I believe that I have told you previously of my disdain for a nail trim. I do not understand why my girls insist on trimming my wonderfully talon-like claws. They are perfect for snagging Dr Deb’s sweaters or gripping her legs should I start to slide off her lap. Yet they insist on trimming them, usually monthly! However, this pales in comparison to the indignity to which I was subjected just this week. I was picked up and carried to the treatment table, at which time my temperature was taken (I refuse to go into detail about THAT process) and then I was stabbed multiple times with a very sharp needle. In reality it felt more like a mosquito bite than a stab, but all the same, it was extremely undignified. What was it and why was I subjected to it? Dr Deb explained to me that it was a vaccine and I needed it to protect me from feline diseases like feline distemper, rabies, and feline leukemia. Well, that was not nearly enough information for me, so I decided to look into it a little more. What I found was very interesting and I decided I should share it with you. Of course, if you end up with questions at the end, please give my girls a call at the office. You can find the number at the top of the page.
My first question was, of course, what is a vaccine? Being a wordsmith myself, I love to find the origins of words. The word vaccine comes from the Latin word “vacca”, which means cow. WHAT? What do cows have to do with anything other than providing delicious milk? Apparently an English country doctor discovered long ago that when people were given a preparation derived from a common cattle disease called cowpox, also known as vaccinia, they developed a small skin reaction at the time of the exposure. Later, when exposed to the deadly smallpox virus (which is closely related to cowpox) they remained healthy, or “immune”. More than a hundred years later, French scientist Louis Pasteur, and his colleagues,the State found they could protect people and animals against a variety of diseases, including rabies, by administering injections of the various infectious microorganisms in an altered form. The two main alterations were “inactivated” or killed viruses, and “attenuated” or “modified”, meaning the second form was still living but had been modified into a harmless form of the disease. Both the “killed” vaccine and the “modified-live” vaccines have advantages and disadvantages. The choice of which to use is based on individual circumstances. I know that Dr Deb and Dr Alice, and the staff at Bear Creek Animal Clinic have spent lots of time researching which type of vaccines are the safest and best to use. They will also spend the time necessary to make sure that your pet gets the appropriate vaccines.
As I was looking into this, I came across a lengthy explanation of immunity. I started to nod off while reading the discussion of antibodies and antigens, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Basically, immunity means that the body is protected from the effects of a given disease because it has been taught how to fight it, having been exposed to a small dose when it was healthy.
As you recall, when I was given my vaccines this week, it felt like a mosquito bite. That is because I was given a subcutaneous injection, which means it was given in the space under the skin. The body “gets” more of the vaccine this way. The white cells, which are like the soldiers of the body, take up more of the vaccine and greater stimulation of the immune system is achieved. It may look easy, but veterinarians have a number of variables to consider before giving a vaccine.
When puppies and kittens are born, they have not been exposed to anything and so have not had a chance to develop their own immunity. They need protection against any infections that may be in their environment. They receive this protection or “passive immunity” from their mother. It is transferred across the placenta to the unborn puppy or kitten, as well as through the first milk (colostrum). This immunity declines steadily over the first few weeks of life and is largely gone by 12 weeks.
Vaccines are boosted for a number of reasons. Without complicated testing, it is impossible to know when the offspring lost the maternal passive immunity. A strong maternal immunity can interfere with early vaccination (given before 8 weeks of age). The first dose is considered a “priming dose”, getting the immune system ready, and the subsequent dose or doses boost the response to a higher, longer-lasting level of immunity.
Pets need to be vaccinated on a schedule to ensure that this response stays at its peak protective level. In most properly vaccinated animals, immunity should last a year to several years, depending on the vaccine. Immunity does decline over time. Therefore it is recommended, to maintain the best immunity and the strongest protection, that pets be revaccinated according to a proven schedule. Vaccines usually produce a reasonable level of immunity within 14 days. In young animals, maternal antibodies may hinder protection, so it is advisable to keep them away from animals with an unknown vaccine history until 14 days after their vaccination course has been completed.
Most animals with low-risk lifestyles can be vaccinated every three years, after the initial vaccines and boosters are given. You can discuss the proper schedule for your pet with your veterinarian. Regardless of your pet’s individual vaccine schedule, it is recommended that the veterinarian be visited annually for a health and wellness screening. Even if you decide to forego the annual exam, if it has been more than 12 months since your pet was seen and evaluated,the State Of Oregon Veterinary Examining Board, who oversees veterinarians, dictates that there must be a valid client/patient/doctor relationship before vaccines can be given. This valid relationship is demonstrated by a complete physical examination. The physical exam also ensures that an already ill pet is not vaccinated. In addition, if you bring your pet in for a vaccine and you have been seen within the last 12 months, we will weigh your pet, take a temperature (normal for our pets is 100 to 103), and get a brief history. In most cases a minor illness would not have disastrous consequences but it is important for an animal to be healthy when vaccinated, to ensure proper development and continuation of immunity. Additionally, after vaccination, your pet may feel punky for a day or so. It is natural for this to occur as the body is (re)developing immunity. Lethargy and a slight fever are normal. Vomiting, diarrhea, or a high fever or swelling would warrant a recheck with the doctor.
At Bear Creek Animal Clinic, the vaccines are divided into two basic categories: core and lifestyle. Core vaccines are those which are recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and are found to have higher risk in a given geographic area. Lifestyle vaccines are those recommended by AAHA for animals in special circumstances, usually given risk of exposure. Canine core vaccines given by the doctors at Bear Creek include rabies, DAPP (distemper, parvo, parainfluenza, and adenovirus), and leptospirosis. Feline core vaccines are rabies and RCP (feline upper respiratory and distemper). The vaccines considered lifestyle vaccines for southern Oregon dogs include lyme and bordetella (kennel cough; usually required by trainers and boarding facilities), and leukemia for cats. Leukemia becomes a core vaccine if cats are outside at all, or exposed to other cats in the household that may be going outside.
So, all in all, as undignified as it may have been I am glad that my girls wrangled me onto the treatment table and “stabbed” me. It means they care enough to want what is best for me, as I know all of you want what is best for your furry, four-legged family members. And like I said earlier, if you have questions about the vaccines or what is proper for your individual pet, give the team at Bear Creek a call and set up a time to talk with a technician or have your pet examined by the doctor.