Cat and Dog Vaccinations in Wilmington: Our Unique Philosophy
Since 1996, Wilmington Animal Hospital has adopted a very conservative cat and dog vaccination policy. Our goal is to minimize the number of vaccines given to any one patient. We have found that this has resulted in a reduction of “adverse events” in our patients. For example, vaccine reactions in our patients are very rare. In short, we believe that vaccines can prevent diseases, but they never make you healthy.
How We Do It
By carefully evaluating each dog’s and cat’s risk of exposure to infectious diseases, we can safely limit the number of vaccines that each patient requires.
Wilmington Animal Hospital has also undertaken a very critical review of all of the vaccinations available for our patients.
We recommend vaccinating puppies for parvovirus and distemper (“DP,” a 2-in-1 vaccine) and rabies, making sure that puppies are vaccinated every 3 to 4 weeks, with the last DP vaccine given at 16 weeks of age or older. For kittens, we recommend vaccinating against Feline Distemper, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus (“FVRCP,” a 3-in-1 vaccine given every 3 to 4 weeks, with the last one given at 16 weeks of age or older) and rabies. Contrast this to the more common vaccination schedules in which puppies receive many more vaccine agents (core and non-core vaccines) by 5 months of age.
What We Do
At the first annual wellness exam for adult pets, all dogs are evaluated for risk and any required vaccines. For example, dogs boarding at certain kennels may be subject to certain vaccination requirements. Whenever possible, we begin measuring immunity to parvovirus and distemper in our patients. These tests that measure immunity are called “titers.”
At each annual exam, we reevaluate and do the titer tests according to the dog’s risks and requirements. Most of our patients that do not board or who board at Wilmington Animal Hospital are able to stop all vaccines (except rabies) and titers after the age of 10, when the risk of contracting infectious diseases is very low..
Similarly, for cats we evaluate their risks and vaccine requirements. Cornell University’s Feline Health Center has performed studies evaluating duration of immunity in the feline distemper/herpes virus/calicivirus vaccine. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association has been very proactive in developing vaccine recommendations for cats.
For our feline patients that have no risk of exposure to infectious diseases, booster vaccinations are usually limited (except rabies, according to state law). These cats include solo indoor cats that never board or never go to grooming facilities.
For our feline patients who have a risk of exposure to infectious diseases, titers or booster vaccinations every 3-5 years are recommended for the distemper/herpes virus/calicivirus vaccine. This includes cats that go outside; cats living in households that will be bringing in new, stray, or rescue cats; and cats that board or go to grooming facilities.
The Exception: Rabies
Rabies vaccination is recommended in compliance with state laws. These laws are constantly being updated according to CDC recommendations but vary from state to state. At present, Delaware has some of the strictest rabies laws.
According to the vaccine label, the vaccine is licensed for healthy animals. Medical exemptions can be given for up to one year for pets residing in Pennsylvania; Delaware will soon have medical exemptions as long as the pet has a rabies vaccine titer done. This means that unvaccinated cats and dogs are subject to quarantines of up to 6 months and owners subject to fines if their unvaccinated animals bite or scratch humans or receive bite wounds from other animals, known or unknown, vaccinated or not vaccinated.
With the health of your cat or dog in mind, we will discuss your pet’s risks of exposure versus risks of adverse events if vaccinated, with state laws and their consequences/penalties in mind, and allow you to make the decision for your pet.
What We Have Found
Wilmington Animal Hospital feels that our patients are healthier with the judicious use of vaccines.
We see very few vaccination reactions in puppies and kittens. We attribute this to our policy of giving only one injection every 3-4 weeks and separating out the rabies vaccine for a different office visit.
Leptospirosis is a disease that can infect dogs and humans. The bacteria causes severe kidney and/or liver disease. This vaccination has long been considered non-core (meaning not recommended for every patient). There is a place for leptospirosis vaccination in at-risk patients and use of this non-core vaccine in dogs can be discussed as part of routine wellness care.
It is unknown at this time if the actual incidence of leptospirosis is growing in dogs. Experts all seem to agree that the incidence of the disease is increasing in urban dogs as wildlife concentrations increase in these areas. An urban dog is now just as likely to become infected as a hunting dog.
Until recently, Leptospirosis has been considered a zoonotic disease, meaning an infected dog can pass it on to a human. While this potential for transmission exists, it is being called into question. The belief now is that humans contract leptospirosis through the same sources as their dogs, not from their dogs. People like triathletes who swim in open water are at risk.
In our experience, this disease is uncommon in our patients, but does occur in our area on occasion. When utilizing this vaccination, we recommend:
- Do not get it at the same time as any other vaccines, especially viral ones, as they drive the immune responses differently.
- Do not give to dogs less than 12 weeks of age. In fact, if you can wait until after the initial core vaccines have been given, as suggested by the 2011 American Animal Hospital Association’s Canine Vaccination Guidelines, this may be safer for your dog.
- Remember that the more vaccines given in one office visit, the higher the risk of a reaction, especially in dogs less than 22lbs. (“Adverse events diagnosed within three days of vaccine administration in dogs,” JAVMA, Oct. 1, 2005.)
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
The Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) vaccine remains controversial because of a serious risk posed by the killed type of vaccine and because of the lack of risk posed by the virus to adult cats. We do not recommend this vaccine for most cats. We do not carry this vaccine.
First, the killed form of the FeLV vaccine has been linked to tumors (fibrosarcomas) at the vaccine site. Second, the risk of contracting feline leukemia virus declines markedly after 16 weeks of age, and is extremely low, according to one prominent vaccine researcher, by one year of age. In rare cases in our practice, adult cats may become positive for Feline Leukemia, and they may show signs of illness, but their chances of clearing the virus are excellent. In one unpublished study, 300 susceptible cats were injected with a high dose of the virus directly into the abdomen. Only one cat developed a persistent infection (Personal communication with Dr. Ron Schultz, School of Veterinary Medicine University of Wisconsin-Madison, December 2006.) Other studies proving the efficacy of this vaccine relied on suppressing the immune system in order for the cats in the control groups to succumb to the virus.
The risk of contracting the Feline Leukemia Virus increases with concurrent infection with FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and with prolonged direct contact with infected cats. For cats that go outside, this would include sharing similar food and water dishes. In other words, adult cats not only need to have marked exposure to the virus, but also need a compromised immune system to develop a persistent infection with the virus. For these and other reasons, we feel that most of our patients would not benefit from this vaccine and might actually engender a risk from receiving it.
Feline vaccines in general should be given judiciously because of the cats’ unique propensity to form sarcomas (tumors) at injection sites. While it appears that killed vaccines may present a higher risk, all types of vaccines and even other drugs injected into cats have been implicated in tumor formation. (JAVMA Sept. 1, 2012).
Many more vaccines exist and are marketed to veterinarians. We are happy to discuss any vaccines you might be interested in for your pet.
For more information on vaccinations for dogs and cats, visit UC Davis VMTH Canine and Feline Vaccination Guidelines.