Understanding Pet Vaccinations

Community contributed by Brenda K Smith DVM, Molokai Humane Society

Vaccinations play a crucial role in keeping your pet safe and healthy by teaching the immune system to defend itself against diseases it may encounter. Vaccinations contain a harmless form of the virus or bacteria which causes that particular disease.  The vaccination works by stimulating the pet’s natural defense mechanisms to set up a protective screen against the disease. This protective response is remembered and triggered whenever the animal encounters the disease.

Newborn puppies and kittens receive some immunity or protection against disease from their mother’s milk during the first few days of their lives. The mother can only pass on the immunity that she herself has, and her ability to do this depends on whether or not she has been properly vaccinated. This protection is only temporary and it declines in the first few weeks of life.

At the same time the maternal antibodies are starting to decrease, the immune system of the puppy or kitten is starting to become effective. It is also during this time that we start to vaccinate pets, in order to let their developing immune system start to produce antibodies to disease. 

It is recommended to vaccinate puppies and kittens starting at about eight weeks of age, and continuing every three to four weeks until they are at least 16 weeks old. It takes time for the immune system to respond to the vaccines, usually between 10 and 14 days after the last dose has been given.  Until the series of vaccinations is complete, it is very important that you keep your puppy away from other dogs and to avoid places where other dogs might have been.

Older puppies/kittens and adult animals need a series of two vaccines three to four weeks apart to obtain the initial immunity. This is followed by a booster one year after the initial series in all pets, then every one to three years depending on the pet’s lifestyle.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most veterinary vaccinations are relatively inexpensive, and are substantially less expensive than the cost of treatment for the diseases they protect against.  Many dangerous diseases seen in dogs and cats are completely preventable with the right vaccinations.

The Molokai Humane Society offers dog vaccinations for $10 each and cat vaccinations for $20 each. Please call the Molokai Humane Society at 558-0000 for more information. The Molokai Humane Society is open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. with extended hours when we have a vet on island.

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