Pet Peeves: What to Vaccinate Against in the North

Lynsey Kitching

When a new dog joins the family, either starting fresh with a pup or adopting an older dog, the questions of what to do about vaccinating and what if we don’t know their history gets asked.

Amanda Breuer has been a veterinarian at the Dawson Creek Vet Clinic for two years this May.

She says, “Your core vaccines are the ones every pet should get, and can change from area to area. For example in Ontario, lyme disease is pretty prevalent, so there is a vaccine for that.”

Dr. Breuer explains for pets here in the north, the core vaccine for dogs is a combination vaccine. “That includes parvovirus, distemper virus, adenovirus (related to canine hepatitis), and parainfluenza. We typically give them as a puppy starting around seven or eight weeks, sometimes dogs will already have the first vaccine given at the breeder. There are another two sets of boosters, four weeks apart until about 16 weeks of age. The product we use recommends boostering the vaccine in a year and then after that it is every three years.”

One thing people worry about being so close to wild animals is ticks. However, here in the North, the ticks are less harmful. Dr. Breuer explains, “We do get quite a lot of ticks, however the ones we worry about here don’t carry lime disease. Blood-borne illnesses are not as big of a concern in the north. You do want to remove any ticks, but it is less of a risk.”

One illness which Dr. Breuer believes is a concern is parvovirus, especially in puppies. She says, “The vaccine is excellent against that virus and it’s something where if they get it as puppies is usually life threatening. It is something I see very often, almost on a day to day basis during the high season. We have seen quite a few puppies with parvo, and with a vaccine it can be prevented.”

In the north there is also the option to get your animal vaccinated for kennel cough [bordetella]. “Kennel cough is a bacterial infection that attacks the respiratory track in dogs and as a result causes a really loud and honking cough. It can also lead to pneumonia in very serious cases. Most dogs only get a horrible cough, but there still is that risk. I recommend it to any dog that will be exposed to other dogs. If the dog is going to the groomers, dog parks, socializing with other dogs, going to the kennel, I would recommend it. Some kennels and groomers require you to have it, which I think is really responsible.”

When it comes to getting your cat vaccinated the combination vaccine is different but the ages when the boosters should be administered remain the same.

Dr. Breuer says, “Eight, twelve, and sixteen weeks.”

The cat booster lowers cat’s chances of contracting, Rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia, typically called distemper. These are all respiratory diseases.

Dr. Breuer says, “Cats are particularly susceptible to upper respiratory virus, especially if your cat is going to be exposed to other animals. Even if you have friends coming over, or you go to their house and they have a cat, different pathogens can be carried on your own clothing. So, some people don’t want to vaccinate their cat because it doesn’t go anywhere, but if you go places and there are cats, you can be a risk to them.”

Cats and dogs both get vaccinated against rabies after about 12 weeks of age, then again in a year, then every three years after that.

Dr. Breuer says, “Another important thing to mention is that if an animal isn’t up to date on their vaccines, we usually just start from scratch again. For animals that are older than 16 weeks of age, and they miss their booster, we would go back to doing one vaccine and then boostering it in four weeks. We repeat the vaccine in a year, and then every 3 years after that. This is what the vaccine company recommends doing to prevent them from getting sick.”

She continues, “What we do is we follow the vaccine recommendations given by the people who manufacture the vaccine. They have label claims and have tested their product for its efficacy. Products can vary from clinic to clinic, and different products have different claims.”

Even though the products may differ, the antigens in the core vaccines given to our pets are pretty standard across the country says Dr. Breuer, and she warns, “No vaccine is 100 percent guaranteed that your animal isn’t going to get sick. Just because you get the flu vaccine doesn’t mean you’re not going to get the flu. It will protect you; if you do get it, usually your clinical signs would be much less severe. For kennel cough, if your dog gets sick despite being vaccinated, it is more likely they’ll just get a little cough and less likely they’ll get pneumonia.”

Not vaccinating your pet could put them at risk of getting sick; however not vaccinating your pet against rabies could land you in some deep doo doo. Dr. Breuer reminds, “If a dog was ever to bite someone, you hope the owner has proof of rabies vaccinations. It can get quite ugly with the ramifications for having an unvaccinated dog bite someone.”