Vaccinations for Puppies & Kittens

What do they really need & what’s unnecessary.



My kids and my wife and I have decided that we want to have a pet but we can’t agree on a dog or a cat so we got both. We know they need shots but I’ve called a few vet clinics and I’m getting different answers on how many shots they need. Can you advise us on what’s best?


Dr. Nichol:

Boy, am I glad to hear this question. It is painful for me to recall the number of these babies who have died of preventable diseases only because their owners assumed that they were too young to vaccinate. The reasons for the different answers to your questions result from different types of vaccine as well as the dated information that’s included with the vaccine itself.


Let’s start with the kitties. The best vaccine is a combination against panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis, and calici virus (FVR-C-P). Ideally this protection is started at 6 to 9 weeks of age. The combination vaccine is given a total of 3 times with an interval of about 3 weeks between each booster. At the time of the last vaccine the one rabies vaccine is given. Cats are boostered annually after that. Now for the confusing part. There are combinations that contain a few additional vaccines. Many folks, including some veterinarians, feel that when it comes to vaccines the more the merrier. But there is skepticism among specialists in internal medicine and immunology. Many experts feel that if a young puppy or kitten does not have an exposure risk to some of these less common diseases, the extra vaccine may do more harm than good. This is because more vaccine or “antigenic load” given at the same time can overwhelm the immune system thus reducing that youngster’s response to the other, more important vaccines. On the other hand, if your kitten will be spending a lot of time outside with other neighborhood cats, protection against feline leukemia will be important. But, again, it is much better in the babies not to include the leukemia vaccine with the others but instead to give it as a series of 2 injections after the regular series is finished. A blood test for the leukemia virus is useful first to make sure that your new kitten is not already infected. (This can happen to the litter of kittens while they are still in the uterus.)


For your new puppy: The biggest difference in vaccines is the parvo component of the distemper/parvo combination (DA2PPL). Many vaccines still in use contain low titer parvo vaccine. But the newer high titer vaccines are much better because they stimulate an immunity faster and with greater reliability. While the insert that is shipped with some vaccines recommends longer series, independent research has clearly shown that most puppies get a reliable protection with a series of 3 high titer DA2PPL vaccinations starting at 6 to 9 weeks of age. Space the vaccines about 3 weeks apart.


What happens if you give more in a series “just to be safe”? Infectious disease specialists feel that by overloading the immune system this way we may actually be setting up some puppies for immune mediated disease later in life. They point out that vaccines are necessary for protection but they can be harmful if overused.


Lastly, there are additional vaccines available for puppies. These include corona virus, bordatella, and Lyme disease. Some puppies will need these but most will not. Adding them in all together, however, can reduce the effectiveness of the distemper and parvo components that are most important. If additional vaccines like these are needed it is best to give them separately at the end of the series. When we see the puppy for his or her last booster, we give the one rabies vaccine; then we repeat the vaccinations once yearly after that.


Can these vaccines fail? There is a rare puppy or kitten who fails to fully respond. But by far the most common cause of so called vaccination failure occurs with vaccinations purchased by mail or from pet supply stores. Is it because it’s bad vaccine, administered incorrectly, or stored improperly? Hard to say. But when it comes to the protection of an important family member, saving money on vaccinations could cost a life. Protect those new babies and keep them safe.