These maternal antibodies gradually decrease during the first few months of the puppy’s life. Consequently, puppies and kittens are given a series of vaccinations until they are approximately 16 weeks of age. If you’re not sure how old your pet is, we look for them to get their first adult teeth, which occurs reliably around 16 weeks of age, letting us know that it’s OK to finish the vaccine series. The maternal antibodies may interfere with a pet’s early vaccination. By vaccinating more frequently, later doses will continue to stimulate the pet’s generation of its own disease–fighting antibodies. Remember puppies and kittens are not immune to diseases for which they are vaccinated until two weeks after the last injection in the series!
All warm–blooded animals, including humans, can become infected with the rabies virus. The virus attacks the nervous system and causes either “dumb” Rabies, where the animal drools excessively or avoid physical contact, or “furious” Rabies, where the animal becomes unnaturally aggressive. Most Rabies exists in wild animals, especially raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. Dogs and cats acquire the disease from saliva in the bite of an infected animal. There is no cure for Rabies and no test for it that can be performed on a live animal. Proper vaccination is your pets’ only protection. Laws in Florida require vaccination of both dogs and cats for Rabies beginning after about four months of age. A booster is given one year after the first vaccination, and every three years thereafter.
This is one of the most important diseases affecting dogs. It is very widespread and up to 75% of unvaccinated dogs can develop the disease, especially puppies. The most common signs include fever, diarrhea, discharge from the nose and eye, and muscle twitches that can progress to seizures and death.
PARAINFLUENZE VIRUS (DOGS)
Canine parainfluenza is a very contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus in the air. In serious cases, pneumonia may develop and it could be fatal.
Most dog owners have heard of Parvo since this disease first appeared in 1978. Parvo is the most dangerous and fatal disease threatening dogs today. This disease is transmitted through feces and vomit from an infected dog. This virus is very contagious and can live in the environment for long periods of time, so that your dog does not have to be in contact with any other puppies or even go out of your own yard to catch it. You can track it on your feet! Mortality (death) rates approach 20%, and puppies that survive are capable of spreading the disease for up to 30 days in their feces. The most common signs are not eating, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea in a young dog. In one form of the disease the heart muscle may be affected. The death rate is very high in unvaccinated puppies under six months of age.
‘KENNEL COUGH’ (BORDETELLA) (DOGS)
Kennel cough is highly contagious and is caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria. Dogs are most at risk while at a kennel, pet shop, grooming facility, or anyplace they are exposed to other dogs. We recommend every pet be vaccinated for kennel cough even if they do not routinely have exposure to other dogs, because many dogs have become infected after an unplanned boarding or hospital stay. The disease is characterized by a persistent hacking cough that can last anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks. Fortunately, the available vaccines prevent most of the viruses and bacteria that cause kennel cough.
LYME DISEASE (DOGS THAT TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF FLORIDA)
Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks and has been mostly associated with fever and joint problems in dogs. The tick that transmits Lyme disease currently does not live in Florida, and cases reported in dogs in Florida have mainly been associated with travel to areas where the tick is found, primarily the Northeastern and Mid Atlantic United States. For that reason, we do not recommend that your dog be routinely vaccinated against Lyme disease. If you anticipate traveling to an endemic area in the next year, please ask our doctors or staff about vaccinating your dog.
FELINE DISTEMPER (CATS)
Feline distemper is more similar to Parvo in dogs than it is to distemper in dogs. Cats with this disease run a high fever, lose their appetite, and have vomiting and bloody stool. Mortality (death) rate is fairly high. Usually young cats are affected.
FELINE LEUKEMIA (FELV) (CATS)
Feline leukemia is a disease that is somewhat similar to the AIDS virus in people in that it attacks the immune system. Affected cats have higher rates of certain types of cancer, may develop true “leukemia” or cancer of the bone marrow, or may suffer from serious infection due to lack of a functioning immune system. A mother cat with leukemia may pass it on to her unborn kittens. Spread between cats is by direct cat to cat contact in a social setting, such as fighting or mating, sharing water bowls, and grooming each other. All new cats or kittens should be tested for this disease, and cats that are in a high–risk group (cats that go outdoors or live in a household with more than 3 cats) should be vaccinated. The vaccine is considered optional for cats living 100% indoors in a household with less than 3 cats.
FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS (FIV/FELINE AIDS) (CATS)
FIV is closely related to HIV in people. It is not the same virus and cannot be transferred to people. Like HIV, FIV destroys the immune system, leaving its victim at risk for serious infections and cancer. This disease is most common in outdoor, unneutered male cats. It is spread like feline leukemia by direct contact, but it is a little harder to catch, requiring exchange of body fluids like fighting, biting, or mating. Although there is a commercial vaccine available for FIV, we do not currently recommend its use. If you have an outdoor cat and have questions about this disease or the vaccine that is available, please ask one of the doctors or staff members.
FELINE INFECTIOUS PERITONITIS (FIP) (CATS)
FIP is a complicated disease that is usually seen in young cats, many of which come from large catteries or breeding facilities. It carries a high rate of death but is not generally highly contagious. There is a vaccine available for FIP, but we do not recommend its use at this time due to the very low risk to adult cats.
UPPER RESPIRATORY DISEASE (CATS)
There are several viruses capable of causing upper respiratory disease in cats. These diseases look very much like the “common cold” or the “flu” in people. Vaccination for these diseases is included with the vaccination for distemper in cats.
The good news is that heartworm disease in our pets is nearly 100% preventable with medication. The preventative medication is safe and effective, and should be administered monthly to your pet, year round, continuously for the rest of its life. Modern tests allow us to detect infections early and accurately. We currently recommend heartworm testing annually for dogs and cats on preventative.
As an aside, recent reports show that as many as 50% of the cats in Florida infected with heartworms live 100% indoors! If you have questions about whether or not to place your indoor cat on preventative, please talk to one of our doctors or staff members today!