In recent years much of the concern about vaccines being dangerous or unnecessary has subsided. There was for a time, an unsubstantiated notion that vets were “over vaccinating” pets and that vaccines were the cause of “many illnesses” in pets. However, thankfully published studies using evidence-based medicine, 60 years of experience and just plain common sense has prevailed and a balanced approach to vaccinating pets has been achieved. The bottom line is that vaccinations have saved more lives of animals and people on this planet than any other medical discovery and will continue to do so for years to come. Vaccines are generally very safe and very few animals experience any adverse effects. Read this section to learn more about our vaccination protocols and why and when we recommend them to prevent diseases in your pet. A full physical examination is performed on every dog or cat which receives vaccines and if health issues are found during the examination, vaccines may be postponed until your pet is well enough to receive them.
Vaccinations for Cats and Kittens
The core vaccines which we recommend for kittens and cats on Vancouver Island protect kittens and cats against distemper (panleukopenia virus), upper respiratory infections (calicivirus and viral rhinotracheitis), feline leukemia virus and rabies virus.
The feline distemper vaccination is actually a combination vaccine protecting against panleukopenia, calicivirus, and viral rhinotracheitis. These viruses can create serious health conditions, especially in kittens, often leading to death or chronic debilitation. Direct or indirect contact with infected kittens or cats and or through bodily fluids is how these viruses are spread. Distemper is especially nasty and often will cause death via severe diarrhea and bone marrow suppression in young kittens. This combination vaccine is recommended for all cats (indoor cats or outside cats) and given at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age, at one year and then boosted every three years thereafter.
Another core vaccine is against feline leukemia virus which can cause a wide variety of conditions such as leukemia, chronic immune suppression and lymphoid tumours. This is spread through direct means usually involving prolonged close contact, sharing food and water bowls or from bites with infected cats. Generally, this vaccine is recommended vaccine in young cats which may get into fights outdoors or in multiple cat households or catteries. This vaccine is given at 8 and 12 weeks, boosted at one year and then annually until middle to old age depending on the cat’s lifestyle.
Rabies on Vancouver Island is a low-risk disease because unlike other areas in Canada, the only recorded wildlife vectors of rabies in this area are bats, but cats can catch sick bats both outdoors and indoors on occasion. At Mckenzie Veterinary Services we strongly recommend all cats receive this vaccine because rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted directly to humans through saliva in a cat bite. Cats rarely behave clinically ill until they go into a “furious phase” of the illness and start attacking people. Rabies vaccine is given at 12 or 16 weeks, boosted at one year and then every three years. Rabies is also required for movement of cats into the US and nearly every other country.
Distemper and parvovirus are major infectious causes of death in young dogs in so many parts of the world. Fortunately, in Victoria we have a well-vaccinated urban population of dogs, distemper is becoming very uncommon. In addition, because responsible dog owners remove and properly dispose of their dogs’ feces, the local “load” of parvovirus which is shed in feces into the environment, has been reduced and so parvovirus too is an uncommon disease in Victoria dogs. Nonetheless, these diseases can be fatal and vaccinations we use do protect your dog and therefore we recommend puppies receive this vaccine combination at 8 and 12 weeks, boost at one year and then every three years.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease we don’t hear about much but it is arguably the most likely preventable disease which dogs could pick up anywhere in Victoria and without knowing it. This is not a disease generally spread directly dog to dog; dogs get infected when they drink standing water or damp grass or vegetation which has been contaminated with the infected urine of urban wildlife such as rats, raccoons, mice, squirrels and also river otters.
That common wildlife are asymptomatic carriers of the spirochete bacteria Leptospira (many strains exist), and when they pass infected urine into the environment, Leptospira can live in cool damp conditions for up to six weeks. Dogs drinking out of puddles or eating grass may get infected unknowingly with Leptospirosis, and become severely ill and may die of liver or kidney infections. It is a difficult organism to definitively diagnose in a sick pet and another concern is that you, the owner, could potentially become infected if you are cleaning up the messes of your sick pet. For this reason, we strongly believe that all dogs should get an annual vaccine against Leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis is considered to be an emerging urban disease across North America as our cities become havens for urban wildlife and in 2014/2015 there were many new cases reported in dogs Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. At McKenzie Veterinary Services we have always considered Leptospirosis an important core vaccine for dogs. It is generally given at 12 and 16 weeks of age in puppies and annually in adult dogs. The newer generation Leptospirosis vaccines rarely cause side effects.
Rabies is also a concern in dogs just as it is in cats. It has been estimated that 25,000 people around the world die annually from rabies. The majority of deaths are in children bitten by feral dogs in Africa, India and Asia. Again we are fortunate to have very few carriers of rabies here on Vancouver Island, only know carriers here are bat and BC bat biologists estimate that only 1 in 900 bats in BC carry rabies. The reason why dogs should be vaccinated is because, if a dog bites a human, and that dog has no history of a current rabies vaccine, it may come to pass that it would be euthanized and it’s brain tissue sent to a lab to definitively determine if that dog had passed rabies onto the human. Without prompt treatment most animals and humans that contract rabies will die. Rabies is given in puppies at 12 or 16 weeks, at one year and then boosted every three years. It is also required for all international travel.
There are two canine vaccines which we feel are non-core vaccines, meaning we recommend them only when your dog’s exposure to disease may be higher than normal for this area. One non-core vaccine is for Lyme Disease (Borreliosis) which in our area is uncommon and spread through Ixodes acificus, the Black-Legged Tick. If your dog spends a good deal of time in the woods and parks in our region and receives many tick bites per year, then we may recommend that your dog get this annual vaccine.
Two other tick born diseases, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis are known to be present in ticks on southern Vancouver Island. Vets at McKenzie Veterinary Services recently published a case report of Anaplasmosis in a dog that had never left Vancouver Island (link to our web article on Ticks). There are no vaccines against these diseases, thankfully they are very rare here.
We also consider vaccinating against so-called “Kennel Cough” to be a non-core vaccination. This vaccination may be required for dogs attending doggy daycare, dog shows, obedience classes, field trials and for kenneling purposes. Many different bacteria and viruses can potentially trigger the infectious tracheitis/bronchitis seen during kennel cough outbreaks in our area. The kennel cough vaccines are not always effective in preventing disease, just as the human flu shot does not always confer cross-protection against every strain of flu virus. Furthermore, when dogs are infected they rarely experience more than a harsh, honking cough lasting 5 to 7. Thus, it is unclear if there is a great benefit to giving this vaccine annually unless a dog is in higher risk situations where they are constant close contact with other dogs. Discuss with your veterinarian your dogs’ exposure to other dogs and other events or activities they are involved in before considering the merits of this vaccination.