October is National Pet Wellness Month, which serves to remind animal lovers that preventive health care is one of the greatest responsibilities we have for our pets. Annual or semi-annual physical examinations, regular dental care, spaying/neutering, and good nutrition are all important parts of keeping pets healthy. Vaccinations are also important for the prevention of infectious diseases.
As a responsible pet owner, taking your cats or dogs to the veterinarian at least once yearly for their annual thorough examination and vaccinations is one of the most important things we do for their health. One of the main things that has extended the lives of our beloved pets is the use of vaccines. Even though the diseases we vaccinate against are much less prevalent than they were 20 years ago, they are still contagious and are present in the community. Vaccinations are an area of ongoing controversy and research in veterinary medicine today. You may wonder why some veterinarians in other hospitals vaccinate for every disease every year, and we do not. Veterinary schools and specialty organizations, such as American Animal Hospital Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners, promote extending the interval between some vaccinations because the immunity actually lasts longer than a year. Additionally, experts agree that vaccines should be divided into two groups. “Core” vaccines are necessary for all pets, and include distemper/parvo and Rabies for dogs, and panleukopenia/rhinotracheitis (feline herpesvirus)/calici and Rabies for cats. All other vaccines, such as canine leptospirosis, canine influenza, canine bordetella and feline leukemia, are given if the pet’s lifestyle or health considerations make them at risk. All of our veterinarians are constantly reviewing for the most current information on vaccines as well as the prevalence of the diseases in our area. Should new vaccines or even safer vaccines become available, we will offer them. If there were a disease outbreak in our community making a vaccine advisable for your pet prior to your pet’s next exam, you will be notified by email and sent the latest information.
An initial series of vaccinations for both kittens and puppies is necessary in order to be effective. The core vaccinations are given starting at 6-8 weeks of age, every 3-4 weeks, until the pet is approximately 14-16 weeks of age. This is the most important time to stimulate the pet’s immunity as they are young and especially vulnerable. A vaccine stimulates the body to produce antibodies (germ-fighting proteins) and memory cells, so that if the pet comes in contact with the disease again, their body is primed and ready to fight it.
The Rabies vaccination is given after 12 weeks of age. This vaccination, including the frequency of administration and the age of initial vaccination, is mandated by our state law and regulated by the health department. Rabies is a very serious disease and is 100% fatal. There would be no treatment once your pet was infected with this virus, and it carries very real and serious human implications if you were to be exposed. It is typically transmitted through bite wounds, open cuts in the skin, or onto mucus membranes (saliva). We have seen a trend where some cat owners do not feel that their pet has a high risk of exposure and thus assume there is less need to be vaccinated against Rabies. All cats, including indoor only cats, are required by state law to be vaccinated against Rabies. There is a small but real potential for rabies to enter your household through wildlife such as bats or raccoons in this area, which is a situation we have seen at Animal Hospital of North Asheville. You would face legal liability if your unvaccinated cat bit or scratched a person. In addition, should your unvaccinated pet come in contact with a wild animal such as a raccoon, bear, fox, skunk or bat, the law is that the pet must be quarantined at your expense in a state approved facility for 6 months or euthanized. Rabies is a fatal disease not only for pets but for humans, and there are several documented cases of Rabies in pets in North Carolina every year. Within the last month, a kitten in Hendersonville exposed several people to Rabies before it was euthanized.
The most important part of any hospital’s vaccination protocol should not only be to protect the health of your pet long term, but also to provide for your pet's safety in administering the vaccinations that are recommended. Animal Hospital of North Asheville only recommends the safest and therefore, highest quality vaccines currently available to the veterinary profession. While these vaccines cost more for the hospital to carry, we always put the well-being of your pet first. Our protocols and vaccines follow all of the current guidelines set in place by AAHA and AAFP in order to protect our patients and minimize the chance and number of side effects to our patients. For example, since it became available and was shown to be the safest Rabies vaccination on the market for cats, our hospital has carried the Merial PUREVAX Rabies vaccine to protect cats against the Rabies virus.
PUREVAX Feline Rabies is considered a non-adjuvanted vaccine for cats 12 weeks of age and older for the prevention of disease due to Rabies virus. An adjuvant is added to a vaccine to stimulate the immune system and increase the effectiveness of the vaccine, however in recent years some of the vaccines carrying an adjuvant have been linked to serious vaccine reactions in cats. PUREVAX Rabies vaccine was developed using state-of-the-art technology just for cats and kittens. The vaccine delivers everything needed to induce immunity without any of the unnecessary adjuvants that have posed risk to feline patients in the past, such as injection site reactions, chronic inflammation, and sarcoma formation. PUREVAX Rabies is a vaccine that works by “teaching” the immune system how to defend itself against disease. The vaccine strain in PUREVAX is a “carrier” canarypox virus that has been given a gene that makes it able to produce part of a Rabies virus called “glycoprotein G”. When a cat is given the vaccine, the immune system recognizes the Rabies glycoprotein G as “foreign” and makes antibodies against it so the immune system can respond and protect against infection if exposed to the Rabies virus in real life.
Feline leukemia is one of the most important causes of illness and death among cats, and especially in young outdoor cats. It can suppress the immune system and bone marrow production and has been associated with a type of cancer called lymphoma in cats. AHNA is proud to carry the Merial PUREVAX nonadjuvanted feline leukemia vaccination as well.
Recently, Merial has announced the availability of PUREVAX Feline Rabies 3 year vaccination. This is their newest addition to the only nonadjuvanted line of feline vaccines, and the only 3 year duration of immunity nonadjuvanted feline rabies vaccine available. This is the same recombinant technology that we have used for years in the 1 year PUREVAX Rabies and Feline Leukemia vaccines. This 3 year vaccination will give you and our veterinarians a new option in the management of our feline Rabies prevention program, but with the same safety we have seen in the past with the 1 year duration vaccine.
PUREVAX vaccinations are specifically formulated for cats and continue to have strong recommendations from university researchers knowledgeable on this subject. Because of the difficult nature of their production, these vaccines are more expensive than adjuvanted vaccines. We feel that these vaccines promote the best medicine and the safest protocol for our feline patients. Due to the higher cost associated with the safer vaccine, we will continue to carry adjuvanted 3 year feline Rabies vaccine for cats for those families that are concerned about cost and who are willing to accept the higher risk of the adjuvanted vaccine for their cat.
At Animal Hospital of North Asheville, our veterinarians will make recommendations for your pet based on their current health status, lifestyle, risk factors, and weigh any potential adverse effects in determining what is safe for your pet. Please feel free to discuss all your options for vaccinating your pet with your veterinarian here at Animal Hospital of North Asheville.