Bringing an animal into your home as a pet is more than just a major responsibility. You have, knowingly, entered into a silent contract with that creature that you will do everything in your power to ensure they are happy, healthy, and enjoying their time with you. In return, they shower you with unconditional love and affection. Bringing that new companion into your life can be intimidating at first – they will need a loving and comfortable home, plenty of attention, proper training, safe and engaging toys, nutritious food, socialization, and of course, good veterinary care. Whether you buy a purebred puppy from a breeder or adopt a senior pet from a shelter, and every age in-between, keeping them up-to-date on their vaccinations is critical for the overall health of your animal. In this article, you will learn which diseases we vaccinate your pet against, and the importance of making sure you don’t let those vaccines expire.
If your new pet is not a “puppy”, they may already have some vaccinations on board. At that point, listen to your veterinarian to know which vaccines your pet has, and which ones they may need in the future. But, let’s just assume your new puppy is starting from the beginning of their vaccination schedule – you’re going to be seeing your vet a lot. Trust us, we realize how stressful those first few months of puppy ownership can be while the little one is getting used to you, and their new home away from mom. It may seem inconvenient but going to the veterinarian several times over those initial months for vaccinations, and throughout your dog’s life for vaccine boosters or titers, will help to provide protection for your pets from these dangerous, often fatal, but largely preventable, illnesses.
What are the Common Vaccines?
There are five or six highly recommended or essential vaccines commonly called core vaccines. Just like with human children, the first vaccines come in a “series”, meaning you have to give your pet several injections at specific intervals before protection is achieved. Although these vaccinations can be given individually, most practices will use combination vaccines in an effort to assist pet owners and reduce the number of injections your pet receives during their first years.
Instead of your pet having 4 or 5 injections at a visit, today’s practices can protect your pet against a fair portion of the most common communicable diseases with a combination vaccine commonly referred to as “Distemper”. This vaccine, considered a core vaccine for all dogs in the United States, also protects against a host of other diseases you may not know your dog is susceptible to. They often include adenovirus, parvovirus, and others.
The exact combination of your dog’s distemper combination vaccine depends on your dog’s age and individual disease-risk profile, but in general, the most important diseases that the vaccine protects against are canine distemper, canine adenovirus-2 infection (hepatitis and respiratory disease), canine parvovirus infection, and parainfluenza. Ever wonder what that alphabet soup of letters on your dog’s vaccination records stand for? The abbreviation for this combination vaccine is frequently written as “DHPP,” “DA2PP,” “DHPPV,” or “DA2PPV” on a pet’s health records.
The letters in these abbreviations are defined as follows:
D = Canine Distemper virus
H = Hepatitis (or A2)
A2 = Canine Adenovirus-2 (or H)
P = Parvovirus
P = Parainfluenza
Therefore, a notation of “DA2PPV,” “DHPP,” DA2PP,” or “DHPPV” in a pet’s vaccination record means that your pet was vaccinated against canine distemper, hepatitis (canine adenovirus-2 and -1), parvovirus, and parainfluenza.
But what exactly does all that mean? And what are these diseases?
Canine distemper is a serious contagious disease caused by canine distemper virus (CDV), which attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurologic systems of dogs. It’s a highly transmissible virus that can also infect ferrets and many wild animals, including raccoons, skunks, minks, weasels, foxes, and coyotes. Distemper spreads through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) from an infected animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment. It causes discharges from the eyes and nose, fever, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, twitching, paralysis, and, often, death. This disease used to be known as “hardpad” because it causes the footpad to thicken and harden.
Shockingly, the death rate for canine distemper virus can reach 50 percent, and animals that do recover are often left with permanent neurologic disabilities. Though the disease is less common than it was before the first effective vaccines became available in the 1960s, it is still present in wildlife populations that might have contact with domestic animals. CDV is shed (spread) through all body secretions. It can also be carried on the hands and feet. Warm, dry, or sunny conditions will kill CDV, but it is resistant to cold and can survive in near-freezing, shady environments.
There is no cure for distemper but the virus-associated disease is largely preventable through the canine distemper vaccination. Treatment consists of supportive care and efforts to prevent secondary infections, control symptoms of vomiting, seizures and more. If the animal survives the symptoms, it is hoped that the dog’s immune system will have a chance to fight it off. Infected dogs can shed the virus for months.
Canine Hepatitis (Adenovirus)
Infectious canine hepatitis is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and the eyes of the affected dog. This disease of the liver is caused by a virus that is unrelated to the human form of hepatitis. The virus is transmitted through secretions of the body, namely urine. This is a virus that is highly contagious and begins flowing through the blood stream immediately upon entrance to the body. Once the virus has entered the bloodstream, it can reach and affect any organ of the body; although the liver is the most commonly affected organ.
One of the reasons that this virus is so deadly is because it is highly contagious. In addition to direct contact with urine, it can also be transmitted through the use of contaminated objects, such as food bowls and bedding. Because this virus can live in feces and urine, it can contaminate almost anything that it touches.
Symptoms range from a slight fever and congestion of the mucous membranes to vomiting, jaundice, stomach enlargement, and pain around the liver. Many dogs can overcome the mild form of the disease, but the severe form can kill. There is no cure, but doctors can treat the symptoms.
Canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2) is a common and highly contagious viral disease that affects all dogs, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies less than four months of age are at the most risk to contract it. The virus attacks the gastrointestinal tract and immune system of puppies and dogs, and creates loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, and often severe, bloody diarrhea. It can also attack the hearts of very young puppies.
CPV-2 is highly contagious and spread through direct contact with infected dogs or infected feces. It is easily carried on hands, food dishes, leashes, shoes, etc. The virus is very stable in the environment and can survive for more than a year in feces and soil through extremes of heat, cold, drought, or humidity. Though 85 percent to 90 percent of treated dogs survive, the disease requires extensive supportive patient care and can be expensive to treat. Extreme dehydration can come on rapidly and kill a dog within 48-to-72 hours, so prompt veterinary attention is crucial. In untreated dogs, the mortality rate can exceed 90 percent.
There is no cure, so keeping the dog hydrated and controlling the secondary symptoms can keep him going until his immune system beats the illness. Vaccination, however, is highly effective.
Canine parainfluenza is a virus which causes mild respiratory disease in dogs and is most commonly responsible for infectious tracheobronchitis, or kennel cough. Kennel cough results from inflammation of the upper airways. It can be caused by bacterial, viral, or other infections, such as Bordetella, and often involves multiple infections simultaneously. Usually, the disease is mild, causing bouts of harsh, dry coughing; sometimes it’s severe enough to spur retching and gagging, along with a loss of appetite. In rare cases it can be deadly. It is easily spread between dogs kept close together, which is why it passes quickly through kennels. Antibiotics are usually not necessary, except in severe, chronic cases. Cough suppressants can make a dog more comfortable.
Your pet’s vaccination records may also include additional letters or abbreviated terms that they have any of the following vaccines:
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system. All warm-blooded animals –– including wild animals, dogs, cats, and humans –– are susceptible. Though the disease is not common, it remains prevalent in wildlife populations — primarily among raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks — that may have contact with domestic animals.
The virus can have an incubation period lasting from days to months. It’s usually transmitted through contact with the saliva of an infected animal. An animal’s saliva becomes infective once the virus has traveled through the animal’s nervous system from the initial bite site to the brain and, ultimately, to the salivary glands.
Pets and people usually become infected through a bite wound. Once the virus enters the salivary glands, the animal can pass the infection to other animals or humans through saliva. Rabies invades the central nervous system, causing headache, anxiety, hallucinations, excessive drooling, fear of water, paralysis, and death. Treatment within hours of infection is essential, otherwise, death is highly likely. Once clinical signs appear, rabies is generally fatal, which is why any pet that bites a human and has an unknown or out-of-date rabies vaccination status may be subject to quarantine or euthanasia, depending on state laws. Most states require rabies vaccination. Check with your vet about rabies vaccination laws in your area.
While the above vaccinations are considered Core Vaccines by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the following vaccinations are still highly recommended and something to discuss with your veterinarian at your dog’s appointments:
Bordetella (BORD, BV)
Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterium commonly associated with respiratory disease in dogs. It can also infect cats, rabbits, and, in rare cases, humans. It is one of the more common bacterial causes of canine infectious tracheobronchitis, otherwise known as Kennel Cough. Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of several viral and bacterial agents responsible for kennel cough syndrome. Bordetella is highly contagious, easily transmitted through the air or direct contact, and resistant to destruction in the environment.
This highly communicable bacterium causes severe fits of coughing, whooping, vomiting, and, in rare cases, seizures and death. A safe and effective vaccine, available in injectable or nasal spray, for the upper-respiratory infection is available for dogs and cats.
Leptospirosis is a potentially serious disease caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans and unlike most diseases on this list, since Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria, some dogs may show no symptoms at all. The organism is usually spread through infected urine, but exposure to contaminated water or soil, reproductive secretions, and even consumption of infected tissues can also transmit the infection. Introduction of the organism through skin wounds can also occur. Carriers of the organism include raccoons, opossums, rodents, skunks, and dogs.
Leptospirosis can be found worldwide and is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be spread from animals to people. The bacteria can survive for long periods of time in water and are frequently found in swamps, streams, lakes, and standing water. The bacteria also survive well in mud and moist soil, and localized outbreaks can occur after heavy flooding.
Once a dog is infected, the leptospirosis organisms rapidly advance through the bloodstream. When symptoms do appear, they can include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite, severe weakness and lethargy, stiffness, jaundice, muscle pain, and infertility. Antibiotics are effective, and the sooner they are given, the better. Because the organism settles in the kidneys and actually reproduces there, inflammation and even kidney failure may develop. Liver failure is another common consequence of infection.
Lyme Disease (LYME)
Unlike the famous “bull’s-eye” rash that people exposed to Lyme disease often spot, no such telltale symptom occurs in dogs. Lyme disease (or borreliosis) is an infectious, tick-borne disease caused by a type of bacteria called a spirochete. Transmitted via ticks, an infected dog often starts limping, his lymph nodes swell, his temperature rises, and he stops eating. The disease can affect his heart, kidney, and joints, among other things, or lead to neurological disorders if left untreated. If diagnosed quickly, a course of antibiotics is extremely helpful, though relapses can occur months or even years later.
Canine Influenza (CIV, H3N8, H3N2)
This new, highly transmissible virus was first detected in 2004 among a group of racing greyhounds in Florida. The canine influenza H3N8 strain, investigators eventually learned, developed when an equine influenza virus adapted to infect dogs. This represented a rare event, because the new virus was canine specific (only transmissible to other dogs). However, in 2015 Dr. Kathy Kurth at the University of Wisconsin discovered that the sick dogs in the Chicago area were actually infected with H3N2 — a strain that, according to VetStreet, had previously been seen only in Korea and parts of China.
CIV has caused localized disease outbreaks around the United States and has been reported in more than 40 states plus the District of Columbia. It’s spread between dogs through direct contact (coughing, sneezing, facial licking) or indirect contact (contaminated bowls, leashes, collars, or the hands or clothing of people who handle ill dogs).
The bad news: Virtually all dogs exposed to CIV become infected; however, 20 percent of dogs don’t show signs but can still spread the virus.
The good news: There is a pretty effective vaccination against both strains. Also, on the bright side, canine influenza does not infect people, and, so far, there’s no documentation that cats have become infected by exposure to infected dogs.
We read about so many different illnesses, and so many different vaccinations and vaccination combinations, that it can often times be pretty confusing to know which vaccines are needed verses which ones can wait – or even if they are needed at all. The invention of the internet has led to a great many wonders in our time, however the accuracy of medical information online sometimes leaves much to be desired. With so many sources of information, it can be overwhelming when Dr. Google, or even your breeder, disagrees with the information you have gotten from your veterinarian. Knowing and understanding what the common vaccines are, what they cover, and how they protect your pet is crucial in being able to make appropriate medical decisions regarding your animal.
Of course, your veterinarian should weigh in and can always provide more information and guidance if needed on necessary and optional vaccinations. Sitting down with your vet and plainly discussing your concerns and your lifestyle, can help them determine if your pet needs more than just the basic inoculations.
Please check out the rest of our series: