First Vaccines for Puppies & Kittens by Dr. Ashley Woo

When should my puppy or kitten get his/her first shots?

We recommend that puppies and kittens should get their first set of vaccines at around 8 weeks of age. The reason for this is because when new born puppies and kittens first nurse from their mother, they receive antibodies from her milk. These antibodies are concentrated in special milk called colostrum, and she will produce this for the first few days following birth. These antibodies help protect your puppy and kitten from various diseases. While the puppy/kitten has circulating maternal antibodies, any vaccines given will be inactivated. This is why we wait until approximately 8 weeks of age for the maternal antibodies to sufficiently decrease.

Every puppy or kitten is different and the time it takes for their maternal antibodies to completely disappear can be variable, allowing them to be vulnerable to disease. This is why we do a series of vaccines starting around 8 weeks of age, and vaccinating every 3-4 weeks until about 16 weeks of age.

What puppy shots are being administered?

Your puppy’s first vaccine is a combined vaccine that protects against 4 viruses in one vaccine. Distemper, Adenovirus, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus (DAPP).

–        Distemper virus: Luckily, due to vaccination, distemper is not commonly seen anymore. This virus is very dangerous and can end in death! The disease normally starts with fever, respiratory signs, progressing to vomiting and diarrhea and ultimately developing into neurological signs such as seizures. The virus is spread by infected animals and is shed in all bodily secretions (urine, respiratory secretions, etc.)

–        Adenovirus Type 2: This virus is related to the hepatitis virus (CAV-1) and is also part of a complex of viruses and bacteria that cause Kennel Cough (Infectious tracheobronchitis) in dogs. Signs of liver disease (hepatitis) are vague and tend to consist of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Kennel cough tends to cause a dry honking cough and tends to be seen after being exposed to other dogs (dog parks, kennels, etc).

–        Parainfluenza virus: This is another virus part of the Kennel cough complex. This is transmitted by infected dogs through the air and is highly contagious.

–        Parvovirus: This is a very serious virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea, severe dehydration and without diagnosis and treatment it can be deadly. Infected dogs require hospitalization with immediate supportive therapy and need to be isolated from other dogs.  The virus is spread in the feces and can last in the environment for a long period of time! This is why it’s important to restrict young dogs access to public environments until 16 weeks of age (until receiving full series of vaccines).

It is very important to ensure your puppy receives their vaccines at the recommended age to help protect against these diseases.  We want our dogs to live long and healthy lives, and by following a proper vaccine protocol we are helping to obtain this goal!

What kitten shots are being administered?

Your kitten’s first vaccine also consists of a combined vaccine that protects against 3 viruses. Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia virus (FRVCP)

–        Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus (herpes virus): This virus causes upper respiratory disease in your cat. The clinical signs seen usually include runny eyes, sneezing, runny nose, coughing, and fever. Once infected with this virus, your cat will be permanently infected. The virus lives in the nerve endings and when your cat in under stressful events the disease can recur. A cat with herpes is contagious when they’re showing clinical signs and for a few weeks afterwards.

–        Calicivirus: This virus also causes upper respiratory disease like the herpes virus. The clinical signs are very similar. The difference with Calicivirus, is that infected cats tend to shed the virus for months, but don’t tend to have recurrence like the herpes virus.

–        Panleukopenia virus (Kitten distemper): This virus is also a Parvovirus but much more severe. This virus tends to be even more lethal and resilient in the environment. On top of causing destruction to gastrointestinal lining leading to severe dehydration, this virus also causes suppression of white blood cells. White blood cells are present in the body to help fight infection, and with such low counts, these infected kittens are very susceptible to secondary diseases.

Luckily, panleukopenia is not seen very frequently with the help of vaccination. Upper respiratory infections in cats are still very prominent, and a combination of not vaccinating cats and a high number of stray cats probably play a part in this. That is why it is essential to get your kitten started on their immunization series at about 8 weeks of age and continue with it annually.