New owners of recently acquired puppies and kittens often bring the newest members of their families directly to the pet hospital for a checkup to ensure the pet is healthy. While this takes place daily in every country, a unique situation we see in China is that nearly all of the owners of purchased pets were told by the sellers or breeders that their pets are already fully vaccinated and won’t need additional shots. The pet vendors and sellers in China are largely unaware of the proper vaccination schedule for pets and so start vaccinations much too early, meaning the puppies and kittens are improperly vaccinated and inadequately protected against common infectious diseases such as canine or feline distemper virus and parvovirus and even the deadly rabies virus.
Our puppies and kittens need to be vaccinated to protect them against infectious diseases that they may be exposed to in their daily routines. Vaccination is particularly essential in China as the pet population is largely unvaccinated at this time. A low vaccination rate means that there is a higher rate of infectious disease within pets in our community. We recommend vaccinating all pets against rabies and distemper annually. The canine distemper combination vaccine protects against the distemper virus and several other infectious diseases such as hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza, leptospirosis and coronavirus in dogs. For cats, the feline distemper virus protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus. Our recommendation for annual vaccinations extends to both indoor cats and dogs that rarely go outside as some of these viruses may be spread by fecal matter tracked into the house on soles of shoes.
Young or previously unvaccinated animals must be vaccinated several times in order for them to develop a sufficient level of antibodies for protection. Vaccination must be performed on a certain time schedule to develop immunity against a disease. We vaccinate starting at six-eight weeks of age to protect the animal should they have received insufficient protective antibodies from their mother.
If a young animal still has high maternal antibodies the initial vaccines will not stimulate the immune system, as the maternal antibodies will neutralize the vaccine. The age at which the maternal antibodies are low enough for the vaccine to stimulate the immune system is different for each animal. Based on the science of immunology, we vaccinate in a series of injections (called booster vaccinations) approximately every three-four weeks until an animal is 16 weeks of age. If we were to merely wait until an older age to start vaccination, the animal could be at risk of infection because the maternal antibodies may be too low.
So for a six-eight-week-old puppy or kitten, he or she would receive three injections of the distemper vaccine at three-four week intervals and then the rabies vaccination when they are at least three months (or 90 days) old. The time period between each booster vaccination is also important. If given too closely together, vaccines can interfere with each other and insufficiently stimulate the immune system. Your veterinarian will make recommendations for your pet’s vaccination schedule based on your pet’s age, breed, health condition and medical history, before providing a tailored vaccination schedule for you to follow and take with you. Following these recommendations closely is crucial to protect your pet against infectious diseases.
To ensure the safety and quality of vaccines for your pets, please take your pets only to officially designated animal vaccination hospitals. These officially designated animal vaccination hospitals are issued a bronze plaque from the Agricultural Bureau that must be displayed prominently for all pet owners to see. The animal rabies, distemper and other vaccines used by officially designated animal hospitals may only be sold to them by the Agricultural Bureau that acts a vaccine distribution monopoly and controls all vaccine imports and sales to designated animal hospitals. Any other outlets cannot legally purchase rabies vaccines, and so their only recourse is to purchase vaccines from unsecured illegal channels where the vaccines may be counterfeit, expired or improperly stored and therefore, ineffective.
By vaccinating our pets against zoonotic diseases such as rabies, we are also safeguarding human public health. Click here for more information on rabies awareness and prevention.
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Mary Peng is the Co-Founder & CEO of International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS).
This post first appeared on thebeijnger.com on July 30, 2014.