Learning About Vaccines

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is never more true than with your pet's vaccines. Vaccines have stopped some of our dogs' and cats' deadliest diseases in their tracks and we are profoundly grateful. However, we have to remember that vaccines aren't entirely harmless, either, and it is important to find the balance between protecting our pet's health but avoiding over-vaccinating and exposing them unnecessarily to vaccine side effects.

One thing to note: One vaccine isn't enough. Puppies and kittens must have a series of vaccines to be protected. Because of interference of maternal antibodies, baby animals have be vaccinated starting at weaning and every three weeks until they are 16 weeks old. For more information, click here.

Some vaccines are called "core" vaccines, meaning that with few exceptions, it is best for all dogs and cats to receive these vaccines. In dogs, the DA2PP (distemper/parvo vaccine) and the rabies vaccine are core vaccines. In cats, the FVRCPC (feline distemper) and rabies are core vaccines. Non-core vaccines are vaccines that may or may not be necessary depending on your pet's lifestyle and other habits. Examples of non-core vaccines for dogs include vaccines for bordetella (kennel cough), Lepto, and Lyme disease. For cats, they include Feline Leukemia and the FIP vaccines. Some non-core vaccines are highly recommended for some pets, some are not. We will be happy to answer any questions you have concerning vaccines.

Clays Mill Veterinary Clinic follows the most up-to-date protocols for vaccines provided by AAHA (the American Animal Hospital Association) and AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners.) We also take into consideration the lifestyle of your pet. Dogs that are frequently boarded or groomed need different vaccines from ones who aren't, for example. Following are some common vaccines and diseases they prevent.


Parvovirus: In truth, although your puppy's vaccines protect against many diseases, this is the one we veterinarians are often most worried about. First of all, Parvovirus can live in the environment for months. Your dog never has to come in contact with a sick dog to get it; he can get it from the ground outside. Second, Canine Parvovirus attacks both the intestinal lining and the immune system. This two-pronged attack causes extreme vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, secondary bacterial infection, and without treatment, almost certain death. These are among the most heartbreaking cases we see. The dogs are almost always very young. The vomiting and diarrhea, obviously, cause extreme suffering. They are often too sick to raise their heads. The illness usually lasts several days and is difficult, time-consuming, and very expensive to treat. Fortunately, the Parvo Vaccine (provided it is given every 3 weeks until the dog is 16 weeks old) is very effective in preventing this disease.

Distemper: Second to Parvo in prevalence in this area of the country, but even worse in severity, is distemper. Before the Distemper vaccine, thousands of dogs died every year from this virus. Although it is much less common, we still see Distemper in Kentucky in unvaccinated dogs. Distemper affects the respiratory and nervous systems. Unlike Parvo, which, with enough money and time can usually be successfully treated, Distemper is often fatal in spite of treatment. Fortunately, the vaccine is very effective and it is almost unheard-of to see distemper in a dog current on vaccines.

Other diseases in the Distemper/Parvo Vaccine: The DA2PP (the Distemper/Parvo vaccine) also prevents Adenovirus and Parainfluenza in dogs, which cause liver and respiratory problems.

Rabies: Needless to say, all dogs and cats need to be vaccinated for Rabies. Rabies is zoonotic, meaning transmittable from animals to humans, and is 100% fatal. Many people are unaware that once an animal (or person) shows signs of Rabies, there is no effective treatment. Luckily, the Rabies vaccine is both very safe and very effective. We vaccinate cats annually for Rabies, because the annual vaccine is safer in cats. In dogs, after they are one year old, we vaccinate for Rabies every three years.

Bordetella: The Bordetella vaccine is a "non-core" vaccine. It is an upper respiratory infection (tracheobronchitis) that dogs contract from being around another infected dogs, especially in boarding, grooming, or doggy day-care like facilities. We suggest your dog get this vaccine if he is around other dogs very much. While Bordetella is usually not life-threatening, it can sometimes develop into pneumonia. Most hospitals, boarding kennels and groomers require it to prevent an outbreak in the facility.

Leptospirosis: Leptospirosis can cause kidney and liver failure, and can be transmitted to humans. Unfortunately, while the Lepto vaccine protects against the four most common types of lepto, there are over 200 more types it doesn't protect against. Getting the Lepto vaccine is therefore not a guarantee that your dog will never get Leptospirosis. However, it does decrease the odds considerably.

Lyme disease: We rarely vaccinate for Lyme because we are not in a Lyme endemic area, and the effectiveness of the Lyme vaccine is under some question. Also, 90% of dogs that are infected with Lyme disease never show any clinical symptoms. The best prevention against Lyme disease is to keep a tick preventive on your dog, and to check for ticks after hiking, camping, etc. and remove them. However, for dogs traveling to areas where Lyme is a problem (the Northeastern part of the country), Lyme is recommended.

Influenza: Canine influenza has experienced rapid expansion into Kentucky in previous years and behaves much like human influenza. Currently, there are two known strains of Canine Influenza; H3N8 and H3N2. At Clays Mill, we use a bivalent Canine Influenza vaccine which protects against both of these strains.

Corona virus: The Corona virus vaccine is no longer recommended.


FVRCP: The "feline distemper" vaccine protects against some feline upper respiratory diseases (feline viral rhinotracheitis and calicivirus) and also against panleukopenia. Although feline panleukopenia is called "feline distemper," it is really more similar to parvovirus in dogs, (as a matter of fact, canine parvo is suspected to have come from feline panleukopenia when it jumped species in the 1970's), only panleukopenia is even worse in cats than parvovirus in dogs. Few cats survive this infection. Like canine parvovirus, panleukopenia is found in the environment. Almost all cats will be exposed. Fortunately, the FVRCP (when administered in a series to kittens, and every 3 years in adults) is extremely effective in preventing panleukopenia. For more information, click here.

Rabies: Same as dogs, all cats need to be vaccinated for rabies, even inside cats. Some cats have been exposed to rabies when a bat gets in their house and they play with it.

All other feline vaccines are non-core:

Feline leukemia: Feline leukemia is a slowly progressing, but untreatable, retrovirus. Cats can be infected in utero, from nursing, or from close contact (usually grooming, biting, mating, etc) with other cats. 85% of cats will die within three years of their diagnosis of feline leukemia. All kittens and 1-year old cats should be vaccinated, but cats who are inside only do not need to be vaccinated when they are older, as long as they are not in close contact with other cats.

FIV: FIV is similar to HIV in people, causing illness by attacking the immune system. It is spread through close contact (usually biting) from an infected cat. Unfortunately, there is not a great vaccine for FIV. Also, currently the vaccine causes the problem of causing vaccinated animals to test positive for FIV, whether they are infected or not. Hopefully, this problem will be corrected and we will have a good vaccine against this disease in the future. For more information on FIV, click here.

FIP: The FIP vaccine is not effective and is not recommended. For more information, click here.

These are the most common vaccines, although there are others. If you have any questions about your pet's vaccines, don't hesitate to contact us.