As pet owners, we all want only the best for our pets. Yet unfortunately, many of us often overlook vaccinations when they are, as a matter of fact, better protection than you or me against many viruses or bacteria.
While we have absolutely no intention to cause our precious critters any harm, not bringing them for regular vaccinations can indirectly lead to death or suffering from permanent organ system damage, so here’s the low-down on what vaccines to get in order to prevent that:
Pet vaccines are categorised into core and non-core vaccines, with the former being prevalent worldwide and the latter being optional and dependent on your pet’s lifestyle and geographical location.
For Singapore, the core vaccinations protect against three viruses — Canine Distemper, Canine Parvovirus, and Canine Adenovirus. The non-core vaccines for Singapore protect against Leptospira bacteria, kennel cough, and Canine Coronavirus.
Thanks to mainstream media, most of us know of the dangers of rabies, but the other illnesses that the vaccines protect our dogs against such as distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus can be fatal as well despite treatment.
Canine Distemper is a virus that attacks a dog’s respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system. Unvaccinated dogs of all ages, including puppies more than four months of age, are vulnerable. Dogs that are fortunate to recover are often left with signs of permanent, irreversible nervous system damage or hardened footpads (hard pad disease).
Canine Parvovirus is highly contagious and causes potentially fatal gastroenteritis in dogs of all ages. Puppies are especially vulnerable.
Two adenoviruses infect dogs. One causes respiratory disease, and the other causes a potentially fatal inflammation of the liver. Unvaccinated dogs of all ages are susceptible, with puppies being the most vulnerable once more.
Leptospirosis vaccination is recommended for dogs living in places frequented by rats, dogs that stay in boarding kennels, and dogs that have access to stagnant water pools, ponds, or lakes.
Kennel Cough vaccine protects dogs against a highly-contagious but treatable respiratory disease caused by several bacteria and viruses. Dogs at risk are those in high-density facilities such as boarding kennels and shelters. Puppies are at high risk for kennel cough infection and are more likely to develop more severe signs than adult dogs.
While human coronaviruses cause respiratory disease, canine coronavirus causes mild gastroenteritis. Vaccination against canine coronavirus is not a must.
As for vaccination against rabies, Singapore has been rabies-free since 1953 and so the AVS considers rabies vaccine to be non-core and not recommended unless the pet will be travelling overseas!
The initial core vaccination should be given at 6 – 8 weeks of age, with subsequent boosters given every 2 – 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age or older. It is recommended that puppies be kept indoors and isolated from other dogs during this period when their immune system is not fully functional and their antibody concentrations have not reached protective levels!
Following this primary series of vaccinations, the puppy should receive a booster 12 months later, with subsequent boosters administered every 1 -3 years. Prior to boarding at a kennel, dogs should also be given a booster 2 -3 weeks in advance.
For leptospirosis, the first dose should be given at 6 – 9 weeks of age, with a follow-up dose given 2 – 4 weeks later. Annual boosters are recommended as the protection afforded by the vaccine does not last as long as the core vaccines do.
For kennel cough, two formulations are available in Singapore. It is recommended to have two doses of the vaccine for injection given 2 – 4 weeks apart at 6 – 8 weeks of age or older. The intranasal formulation, on the other hand, is given as a single dose from 3 weeks of age or older.
Similar to canine vaccinations, core feline vaccinations include a rabies vaccine and a combination FVRCP vaccine, which is protective against feline calicivirus, feline parvovirus (distemper), and feline herpesvirus (rhinotracheitis). Non-core vaccines that cat owners can consider getting are for leukaemia, ringworm, feline chlamydiosis, and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Feline Parvovirus attacks the intestinal tract, bone marrow and the developing fetus. Unvaccinated cats of all ages and all breeds are at risk, with kittens 3 – 5 months old being the most vulnerable and the most likely to die from the disease.
Another highly contagious virus that causes mild to severe respiratory infection and oral disease in unvaccinated cats of all ages and all breeds, kittens are the most vulnerable to Feline Calicivirus and are likely to develop severe symptoms such discharge from the eyes or nose, mouth and tongue lesions, and painful limb joints.
A virus that infects the upper respiratory system, Feline Herpesvirus causes eye and nose discharge and sneezing. Cats that recover will shed the virus for the rest of its life and are a potential source for spreading the virus to susceptible cats that they come in contact with.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
This virus attacks the cat’s immune system, increasing the cat’s risk for illness and infection. Infected cats may develop anaemia, swelling of the lymph nodes, and leukaemia. Kittens that go outdoors where they may contact other cats should be vaccinated against feline leukaemia virus, and cats entering a new household should be tested for it as well.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
This virus attacks the cat’s immune system as well, leaving it vulnerable to other infections. Cats infected with FIV may not show symptoms until years later, which includes infection of the gums, mouth, digestive tract, urinary tract, and skin.
The virus is most effectively transmitted by biting, and cats living in a multi-cat household with cats that are FIV-positive or with unknown FIV statuses are at risk. Cats with outdoor access are also at risk due to the possibility of interacting with other cats of unknown FIV status.
Feline chlamydiosis is a bacterial infection of the eye, although occasionally, the nose and lungs may be also infected. It rarely causes death, but infected cats will experience discomfort in their eyes, may develop a fever, or lose their appetite. All cats are at risk of being infected with chlamydophila, but young cats and kittens are especially vulnerable. In kittens, if left untreated and the infection spreads to the lungs, it can cause fatal pneumonia.
Core vaccinations should be done when your kitten is 6 – 8 weeks old and at 3 – 4 weeks intervals until he/she is around 16 weeks old. Non-core ones can be done after that as per your vet’s suggestion, and follow-up vaccinations for both core and non-core vaccines should be given every 1 – 3 years, depending on your cat’s condition or lifestyle. Generally, cats who love spending time outdoors should go for checkups and booster shots more regularly than kitties who prefer lounging indoors.
Even if your furkid is an indoor pet that stays at home all the time, there is still a possibility that your pet might get infected with diseases via airborne germs that come in through the windows and doors, so regular vaccinations are still a must-have. That said, vaccines ultimately cannot offer complete immunity from diseases, so it’s best to keep your pet away from infected animals and unhygienic environments as much as possible and schedule for health checkups often!
This article was written in consultation with Dr Lennie from The Animal Clinic.