Core vaccinations are vaccines that offer good protection against common or severe diseases. In Australia the core vaccine for dogs is known as the C3 vaccine, and as the name suggests it protects against three diseases: Canine Parvovirus, Canine Adenovirus and Canine Distemper Virus.
For cats the core vaccine is known as the F3 vaccine, and as the name once again suggests it protects against 3 diseases: Feline herpesvirus, Feline calicivirus and Feline Parvovirus.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) strongly believes in evidence based medicine. This means they encourage veterinarians to use science and research to guide their treatment decisions. They have formulated a set of recommendations for core vaccinations based on years of independent and robust studies.
When a mother dog (or cat) is exposed to a virus, whether it is a live virus or in a vaccination, she will develop antibodies to the virus. Antibodies help the immune system recognize and destroy viruses, which protects the dog against disease. When a puppy (or kitten) is born the mother passes on her antibodies through the uterus and milk, this helps protect new born puppies from disease.
As a puppy (or kitten) ages the level of maternal antibodies slowly decreases, leaving them susceptible to disease. Vaccinating puppies and kittens results in the development of their own antibodies and these antibodies will protect them from disease for the rest of their lives. The problem is maternal antibodies BLOCK vaccines from working and we don’t know exactly when they will decrease enough for vaccines to work in any one animal. This is the reason we need to vaccinate puppies and kittens frequently and keep them away from sources of potential infection, such as dog parks and unvaccinated pets, until we can be certain the vaccine has worked.
Canine Vaccination Guidelines
The puppy vaccination schedule is based on research that shows MOST puppies will have lost their maternal antibodies between 8 and 12 weeks of age, and almost all puppies by 16 weeks. This is the window where a puppy’s immune system can accept a vaccine, but is also the time that they are most susceptible to catching the diseases.
Puppy Schedule: First vaccine at 6-8 weeks of age, booster vaccine every3- 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. (In cities where there has been an outbreak of disease your vet may recommend fortnightly boosters to increase the likelihood the vaccine will work and prevent disease in your new pup.)
Many vets are now recommending the ‘booster’ vaccine to be given at 6 months of age instead of 12 months of age. This booster is intended to catch any puppies that did not respond to the final 16 week booster to ensure they are immune to diseases as they get older. Waiting until 12 months of age could mean your puppy falls into the tiny percentage that will still get a disease even with their puppy vaccinations because they still had maternal antibodies.
Adult Schedule: In recent years research has shown that vaccines are lasting A LOT longer than we initially thought in adult dogs. This means the traditional annual vaccine schedule for core vaccines is becoming outdated and is resulting in over vaccination (Remember your dog will likely be getting more than just core vaccines so may still need annual boosters, for example the kennel cough vaccine).
This research has lead to new recommendations that dogs should receive their core vaccines once every THREE years.
Feline Vaccination Guidelines
Just like for puppies, the kitten vaccination schedule is based on maternal antibody research. MOST kittens will have lost their maternal antibodies between 8 and 12 weeks of age, and almost all kittens by 16 weeks.
Kitten Schedule: First vaccine at 6-8 weeks of age, booster vaccine every3- 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. (In cities where there has been an outbreak of disease your vet may recommend fortnightly boosters to increase the likelihood the vaccine will work and prevent disease in your new kitten.)
Just like in dogs many vets are now recommending the ‘booster’ vaccine to be given at 6 months of age instead of 12 months of age as this booster is intended to catch any kittens that did not respond to the final 16 week booster.
Adult Schedule: The research in cats isn’t quite as black and white as it was for dogs. The feline parvovirus vaccine has a long-lasting immunity, but the herpes and calicivirus vaccines do not. In low risk cats (cats living indoors or with no exposure to other cats) a THREE yearly vaccine schedule has been recommended. However if your cat is outdoors a lot (or goes into boarding) an ANNUAL vaccine is still recommended for the herpes and caliciviruses.
But what about Serology?
You have likely heard talk about Serology Testing, or in other words doing a blood test on your pet to see if they have enough antibodies to make them immune to the disease. Once these antibodies fall below a certain level a booster vaccine will be needed to stimulate more antibody production and protect your pet once again.
Serology testing will be amazing when it is available for a low cost in the clinic, and these tests are currently being researched and developed. For now though it is not as practical to take blood from your pet and send it off for antibody titre testing. This is why vets generally recommend the tri-annual vaccines.
Wishing you only happy tails,
Dr Sheridan x