By Rachele Baker, DVM – One simple and yet very important way to help keep your pet healthy is to make sure that he or she receives the proper vaccinations. Vaccinations help to protect your pet from debilitating diseases. After receiving vaccinations, pets will develop antibodies to the diseases that they are vaccinated against to help protect them in the event that they are exposed to one of those diseases in the future.
The American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association for Feline Practitioners have published guidelines for vaccination of dogs and cats. Based on those guidelines, certain vaccines are considered “core” vaccines that all dogs or cats should receive regardless of their lifestyle or geographical location. Other vaccines are available which can be given if your pet has a risk of exposure due to the area in which they live or due to their lifestyle.
What are the “core” vaccinations and what do they protect against? For dogs, the core vaccines are DA2P and Rabies. For cats, the core vaccines are FVRCP and Rabies.
Core Vaccines for Dogs:
This vaccine is commonly called the “distemper” vaccine but it is actually a combination vaccine that vaccinates dogs for more than one disease.
The “D” in DA2P stands for Canine Distemper Virus (CDV):
Distemper is a very contagious disease in dogs that can affect many different body systems including the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract, and the central nervous system. Puppies, especially unvaccinated puppies, are the most susceptible to the disease.
Most commonly, the distemper virus is transmitted by airborne respiratory secretions (such as those produced by coughing) of infected dogs. However the disease can also be transmitted when a healthy dog’s nose or mouth comes in direct contact with bodily secretions from an infected dog (such as nasal discharge or saliva) or with contaminated items such as food or water bowls or people’s hands.
Infection with distemper virus can lead to many different clinical signs including fever, loss of appetite, discharge from the nose and eyes, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and neurological signs such as seizures. In some cases, hyperkeratosis of the nose and footpads may be seen (the nose and footpads become very thickened and cracked – see photo).
The “A2” in DA2P stands for Canine Adenovirus Type 2 (CAV-2):
The CAV-2 vaccine helps to protect your dog against two distinct diseases: Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH) and Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (kennel cough).
Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH):
Infectious Canine Hepatitis is a highly contagious disease in dogs which affects the liver and other organs. Dogs less than one year old, especially unvaccinated young dogs, are the most susceptible to ICH.
The main route of infection is direct contact of a healthy dog’s nose or mouth with urine, feces, or saliva from infected dogs or with contaminated items such as food or water bowls or people’s hands.
The clinical signs that may be seen in a dog infected with ICH include fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fluid in the abdomen, enlarged liver, respiratory distress, bruising, and sudden death.
Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (kennel cough):
Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) is a highly contagious respiratory infection in dogs which results in swelling and inflammation of the main airways: the trachea and bronchi. It is characterized by frequent episodes of coughing which may sound like the dog is trying to cough something up.
Most commonly, kennel cough is transmitted by airborne respiratory secretions (such as those produced by coughing) of infected dogs. However it can also be transmitted by contaminated items such as food or water bowls, toys, or people’s hands.
Numerous organisms may cause kennel cough and it is common for more than one pathogen to be involved. Pathogens that may be involved include Canine Adenovirus Type 2, Bordetella bronchiseptica (which is a bacteria), and Canine Parainfluenza Virus.
In many cases, dogs with kennel cough will seem perfectly healthy except for their cough. In more severe cases, kennel cough can progress to pneumonia.
The “P” in DA2P stands for Parvovirus:
Puppies, especially unvaccinated puppies, are the most susceptible to this disease.
Because this virus is shed in enormous numbers by infected animals and is very hardy, it is present worldwide in every environment. Some dogs are subclinically infected with parvovirus and do not appear sick but they will still shed virus particles in their stool. Virus particles on the ground can attach to the bottom of people’s shoes and to the paws of dogs and other animals and be spread everywhere. So all puppies will be exposed to parvovirus at some point in their lives.
Puppies can get infected with the virus when they are licking dirt off themselves during normal grooming or when they eat things off the ground. Whether a puppy becomes clinically ill with parvovirus after exposure depends on the number of virus particles the puppy is exposed to, whether the puppy has been adequately vaccinated for parvovirus prior to exposure, and how strong the puppy’s immune system is.
After infecting a puppy, parvovirus enters the puppy’s bone marrow and kills white blood cells which are needed to protect the puppy against disease. Then the parvovirus enters the puppy’s intestines and attacks the intestinal cells responsible for absorption of fluids and nutrients. This results in diarrhea and vomiting. The damage to the intestinal walls can allow bacteria to migrate through the intestinal walls into the rest of the body resulting in severe disease from bacterial toxins.
Rabies Vaccine – A Core Vaccine for Both Dogs and Cats:
In 2010, 303 cats and 69 dogs tested positive for rabies in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of rabies cases reported in cats is routinely three to four times that of rabies reported in dogs. The following map from the CDC shows the number of rabid dogs and cats reported in the United States in 2011:
Rabies virus is most commonly transmitted from the saliva of infected animals via bite wounds. The most common wildlife species that infect domestic animals in the United States are skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes.
The rabies virus travels from the site of the bite wound to the brain. After infecting the brain, the virus spreads to the salivary glands of the animal and that animal is then capable of transmitting the virus to other animals via bite wounds. At this point in the disease, the animal will begin to show clinical signs of rabies. At first the animal may show behavioral changes. Within a few days, paralysis of the throat and other muscles occurs and the animal may become unable to swallow and will therefore salivate profusely (“foaming at the mouth”). Once clinical signs have begun, there is no treatment available and the animal will die from eventual paralysis of the chest muscles necessary for breathing.
Core Vaccines for Cats:
The FVRCP vaccine is a combination vaccine that vaccinates cats for more than one disease.
The “FVR” in FVRCP stands for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (Feline Herpesvirus Type 1 (FHV-1)):
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis is a highly contagious disease caused by Feline Herpesvirus Type 1 (FHV-1) and is one of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections in cats. FHV-1 can infect cats of all ages but kittens are most susceptible. Once a cat is infected with herpesvirus, the virus will remain in their body for the rest of their life and they will experience flare-ups of clinical disease from the herpesvirus when their immune system is compromised due to stress.
Cats become infected with FHV-1 by direct contact with virus particles. Feline herpesvirus is present in saliva as well as eye and nasal discharges from infected cats. Cats can become infected by direct contact with an infected cat or with objects that have been contaminated with virus particles such as food and water dishes or litter boxes. Some cats that do not appear sick are carriers of the herpesvirus and may shed virus particles.
Infection with FHV-1 leads to signs of upper respiratory infection including sneezing episodes, discharge from the eyes and nose, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissues that line the eyelids), eye ulcers, nasal congestion, loss of appetite, fever, and lethargy.
The “C” in FVRCP stands for Calicivirus:
Calicivirus is a highly contagious disease that may be responsible for as many as half of all upper respiratory infections seen in cats. Cats of all ages are susceptible but clinical signs seem to be more severe in kittens.
Calicivirus is present in saliva as well as eye and nasal discharges from infected cats. Cats can become infected by direct contact with an infected cat or with objects that have been contaminated with virus particles such as food and water dishes or litter boxes. Some cats that do not appear sick are carriers of calicivirus and may shed virus particles.
Clinical signs of calicivirus infection include sneezing, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, discharge from the eyes and nose, sudden lameness in one or more joints (this is seen more frequently in kittens and has been called “limping kitten syndrome”), loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, and ulcers on the tongue (see photo), roof of the mouth, gums, lips, or nose. Cats with ulcers in the mouth will usually drool a lot.
The “P” in FVRCP stands for Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper):
Panleukopenia is a very serious and potentially fatal disease caused by Feline Panleukopenia Virus. It is highly contagious among unvaccinated cats and kittens.
Panleukopenia virus is very hardy and widespread in the environment. It is most commonly transmitted when a susceptible cat or kitten’s mouth or nose contacts feces, urine, or saliva (especially feces) of infected cats or when their mouth or nose contacts contaminated objects such as food and water dishes or litter boxes.
Clinical signs may include depression, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea (which may be bloody), dehydration, and sudden death.
When Should Vaccinations Be Given?
The “AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines” recommends that puppies be vaccinated with the DA2P vaccine every three to four weeks beginning as early as six weeks of age and continuing until sixteen weeks of age. The DA2P vaccine should be boostered one year later and then boostered every three years thereafter. The initial Rabies vaccine should be given no earlier than twelve weeks of age or as mandated by state or local law. The Rabies vaccine should be boostered one year later and then boostered every three years thereafter or as mandated by state or local law.
The “American Association of Feline Practitioners Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel Report” recommends that kittens be vaccinated with the FVRCP vaccine every three to four weeks beginning as early as six weeks of age and continuing until sixteen weeks of age. The FVRCP vaccine should be boostered one year later and then boostered every three years thereafter. The initial Rabies vaccine should be given no earlier than eight to twelve weeks of age (depending on the type of Rabies vaccine used). The Rabies vaccine should be boostered one year later and then boostered annually or every three years thereafter depending on the type of Rabies vaccine used.
Making sure that your pet receives the proper vaccinations at the recommended times is a simple and yet very important way to help keep your pet healthy.