Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Vaccinations for Your Pet


Pet Column for the week of July 14, 1997


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D.
Information Specialist

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure when it comes to your pet's
health. Preventing disease by vaccination is safer and cheaper than treating disease.

"An animal's immune system has to learn to recognize an infectious agent and to produce
appropriate antibodies," says Dr. Rhonda L. Schulman, veterinarian and internal medicine
resident at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana. "When
unvaccinated animals are exposed to a virus or bacteria, they can become very sick before
their immune system has time to react. Vaccinations give the immune system a head start so
that antibodies are ready to destroy the infectious agent immediately, before it can make the
animal sick."

Newborn pups and kittens get antibodies from their mother when they nurse. Maternal
antibodies will protect young animals from disease for the first few months of their life. The
length of time maternal antibodies last varies from animal to animal. Once the antibodies are
gone, the young animal is very susceptible to disease.

"Unfortunately, vaccinations will not work while the maternal antibodies are present,"
explains Dr. Schulman. "Therefore, puppies and kittens need a series of shots three to four
weeks apart so they are protected when the maternal antibodies are gone and before they
are exposed to disease. In most cases, vaccinations at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age,
followed by annual boosters, will keep your pet protected for life."

Dr. Schulman recommends the standard DAAPPL vaccine for dogs and FVRCP vaccine
for cats. DAAPPL protects dogs from distemper, hepatitis (caused by two types of
adenovirus), parvovirus, parainfluenza, and leptospirosis. FVRCP protects cats from feline
viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. "These are infectious diseases," she says
"most of which are potentially fatal and prevalent all over the United States."

Dogs and cats should also be vaccinated for rabies at 16 weeks and 1 year of age followed
by a booster every year or every three years, depending on the vaccine. Rabies vaccine is
required by law for dogs.

Some counties in Illinois also require rabies vaccine for cats. Even if not required, a rabies
vaccine will not only protect your cat from rabies but also protect you from legal issues: an
animal that bites a person is required to be quarantined for 10 days; an un-vaccinated pet
that is bitten by another unvaccinated animal is required to be quarantined for six months or
to be euthanized. "One of the saddest things a vet has to do is euthanize a healthy animal
because it was bitten and was not vaccinated," says Dr. Schulman.

Your pet's lifestyle may increase its exposure to other diseases. Dogs that go to boarding
kennels, dog shows, or the like may benefit from vaccinations for bordetella and corona.
Cats that spend time outside should be vaccinated for feline leukemia virus. These diseases
are spread when an animal is in close contact with an infected animal. Your veterinarian can
help you decide if these vaccines are indicated for your pet.