most dogs do not need to be vaccinated against every possible disease, but all dogs need certain vaccines. Although the need for some vaccinations will vary from dog to dog and area to area, most veterinarians will at least recommend vaccinating using a few (called “core”) vaccines and will recommend others (“noncore” vaccines) depending on the situation. Core vaccines include those for rabies, distemper, hepatitis, parvo, and adenovirus (a cause of canine hepatitis and respiratory illness).  Noncore vaccines that are usually used by vets  I work with are leptospirosis and bordetella.  Leptospirosis is a bacterial illness carried by rodents that can cause liver and kidney failure and is transmissable to humans. Although leptospirosis vaccine can cause reactions in toy breeds and young puppies, it is usually given by vets in our area since there is a chance of even house dogs encountering a mouse indoors or a wild rodent in the yard.  Bordetella causes kennel cough, an illness that is very common in dogs kept together in small areas like kennels or boarding facilities. Although rarely fatal, it causes an illness similar to a bad cold and can hang on for weeks. The vaccine for bordetella is usually given intranasally--its inexpensive, safe, and can prevent a lot of misery for your dog.  Most veterinarians and boarding facilities require proof of bordetella vaccination to protect both your dog and others in the facility. Other noncore vaccines include coronavirus (an intestinal infection), porphyromonas (dental infections), giardia, (an intestinal infection)  Lyme disease and canine influenza. Corona virus is largely a problem of young puppies, and although it can cause serious illness in them it is not usually as serious as parvo. Corona is usually a very mild illness in adult dogs. Canine influenza is a new disease which nearly all dogs are susceptible to. It has caused serious outbreaks and some fatalities in facilities where many dogs are housed together, in particular greyhound tracks. Frequently vaccinations come as a combination injection that contains core vaccines (except rabies, which is given separately) along with one or more noncore vaccines. The commonly used 8 in 1 vaccine contains the noncore vaccines for leptospirosis and corona virus; the 7 in 1 vaccine contains core vaccines plus leptospirosis.  Many vets use one of these combination injections and the one they use will be based on personal preference and which diseases are most prevalent in a particular area.

At Raven Woods, we give an annual booster containing the core vaccines plus leptospirosis to adult dogs.  We have not found corona virus to be a problem at our shelter, and we do not routinely vaccinate against this. Due to the fact that our dogs are housed outdoors in a rural area we definitely feel there could be a problem with leptospirosis so we vaccinate against all four strains of lepto. All adult dogs who enter the shelter with unknown vaccination status receive an initial vaccination plus another vaccination in 3 weeks to ensure protection. Many states now only require rabies vaccination every 3 years, but since Louisiana requires a yearly rabies vaccination, our dogs receive this.

To simplify matters, your adult dog needs to be vaccinated for the core illnesses of rabies, distemper, parvo,  and hepatitis--no room for discussion here--this is the minimum requirement--and non-core vaccinations as recommended by your vet. In many states rabies vaccination is only required every 3 years, but most vets still recommend a yearly vaccine for distemper, parvo, and hepatitis. If you have a strong opinion about the use of noncore vaccines or the frequency of vaccination, please discuss this with your vet. There is no substitute for a trusting relationship between you and your vet to ensure the best care for your dog. A yearly checkup is a good idea, anyway, to have your dog checked for any new problems that can be treated early, and we highly recommend that your dog see their vet at least for this yearly visit.  Especially as your dog gets older, many problems can be detected by a yearly visit and treated before they become life threatening.

Vaccinations in Puppies

Diseases like parvo and distemper can wipe a litter in short order. Protecting your puppy from disease requires both adhering strictly to the schedule of puppy vaccinations AND protecting your young puppy from exposure as much as possible. If the mother dog has immunity from a disease, she passes temporary immunity to her puppies through the first milk she produces, called colostrum.  There are are two important things to remember here--the first is that this immunity is only TEMPORARY and the second is that it is dependent on whether the mother is immune to the illness and how much colostrum each puppy actually receives. Assuming the puppy receives an adequate amount of antibody rich colostrum, he has a good immunity to common infectious diseases for the first few weeks of his life. This is vital, because during this early period the puppy’s own immune system is too immature to form its own immunity, and the puppy is susceptible to every illness that it is exposed to.

By the time the puppy reaches about 6 weeks old, the mother’s antibodies are starting to wear off and the puppy enters a critical stage where he must develop his own immunity. It is during this time from six to twenty weeks of age that the puppy is at a high risk of developing illness--the mother’s antibodies are waning but the puppy is still too young to develop a high degree of immunity on its own. “Puppy shots” are given to stimulate the puppy to form its own immunity. But whether or not a particular vaccination will be effective depends on how much of the mother’s antibodies are left and how mature the baby puppy’s own immune system is. For that reason we give puppy shots every 2 to 3 weeks from the time the puppy is 6 weeks old until it is 16 weeks old, in an attempt to catch that window just right, when the mother’s antibodies have decreased and the puppy’s immune system is capable of producing its own.  That is the reason behind giving multiple sets of puppy shots. If there are still large amounts of maternal antibodies in the puppy’s system, the vaccine will not work. If the puppy’s immune system is too immature, the vaccine will not work.  By 16 weeks of age, the puppy has a well developed immune system and the mother’s antibodies are all gone, It is only at this point that we can say with a high degree of certainty that the vaccination will be effective in stimulating the puppy to form a good solid immunity of its own. Vaccination protocols have been worked out to provide the best protection we can, but its not fool proof. That is why occasionally a puppy who is getting puppy shots exactly as it should will develop disease.  But getting puppy shots exactly on schedule is our best chance at preventing illness, even though there are occasional failures.

Viruses like parvo and distemper are everywhere. We recommend that puppies who are younger than 16 weeks and/or have not had the full course of puppy shots be kept away from any unvaccinated dog or areas where dogs congregate or relieve themselves. This includes unfenced yards, dog parks, jogging trails, pet stores, etc. Of course, your puppy does need socialization, and we can’t completely isolate him. But restricting his exercise to safe confined areas and strictly keeping him away from unvaccinated dogs and areas where they may be encountered will help protect him. Parvo and distemper virus can even be carried on our clothing if we have been in contact with a sick dog or been where a sick dog was. and to make things even more complicated, dogs infected with parvo or distemper can be contageous for several days before they appear ill.

At Raven Woods all puppies receive core vaccinations of parvo, distemper, and hepatitis every two to three weeks from the age of six weeks through sixteen weeks. At 12-16 weeks they receive rabies vaccination. At 6 and 9 weeks we give intranasal bordetella. For the 12 week and 16 week vaccination we add leptospirosis. We have found this protocol to be very effective in preventing outbreaks of serious illnesses at our shelter, and we take this very seriously.  Once a puppy reaches 16 weeks of age and has received the full course of puppy shots, he will still need to be revaccinated once a year since the protection from the vaccines can decrease over time.

If you have a puppy, please be very careful in keeping his vaccinations up to date. His life depends on it. Please read the story of London on this website. London’s family thought he only needed one puppy shot, and because of this London contracted distemper and has permanent brain damage. This most likely could have been prevented, if London had received all his vaccinations on schedule. We have known several dogs who only received one puppy shot and weeks later, when all the maternal antibodies were gone, developed parvo and died. Again, your vet is your best source of advice to set up a schedule for your puppy’s vaccinations as well as general care.

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