“All His Shots”

All his shots.

It’s a favorite phrase of American pet owners, but what, exactly, does it mean?

Literally speaking, there is no such thing as all his shots.

Even if one follows the not-recommended schedule of vaccinating every other year or every third year, there is never an end to vaccinations.

Frequently we make first-visit appointments for young puppies and kittens, only to hear the new owner say, “He’s already had ‘all his shots.’”

It’s a terribly misleading phrase because all too often it leads the new owners to delay that first visit, only to find out when the pet comes down with a preventible disease that he actually didn’t have “all his shots.”

If a puppy or kitten is under 16 weeks of age his immune system is too young to have had “all his shots,” and he will need additional visits. Up until this age the “passive immunity” a youngster received from his mother’s colostrum, or “first milk,” is still fighting our efforts to stimulate the immune system to make its own “active immunity.”

For that reason we begin vaccinations for both species at 6 weeks of age and repeat them at 9 weeks, 12 weeks and 15 weeks. Some veterinarians extend the series to 20 weeks of age, with good justification, as it is known that a few individuals still have maternal antibodies, the passive immunity described above, that keeps them from full protection.

If your new pet starts the series at 7 weeks, or some other “in between” age, we customize the schedule appropriately.  Read more about the vaccination series.

It is important to recognize that protection is not immediately conferred by vaccination. Vaccinations given at 6 weeks of age barely begin to stimulate a little active immunity, and it is the act of “boosting” those vaccinations on subsequent visits at 3-week intervals (or the interval suggested by your pet’s doctor, tailored to disease prevalence in your area) that ultimately protects him.

If, then, a puppy vaccinated last week goes to a pet store or dog park and is exposed to a bad disease, like parvovirus or distemper, he is very likely to break with disease.

Likewise if you delay seeing your veterinarian with a new pet and that pet turns out to be inadequately protected. Perhaps the breeder told you he had “all his shots,” when, in fact, he had only one visit to the veterinarian. Perhaps he was a do-it-yourselfer who obtained his “vaccines” from a co-op, and actually conferred no protection at all to the litter.

I’ve even heard of people who gave “shots” to only one member of  a litter, reasoning that “the others will get protection by mingling with him.” Don’t believe it!

The safest approach for a new pet is to have him examined within 48 hours of obtaining him. That way, your pet’s doctor can evaluate the vaccination record (if there is one), make recommendations for any needed followup care, and, with a thorough examination determine whether there are any physical abnormalities or medical needs that should be addressed.  Warranty examinations sometimes have a 24-hour limit.

And, no matter what, do not allow new pets to have contact with existing pets until your veterinarian has given them health clearance. Upper respiratory tract disease, intestinal parasites, Feline Leukemia Virus,
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, fungal infections, these are but a few easily-transmitted (and easily prevented) disorders that new pets may be harboring.

Furthermore, you must wash and disinfect your hands thoroughly between new and existing pets.

There is another situation in which “all” shots may not have been given.  Some veterinarians may limit the vaccines they administer to their pets.  Some leave off Bordetella.  Some leave off Canine Influenza.  Some leave off Lyme disease.  Some give Leptospira vaccines to only certain canine patients.  If you move, and have to find a new veterinarian, what was “all” his vaccinations at the previous clinic might not be “all” at the new facility.

Your veterinarian and his staff can address any question you have, even before you bring your new pet home. Feel free to call on them and take full advantage of their expertise.


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