Spring is the season of rebirth; flowers, greening of flora, warming temperatures, and new puppies and kittens presented to us to start their wellness programs. Invariably, we start to hear either misinformation or misinterpretation of what these youngsters have received and what they need in their vaccine protocol. So, I want to give you some basic immunology of puppies and kittens so you better understand our recommendations.
The immune system consists of a variety of blood cells and proteins (antibodies). They serve to recognize foreign proteins (bacteria/viruses, etc.) and attack them to protect the body from infection. When puppies and kittens are born they have no natural immunity. They receive their initial immunity (maternal antibodies) from their mothers. This immunity generally lasts for 1 to 4 months. The maternal immune system has to 'wear out' before the youngster's own immune system can start to develop. We do not know when the maternal antibodies are gone allowing the youngster's virgin immune system to recognize the vaccine. This timing is different for each individual. We usually give vaccines every 3 weeks until puppies reach 4 months of age and kittens reach 3 to 4 months of age. The older the patient, the more likely the vaccine will 'take'. We start early and continue out to 4 months to assure that we cover all potential windows where the maternal antibodies disappear leaving an unprotected immune system.
So, when your breeder says that the puppy has had all it's shots and it's only 12 weeks of age, he/she probably means that the puppy has had all shots he or she needed up to the current time. The puppy's series is not complete until it's reached 4 months of age. Another misconception is the number of vaccines the puppy or kitten has received. If a puppy is 3 months old and has had 3 or even 4 vaccines, the series is still not complete. The series has to be carried out to 4+ months of age to be 99.9% sure that it is protected.
Nothing is sadder than being presented a 5 month old puppy infected with Parvovirus where the vaccine series protocol was not followed to the end or the owner was told that it had all of it's shots. We vaccinate for several diseases of which most are serious and potentially fatal. Treating a puppy for parvovirus may be successful or end in death. Either way it costs hundreds of dollars to treat this preventable disease, making the cost of the vaccines miniscule in comparison.
So please, when you acquire your puppy or kitten call us for that initial exam, bring the vaccine history, and together we will develop your pet's vaccine protocol.
Dr. Jerry Miller graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has been serving Southern Ohio for his entire career.