What is a Vaccination?

A vaccination, or immunization, is medicine’s way of helping an animal to protect itself against disease. This is called preventative medicine – you prevent the disease before it happens. A good program of preventative medicine is every veterinarian’s goal. When you vaccinate an animal, you make it immune, or resistant, to certain diseases.

Most vaccines are injected into the body, but some are given orally or intranasally. A vaccine is specific protein that stimulates the body to produce antibodies against a disease. These antibodies create an active immunity.

Newborns acquire a passive immunity from their mothers. The mother actually transfers antibodies to the newborn through nursing or from inside the uterus. This prevents newborns from catching contagious diseases.

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Why Do Animals Need Vaccinations?

Immunizations begin at an early age and are given in a series to ensure good protection. The young animal’s immunity is not complete until it has completed the entire series of vaccinations.

Unless indicated otherwise, all the vaccines discussed in this chapter require an initial series of two to four vaccinations, followed by regular yearly boosters.

Dog Diseases and Vaccination Schedules

The dog, or canine, vaccination series usually begins when puppies are six to eight weeks old. The series consists of three or four visits, the last of which takes place when the puppy is about four months old. Once the puppy has completed the “puppy shots,” it should return to the veterinarian yearly for booster vaccinations to maintain a protective antibody level.

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Veterinarians commonly vaccinate dogs for:

  • Canine Distemper: a highly contagious disease caused by a virus; it is spread among dogs by contact through the mouth or nose. The virus can attack all parts of the body, including the nervous system. It is usually fatal.
  • Hepatitis: a viral infection of the liver. It is specific to the canine family – that means that this particular virus is not contagious to humans. Hepatitis is transmitted when dogs ingest the virus in contaminated water and may be fatal.
  • Leptospirosis: a bacterial infection spread by contact with infected, urine-contaminated water. It is more common in rural than urban areas and is marked by a high fever and a yellow color of the gums. It can cause permanent kidney damage. If untreated, it can be fatal.
  • Lyme Disease: a disease that infects the musculoskeletal system, heart and kidneys. Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia organism and is transmitted by Iodes tick bites. In areas where ticks are prevalent, doctors may want to vaccinate for Lyme disease every year.
  • Kennel cough: an infection caused by the Bordetella bacterium and the parainfluenza virus. The disease, also known as infectious tracheo-bronchitis, is characterized by a continual honking bronchial cough. It is transmitted when an infected dog coughs and infective particles are inhaled by other dogs. It can easily be transmitted in a kennel where many dogs are present.
  • Parvovirus and Coronavirus Infections: Infections of the dog’s intestinal tract. A parvovirus infection is usually more severe than a coronavirus infection – in fact it is often fatal. The parvovirus and coronavirus cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea is usually bloody and has a very foul odor. Both diseases are transmitted by viral particles through the nose or mouth.
  • Rabies: transmitted by the rabies virus, which enters a body through a break in the skin – often a bite from an infected animal. It is almost always fatal. Rabies is contagious to almost all land mammals, including humans. It is a very serious disease and should never be taken lightly. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on rabies vaccinations. It’s important for owners to get their pets immunized and keep their vaccinations current. In fact, in most states the law requires that dogs and cats be current on their rabies vaccinations.

Note: at present there is no rabies vaccine licensed for use in wild animals. Wild animals, especially raccoons or skunks, often carry the rabies virus without showing signs of the disease. Most veterinarians do not recommend wild animals as pets. Check with your doctor on this policy.

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Cat Diseases and Vaccination Schedules

The cat, or feline, vaccination series also begins when kittens are six to eight weeks of age. The cat series consists of two or three visits. Like the dog, the cat needs yearly boosters to maintain a good level of protective antibodies.

Veterinarians commonly vaccinate cats for:

  • Feline Distemper: A viral disease that causes severe intestinal upset, vomiting and diarrhea. It is highly contagious among cats and is transmitted by contact with the distemper virus through the cat’s mouth or nose. Feline distemper is a very serious disease and is often fatal.

    Note: Feline distemper is not the same as canine distemper. Distemper is not contagious between dogs and cats.

  • Upper Respiratory Diseases: A disease complex that has three main causes: the rhinotracheitis virus (a herpes virus), the calcivirus and the chlamydia bacteria. Protection against all of these is available in one vaccine. A cat with an upper respiratory disease acts like a human with a cold. Clinical signs include sneezing, runny eyes and difficulty in breathing. Transmitted from cat to cat by inhaling infective particles through the nose and mouth, it is highly contagious.
  • Feline Leukemia: A viral disease that is the leading viral killer among cats and is transmitted from cat to cat by direct contact. The feline leukemia virus may cause leukemia or just an elevated temperature of unknown origin. It also may cause cancerous growths or lack of red blood cell production (anemia). Support and treatment of an infected cat is costly, and the disease is usually fatal.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): Another leading viral killer of cats, second only to feline leukemia, FIP has two forms – wet and dry. Clinical signs of the wet form include fluid in the abdomen, fluid in the chest and a persistent fever. The dry form can be very difficult to diagnose, as often some of the telltale signs do not appear. FIP is fatal after clinical signs develop. The vaccine for FIP is intranasal (it is squirted into the nose rather than injected with a needle).
  • Rabies: See discussion on canine rabies.

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Horse Diseases and Vaccination Schedules

The horse, or equine, vaccinations begin early in life, in fact, foals should be vaccinated for tetanus as soon as they are born. Like puppies and kittens, young horses must have a series of vaccinations at a young age in order to be fully immunized. After the initial series, annual boosters are recommended.

Veterinarians commonly vaccinate horses for:

  • Tetanus: A disease caused by the tetanus bacterium Clostridium tetani. The organism enters the horse’s body through a cut or puncture wound. Once inside the body it produces a poison called a toxin. The toxin can cause respiratory paralysis and muscular rigidity, especially of the muscles in the neck and jaw area. This is why the disease is called lockjaw in humans. The disease is usually fatal, and regular tetanus toxoid vaccinations are a must for horses.
    Note: There are two types of tetanus vaccine. Tetanus antitoxin gives a horse immediate, but temporary, protection against tetanus. The protection lasts about 10 days. It is given to newborn foals and to horse that have suffered puncture or other wounds but have never been vaccinated for tetanus. The tetanus toxoid vaccine, on the other hand, provides lasting immunity, but it does’t take effect as quickly as the antitoxin.
  • Equine rhinopneumonitis: A viral disease with two different forms. The respiratory form produces a severe infection in the upper respiratory tract.

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What is a parasite?

A parasite is an organism that lives at the expense of another living being. Internal parasites, like intestinal worms and heartworms, live inside the body. Dogs, cats and horses are subject to a variety of internal parasites, but some parasites are species specific (for example, heartworms are generally found only in dogs). Here’s what you need to know about the more common internal parasites.

Dog and Cat Parasites

  • Tapeworms: There are two kind of tapeworms that infect both dogs and cats. One is transmitted by rodents, and the other is transmitted by fleas. The flea and the rodent are called the parasite’s intermediate host. Control of the intermediate host is extremely important in preventing reinfestation of tapeworms.

    The adult tapeworm lives inside the pet’s intestine. It attaches to the wall of the intestine and absorbs protein from the contents of the intestine. Because the tapeworm is taking nutrition from the pet’s intestine, the pet is not getting all the nourishment it should.

    Treatment: Adult tapeworms can be treated easily and effectively. The drugs come in both injectable form (for the doctor to give in the office) and tablet form (for the owner to give at home).

    Prevention: Control of the intermediate host is a must. Fleas should be eradicated. Animals that regularly catch and eat rodents should be checked for tapeworms often.

  • Roundworms: Adult roundworms attach to the wall of the intestine and drain protein from the host. For this reason, roundworms are most harmful to young animals, who need as much nourishment as possible while they are growing.
    Humans may be affected by roundworms. If the roundworm eggs are ingested by a human, the roundworm larvae can migrate throughout the body, causing a condition called visceral larval migrans. Children should never be allowed to play in areas contaminated by roundworm eggs.

    Treatment: Roundworm eggs can be detected under the microscope by a fecal flotation test. Since roundworm eggs indicate the presence of adult roundworms, the doctor administers a worm medicine. Animals that are severely infested should be rechecked and/or dewormed again in several weeks.

    Prevention: Early detection is important. When infestation occurs, owners must pick up all stool in the yard regularly. An oral medication, taken daily or monthly, is available for control of roundworms.

  • Ticks: A tick is a small insect that buries its head in an animals skin, ingests a blood meal and often transmits disease. This parasite attacks humans as well as pets. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease are transmitted to humans by ticks. In dogs, ticks transmit Ehrlichia (which can be fatal), as well as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Like fleas, ticks can cause blood loss and anemia. It is not uncommon for animals to need a lifesaving blood transfusion because of tick anemia.
    There are several different kinds of ticks that range in size from small (no bigger than a pinpoint) to large. All kinds are potentially harmful, and pets should be bathed and dipped at the first sign of infestation.

    Life cycle:
    1. Adult ticks attach to pets.
    2. Ticks lay eggs.
    3. In 30 days, the eggs hatch into larvae.*
    4. The larvae develop into adult ticks.*
    *These stages are treatable with insecticides.

    The life cycle of the tick can be as short as two months or as long as two years. High temperatures and humidity speed up the life cycle of the tick.

    Treatment: As with fleas, to control and conquer tick infestation, the parasite must be eliminated from the host (pet) and from the environment. The important thing to remember about ticks is the thirty-day incubation period of the eggs. The environment must be controlled for thirty days to break the life cycle of the tick. Insecticides kill only adult ticks, not their eggs. Therefore, if eggs have just been laid, treatment will need to continue until the eggs have hatched and the insecticide can control the infestation.
    There are tick control programs, in addition to bathing and dipping the pets. The house and yard must be treated with insecticide, giving an especially thorough soaking to wood piles, sides of buildings and trunks of trees.

    Prevention: Early treatment of the environment, especially areas prone to tick infestation, will help prevent problems at the height of tick season. Clients should also examine their dogs for ticks regularly. Be sure to look inside the dog’s ears, under it’s legs and between its toes – all favorite hiding places for ticks. Pets should be bathed and dipped at the first sign of ticks.

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      How do I know what gender my bird is?

      The most accurate way is by one of two methods:
      DNA blood sample

      What causes my bird to pluck out it’s feathers?

      There are several reasons that would cause a bird to feather pluck. One reason is behavioral – much like children who bite their fingernails. Medical issues could also cause your bird to feather pluck. In either case it is important to bring your bird in for a check-up and possible blood work to determine the cause of the plucking.

      How often should I have my bird’s wings, beak, and nails trimmed?

      In general, every 4-6 weeks. However it can vary on the individual bird and its activity?

      When boarding my bird should I bring my own cage and food?

      It is HIGHLY recommended to bring the bird’s own cage and food. Birds can stress easily but by having their own "home" while they are away from home will make them feel more at ease. Also by bringing their own food they will not suffer from problems that could occur due to changes in their diet while they are away from home. We want them to be as comfortable as possible during their "vacation."

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      At what age can I declaw my cat?

      We will declaw kittens as young as 12-weeks of age. The older they become the more likely they will experience discomfort and potentially more bleeding. We offer pain management for kittens and adult cats to help them recover more quickly.


      At what age can I have my dog’s ears cropped?

      Most breeds may have their ears cropped at 10-weeks of age. Some breeds, such as Miniature Schnauzers and Miniature Pinschers may be as old as 12-weeks. If your dog is older than 10-12 weeks the chance of the ears not standing increases, in which it may be better to leave the ears natural. If there is any question regarding your dog’s age and having his/her ears cropped it would be best to schedule an appointment with the doctor.

      How often should I have my dog’s nails clipped?

      This depends on the individual dog. Normally every 4 weeks is sufficient, however if the nails are very long then every 2 weeks until they are to a normal length. Some dogs wear their nails down and can go longer between nail trims. As a rule of thumb – if you can hear them clicking as they walk then it is time for a pedicure.

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      How to find a good breeder – questions to ask:

      1. Why is this breed right for me?
      2. Why did you breed this particular litter?
      3. How long have you been breeding dogs?
      4. What do you like best/least about this breed?
      5. What health problems does this breed have?
      6. What health issues do your dogs have?
      7. How do you prevent or treat hereditary health?
      8. How do you prevent or treat hereditary health problems?
      9. Are the parents or other relatives of the puppies available to see?
      10. What do you feed your dogs? And puppies?
      11. What grooming is required?
      12. Is there a health guarantee and if so what does it cover?
      13. What vaccinations and worming program has the puppy had?
      14. What happens if we cannot keep the dog?
      15. May I contact the owners of other dogs you have sold especially thos of
      the same or similar breeding?

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      Can my ferret catch my cold or flu?

      Yes, there are some human viruses susceptible to ferrets. It is best to take the same precautions to prevent other humans from contracting a cold/flu from your ferret. Please consult your veterinarian if they should exhibit any symptoms.

      How often should I vaccinate my ferret?

      Distemper and Rabies are administered yearly. We advise not giving both vaccines at the same time but separating them by 2 weeks.

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      How often should I brush my pet’s teeth?

      Ideally daily would be good but at least 1 – 2 times per week.

      How often should I have my pet’s teeth cleaned by the veterinarian?

      We recommend yearly cleanings. Certain dogs (especially the toy breeds) may require cleanings every 6-months.

      How do I brush my pet’s teeth?

      It is highly recommended that we train our pets to allow us to brush their teeth. The most important thing to remember is that training your pet is a process that takes time, patience and is no different than training him to sit or stay.

      The first few brushing lessons should be short, sweet and always followed by a treat!!! Simply start by calling your pet over to you, hold his head in your hand then pet his face and muzzle. Be sure to tell him how gooooood he is. Then give him a treat. Try to do this at about the same time daily and watch how soon they won’t let you forget "it’s brushing time!"

      Next, while petting his face, simply lift the lips a few times and maybe if things are going well touch one or two teeth. Don’t for get "how gooooood you are!" as things go better continue with touching and rubbing more teeth and gums until they are comfortable with you "petting" the whole mouth. Next begin to use a "finger brush" eventually adding toothpaste and when things are really going well, switch to using a toothbrush.

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      How old should my pet be when I neuter/spay him/her?


      How often do female dogs go into "heat"?

      Approximately every 6 months. They are in "heat" for 21-days.

      How often do female cats go into "heat"?

      Cats are in "heat" for 21 days, however if they are not bred by a male cat they may go in and out of heat without much time in between. It is normal for female cats to howl and place their tails high in the air.

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      Can I have my pet spayed if she is in heat?

      Yes, but it becomes a more time consuming and challenging procedure due to more blood flow to the uterus. Since more time is involved there is an additional charge to perform a spay while your pet is in heat. There is also an increased risk for complications during the surgery, which is why we recommend that you wait until after your pet’s cycle is done.

      Should my pet have a litter before she is spayed?

      NO! It is myth that pets should experience birth. Breeding your dog/cat is not only costly and time consuming but poses a risk to her health. Also if you visit the shelters you will see many abandoned pets that need homes – many of which were the result of someone letting their dog/cat have just one litter. And in all actuality your pet will be a better pet without going through the birth experience.

      Does neutering/spaying my pet affect their personality?

      Especially if done young enough (6 months) your male pet will not be inclined to wander and male or female your pet will create an even stronger bond with you.

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      Does neutering/spaying my pet affect his/her health?

      Yes! By neutering/spaying your pet you will be decreasing the risk of infections and certain cancers such as prostate tumors in males and mammary tumors in females just to name a few.

      Does neutering/spaying my pet affect their weight?

      Some pets may gain weight due to changes in activity or diet but not from being spayed or neutered.