Vaccines 101: What you should know

Dr. Evelyn Vega displays a feline leukemia vaccine and syringe at Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia on Friday. 082616 Dan Watson

Got a new puppy or kitten? Take in a stray? Not sure when your pet’s next vaccine is due?

Whatever the situation, vaccinations are an important part of maintaining your pet’s health.

“Vaccines protect against acquiring certain diseases, some of which can be fatal,” said Dr. Evelyn Vega, veterinarian and owner of Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia. “For example, we rarely see dogs with distemper here, but in some parts of LA, it’s quite common.”

Rabies is the only vaccination that’s required by law, as humans can get the disease from animals and it can be fatal to both parties. However, several are recommended as core by the American Animal Hospital Association.

For dogs, the distemper/parvovirus is considered a core vaccine, while cats are recommended to receive a FVRCP.  Both dogs and cats should be vaccinated at 6 to 8 weeks of age, with boosts every 3 to 4 weeks until the age of 16 weeks.

“This is done because both puppies and kittens receive passive immunity from their mothers via colostrum.  This passive immunity protects them from acquiring certain diseases,” Vega said. “However, this immunity starts to slowly disappear between 6-16 weeks of age.  That’s why we vaccinate during this time in order to build up the pets individual immunity.”

Rabies vaccines are required to be boosted one year after the initial vaccination and every three years thereafter. Distemper/parvovirus and FVRCP vaccines are recommended to be boosted one to three years after the initial vaccination.

Dr. Evelyn Vega gives an oral vaccine for kennel cough to an eight-year-old goldendoodle named Tubbs at Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia. (Dan Watson / The Signal)

“Boostering vaccines is important because it helps keep a pet’s immunity or antibodies against a specific disease high,” Vega said.  “We like to separate vaccination into 2 visits, 2 weeks apart.  This decreases the chance of vaccine reactions, plus it does not shock the body in receiving 7 or more diseases that it has to build antibodies for all at one time.”

For those who have taken in a stray for whom a vaccination record is not available, Vega recommended checking for vaccine titer. The blood test measures the amount of antibodies in the blood for a specific disease.

“Checking vaccine titers instead is always an option, however it can be expensive and no minimum levels of antibodies have been established for each specific vaccine to know what the lowest amount of antibodies that will still be protective is,” Vega said.

As such, a pet owner can also vaccinate assuming that no vaccines have been given.

If you’re boarding your pet, it’s important to plan vaccines such as that for kennel cough in advance, as Vega explained.

“It takes the body on average 2 weeks to build antibodies against a specific disease you are vaccinating for.  So when pets are boarding tomorrow and they get vaccines today, they are not protected. It is not an instant process, the body needs time to mount immunity,” Vega said.

In rare cases, pets will have a severe reaction to vaccines that prohibits further vaccinations, with symptoms ranging from hives, vomiting, and swelling to anaphylactic shock or death.

“Vaccine reactions have nothing to do with how they were given or the vaccine used.  It is a very individual response and the veterinarian has absolutely no way of knowing how each individual body is going to respond to the vaccine given,” Vega said. “If a pet has a severe vaccine reaction or if the pet develops an immune mediated disease, then it is recommended to no longer vaccinate.”

There is no specific age where vaccines should be discontinued, according to Vega.

“If I get a senior pet that has regularly received its recommended vaccines and its owner wants to stop vaccinating, I’m ok with it, but I cannot recommend to discontinue vaccines for liability issues and we cannot stop giving rabies vaccine every 3 years, no matter the pet’s age,” she said.

On Sundays, Happy Pets hosts a clinic with 25 percent off vaccines.

Other low-cost vaccination options in the Santa Clarita Valley include TAGS Vet Clinic in Saugus and Castaic Animal Care Center, which offers a vaccine clinic on Wednesday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

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