Core vs. Elective Vaccines
Most veterinary clinics tailor the vaccine protocol to your pet and its specific needs. There are certain vaccines that are a must for your pet. These are known as core vaccines. Core vaccines are considered those that all animals must have to ensure good health or to protect the public.
Elective vaccines are all other vaccines that are administered according to an assessed rate of risk. Much of the risk is dependent upon the lifestyle of the pet. Lifestyles can vary according to the amount of time spent outdoors, freedom to roam when outside, and areas traveled. The number of like pets in the household is also a factor that can come into play. We can design a vaccination protocol tailored to meet the specific needs of your pet and its lifestyle.
"Does my animal need vaccinations, it is never outdoors?"
The answer to this question is yes. Some viruses can last a long period of time in the environment, therefore you can walk them into your home on your clothing or shoes. There is no guarantee that your pet will not come into contact with other animals. It can meet an animal through the screened patio door, be exposed when relatives or friends visit with their pets, or they may at some point escape into the outdoors. Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of most mammals, including humans. Having our pets vaccinated for rabies in Ontario is required by law.
Most veterinary clinics tailor the vaccine protocol of your pet to its specific needs. There are certain vaccines that are a must for your pet. These are known as core vaccines. Core vaccines are considered those that all animals must have to ensure good health or to protect the public. In our clinic, we administer the following core vaccines:
Dogs: The core vaccines for dogs are a combination vaccine which includes Canine Distemper, Parainfluenza, Adenovirus type 2, and Parvovirus (shortened to DA2PP), and Rabies.
Cats: The core vaccines for cats are a combination vaccine including Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper), Feline Viral Rhinotrachitis and Feline Calicivirus (shortened to FVR-CP), and Rabies.
The veterinarian may recommend additional vaccines for your pet. These additional vaccines are known as Elective (or Lifestyle) vaccines. Elective vaccines are administered according to an assessment based on your pet's risk of exposure, prevalence of the disease in the area and your pet's lifestyle. For dogs, elective vaccines include Bordetella (Kennel Cough), Leptospirosis, and Lyme vaccines. For cats, Leukemia is an elective vaccine.
"Why do we have to vaccinate our pets every year?"
The immunity developed by a vaccine depends on the pathogen and the metabolism of the individual animal. Not all animals or humans for that matter respond to a vaccination in the same manner. Different individuals will mount different levels of antibodies and the duration of that response is unknown. No vaccine protects 100 percent. Vaccine manufacturers have determined that most vaccines have a duration longer than one year. There are some exceptions like the Merial rabies vaccine, Imrab1, has duration of one year and Imrab3 of three year duration. In this clinic, we use the Merial Imrab3 rabies vaccine.
Some clients have a concern that their pet may be vaccinated too much. As mentioned above, the manufacturers do not know how long the immunity of the vaccine will last past the first year or so. One can request a titre for a particular virus or disease. A titre is a blood test that measures the level of antibodies in the blood available to fight that particular virus or disease. The blood sample has to be sent away to special laboratories to be run. A titre will have to be run for each virus or disease component in the vaccine. The cost of running a titre on one component will cost your veterinarian approximately $70.00. For example, the Canine distemper combination can have four or more components so the cost would be $280.00 or more. This cost with a mark up would be passed on to the client. And should the titres not be adequate enough for protection, the pet will still have to have the vaccinations.
With regard to some viruses or diseases, researchers do not always agree on what level of antibodies in the blood constitutes a titre that would provide sufficient protection. More research is required to address the uncertainty of the duration of immunity, and uncertainty of the titres. Until such time as these issues are addressed and the cost of titre testing is more reasonable, veterinarians will continue to follow the manufacturers recommendations regarding frequency of vaccinations.
"What kind of reactions from the vaccines should I be watching for?"
Over the years, the manufacturers have improved the vaccines, by using different diluent or carrier products. Today's vaccines are very safe. It is not uncommon for a pet to be lethargic for 12 to 24 hours after receiving his/her vaccines. Occasionally, there may be some swelling or thickening at the injection site. This is a localized reaction. Occasionally, minor allergic reactions do occur. They are usually limited to swelling of the face or a hive-like rash that may occur with in the first two hours after the vaccination is administered. Life threatening allergic reactions resulting in anaphylactic shock are rare and require immediate veterinary assistance. It is estimated that one life threatening reaction may occur in approximately 60,000 administered vaccinations.
"Why does my pet have to have an exam? Can we not just get the vaccine injections?"
When an animal receives a vaccine, there is a process that is initiated for the animal to create an immune response to that particular virus or disease for which is has been vaccinated. The optimal immune response will occur when the animal is healthy and in its optimal state of health. Then, should the animal become exposed to that particular virus or disease in the future, the antibodies are there to start attacking the virus or disease. This will ensure that the animal will not develop any, or develop only mild clinical signs from the attack by the virus or disease.
Should an animal be unhealthy, the immune system is already at work trying to bring the body back to its optimal state of health. If a vaccine is given to the animal at this time, the pet is not able to create the optimal immune response to the vaccine. The animal will have a poor immune response to the vaccine and is still at risk of contracting the virus or disease. In addition the vaccine could delay the animal from being restored to its optimal state of health. For the client this is money spent unwisely for a security that is false.
The CVO (College of Veterinarians of Ontario) is the licencing body for veterinarians in Ontario. This licencing body has set up a code of ethics to which all veterinarians licenced in Ontario must abide. This code of ethics is to ensure the public that it receives a standardized level of quality service across the province. In that code of ethics it is required that all animals be examined and deemed to be in good health as per the physical exam and consultation with you the client, before vaccinations are given. For a veterinarian to vaccinate an animal without previously examining it, would be a contravention to the veterinarian's licence to practice. Certain exemptions have been given for rabies clinics.
It is also good preventative medicine for your pet to have an annual examination. This allows your veterinarian to be more familiar with your pet and also to develop a good relationship with you the client. The veterinarian will note changes in your pet as they arise from year to year. This is important for when your pet becomes ill, the veterinarian will know what is normal or not normal for your pet. The annual exam will also allow the veterinarian to detect an illness or condition in its early stages and be able to treat the illness or manage the condition before the condition becomes too serious or critical. The annual exam also allows the client to get the answers to any questions that may have surfaced regarding their pets health or behaviour since your last visit. The main purpose in the annual exam and vaccination of your pet is to ensure that your pet will have a long and healthy life.
Core vaccinations for cats are:
Distemper combination which combines Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper), Feline Viral Rhinotrachitis, and Feline Calicivirus (short form is FVR-CP)
Elective vaccinations for cats are:
Leukemia - Recommended for all outdoor cats and cats in a multi-cat household.
Kittens: Vaccinations are recommended at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. The timing of the vaccines and their combination may vary from patient to patient depending upon the age of the pet when seen on its first visit and whether vaccines have been already administered by another clinic or the breeder.
8 weeks of age:
Distemper Combination (core)
12 weeks of age:
1st Booster of Distemper Combination (core)
Leukemia (elective) if pet is deemed at risk
16 weeks of age:
2nd Booster of Distemper Combination (core)
Booster of Leukemia (if initially given at 12 weeks of age)
Adult Cats: Yearly booster on the anniversary date of the 16-week vaccinations:
Distemper Combination (core)
Rabies (core). Rabies vaccination is then given every second year.
Leukemia booster (elective) if pet is deemed at risk.
Core vaccinations for dogs are:
Distemper combination which includes four respiratory viruses: Canine Distemper, Parainfluenza, Adenovirus Type 2, and Parvovirus (short form is DA2PP)
Elective vaccinations for dogs are:
Bordetella (Kennel Cough) - Mandatory for all puppies and all dogs being boarded in a kennel. Recommended for all dogs with regular exposure to other dogs. i.e. competition, doggy daycare, grooming, or using an off leash park.
Leptospirosis - Recommended for outdoor dogs with access to stagnant water and/or wildlife areas.
Lyme - Recommended for dogs with high exposure to ticks especially those traveling into the high risk areas.
Puppies: Vaccinations are recommended at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. The timing of the vaccines may vary from patient to patient depending upon the age of the pet when seen on its first visit and whether vaccines have been already administered by another clinic or the breeder.
Adult Dogs: Yearly booster on the anniversary date of the 16-week vaccinations:
Distemper Combination (core)
Rabies (core) is given every second year
Leptospirosis booster (elective) if pet is deemed at risk
Lyme (elective) if pet is deemed at risk.