Preventive care involves more than just ensuring that your pet has the right shots at the right time. Responsible preventive care involves an adequate vaccination program, comprehensive parasite control, controlled exercise that is sufficient to satisfy your dog's needs, and grooming. Vaccination or inoculation simulates the dog to produce active immunity against one or more diseases without developing any symptoms of that disease. In order to achieve this, the causative microorganisms (bacteria or viruses) have to be altered. They are either killed (inactivated) or weakened (attenuated) sufficiently, so as not to cause the disease but to stimulate a workable immunity. The altered microorganisms can be introduced into the body by various routes. For example, vaccination against kennel cough (infectious bronchotracheitis) is by administration of nasal drops. Inoculation, on the other hand, usually involves an injection. Irrespective of the method, the body produces an active immunity that lasts a variable time without boosting. This depends on the type of vaccine and the disease.

Puppy Immunity and Boosters

There are several types of immunity that require different vaccination approach. Puppies are usually born with some immunity that they acquire from their mother while still in the womb. The necessary antibodies are carried in the blood and cross the placenta into the puppy. This acquired (passive) immunity soon wanes, which is why vaccinations are necessary. Modern vaccines confer solid protection in the shortest possible time, even when circulating maternal antibodies are present, and can be completed by ten to twelve weeks of age, affording the puppy early immunity. Because vaccination does not give lifelong immunity, reinforcement (boosting) will be required. Another reason for boosters is that the amount of immunity conferred varies with the disease and is also determined by whether the vaccine is attenuated or inactivated. Generally, killed vaccines last a much shorter time. The problem is when to administer them.

Combined vaccines and boosters have their positive and negative aspects and vaccination programs should take into account the unique state of an animal's immune system. Modern canine vaccines cover several diseases with one course of injections. This is for reasons of cost and convenience. Some components, however, particularly inactivated (killed) vaccines, such as the one against leptospirosis, are known to confer only a short immunity, often measured in months. With any combined (multivalent) vaccine, the efficacy of the product as a whole is considered in relation to the component that gives the shortest period of effective protection. Therefore, although protection against disease such as distemper and hepatitis will last for much linger than a year, because these are combined with leptospirosis, the manufacturer's recommendation will be that an annual booster of the multivalent vaccine is advised. Recent concern regarding the possibility of some dogs developing reactions to booster vaccination has led to a rethink, and manufacturer's recommendations are beginning to change. Primary vaccination and boosters are now tailored for the individual and the area. Discuss this with your local veterinary surgeon at the time of the primary vaccination. There is concern that problems, particularly those of an autoimmune nature, can be caused by over-vaccination, particularly "over-boosting." Blood test are available, both for puppies and adult dogs, that will accurately indicate whether immunity has fallen to a level where the dog is at risk and boosting is advised. However, the cost of testing for one disease will probably be equal to, if not more than, the cost of a combined re-vaccination for all the diseases. There is also the question of stress for the dog.

Another negative aspect of vaccination is vaccinosis, which is a chronic disease caused by adverse effects of vaccination. About one in ten-thousand cats develops a sarcoma - a tumor of connective tissue - within a few months of receiving routine vaccinations. Though these tumors have been known to appear at other locations, they most often develop at or near the injection site. A group of veterinary scientists, researchers, and clinical veterinarians formed the American Veterinary Medical Association Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma Task Force (AVMA-VASTF) to examine the known facts about the sarcomas reported. It was determined that sarcomas most often appeared after administration of the rabies and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) vaccines. One major recommendation was to discontinue the use of polyvalent (combined vaccines - that is, several vaccines combined in a single injection). While such combination shots are more convenient, and possibly cheaper, the Task Force determined that these shots were forcing additional vaccines on cats who didn't need them and were also producing an unacceptable high number of side affects. Because of the concerns expressed regarding vaccinations, the number of components combined in each injection, and the recommendation of annual repeats, vaccines have recently been divided into two groups: core vaccines and noncore vaccines.

Many veterinarians are now recommending the measurement of antibody titers to diseases normally vaccinated against as an alternative to routine annual vaccination. An antibody titer may help determine whether or not a patient is likely to need a booster vaccinations, although there is still much uncertainty surrounding titer use. Antibody titers are more costly than vaccines.

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