Vaccinating your pet is one of the most important ways to keep your dog or cat healthy.
Do you want your pets to have long, healthy lives? One of the best ways to help that happen is keeping vaccinations up-to-date, even if your pets are kept mostly indoors.
Many contagious diseases are airborne, and your pets could be exposed through an open window or even one visit outside. Boarding pets, taking them to the groomer, or visiting a dog park also raise the risk for exposure to contagions.
Preventive vaccination is a highly reliable and cost-effective method of pet health care.
The costs of regularly vaccinating your pets are far less than dealing with both the costs and heartbreak of treating or caring for your pet if it contracts a preventable illness. Necessary (core) vaccines aren’t in question. All pets should have these, and in Michigan, it’s a law that all dogs receive the Rabies vaccine by 16 weeks of age. (Ferrets are required to receive a rabies vaccine by 12 weeks old.) It is highly recommended for cats and other companion mammals. And since rabies can be transmitted to humans, keeping your pets vaccinated is essential to your health as well.
Knowing which vaccines to give your pet and when the first step is in pet health.
The following are lists of necessary (core) vaccinations as well as recommended (non-core) vaccinations for pets (dogs & cats) living in Michigan along with schedules of when a pet should be vaccinated. Please keep in mind that vaccinations take from several days to a few weeks to become effective. Consult with your veterinarian about when your pets should be vaccinated before planning an event that will expose them to other animals.
Titer testing pets
At the end of this article, important information is provided on titer tests. A titer is a blood test that determines your pet’s level of antibodies. They are used primarily to determine if a cat or dog, especially senior pets, need to be revaccinated or given a booster vaccine. Making such a decision should be between yourself and your pet’s veterinarian.
Necessary (Core) Vaccinations for Your Dog
Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus (DHPP)
Commonly called the “distemper shot,” this combination vaccine protects against the four diseases in its full name. A vaccine for Leptospirosis may also be included in this overall vaccine, making it a DHLPP. See below for more information on Leptospirosis.
Rabies virus is 100% fatal with no treatment available, and all mammals, including humans, are susceptible to infection. Prevention is the key. Rabies vaccinations for dogs are required by law in most states. Michigan law requires that dogs be vaccinated for rabies by 12 weeks of age.
Recommended (Non-core) Vaccines for Dogs in Michigan based on Lifestyle
For Dogs that Go Outdoors
Often included as part of the distemper combination vaccine (making it a DHLPP—see above), this bacterial infection is prevalent in moist climates where there are areas of standing or slow-moving water. This disease can also be spread from animals to humans. According to the Michigan Veterinary Medical association, leptospirosis (lepto) is on the rise in Michigan. It’s most common in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, but lepto has been reported in over 20 Michigan counties since 2017. It is recommended that you consult your veterinarian to determine if your dog should receive this vaccine.
A bacterial infection carried by ticks (blacklegged/deer tick in Michigan), this disease is extremely prevalent in certain parts of Michigan—in particular, the east and west coasts and the areas around the Great Lakes. It’s the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in Michigan.
Even dogs that receive year-round tick control products may be at risk for exposure to tick-borne diseases. The Lyme disease vaccine helps prevent disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme disease organism. It should be noted that the Lyme disease vaccine does not provide complete protection against the disease, and the use of year-round tick control products is recommended in addition to the vaccine. However, the vaccine is not necessarily suggested for all dogs, and it is recommended that you speak with your dog’s veterinarian.
For Dogs that Go to Boarding Kennels, Doggie Daycare or Groomers
Bordetella (commonly called “kennel cough”)
The bordetella virus causes a highly contagious upper respiratory infection. Some veterinarians recommend this vaccine before dogs go to dog parks, groomers, boarding kennels, doggie daycare or dog shows. Many boarding kennels require pets to have the Bordetella vaccine before staying with them. It is recommended that you consult your veterinarian to determine if your dog should receive this vaccine and how often.
Canine Influenza Virus (CIV)
This viral upper respiratory disease originated in 2004 and has spread across the country. CIV is rarely fatal, but it will weaken a dog’s immune system, making them more susceptible to bacterial infections or other illnesses. Whether your dog needs the CIV vaccination is largely based on lifestyle. Risk factors for infection include having dogs in closely confined conditions such boarding kennels, day care settings, and animal rescue shelters. Talk with your veterinarian to determine the CIV prevalence in your area any given year and if your dog should be vaccinated to help prevent CIV infection.
Necessary (Core) Vaccines for Your Cat
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP) or FVRCP-C (Chlamydia)
Commonly called the “distemper” shot, this combination vaccine protects against three diseases: feline viral rhinotracheitis [also know as feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1)], calicivirus and panleukopenia (sometimes called “feline distemper”).
Rabies virus is 100% fatal with no post-exposure treatment available, and all mammals, including humans, are susceptible to infection. Prevention is the key. While Michigan law requires that dogs and ferrets must be vaccinated for rabies, and it is recommended that all cats and other mammalian companion pets be vaccinated as well.
Recommended (Non-core) Vaccines for Cats in Michigan based on Lifestyle
For Cats that Go Outdoors
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis, and the vaccination for it is often included in the distemper combination vaccine (making it an FVRCP-C). For cats that live or go outside or spend time at groomers, kennels, or around other cats, vaccination against the disease is a good idea. Ask your veterinarian if adding the Chlamydia vaccine to the FVRCP is recommended for your cat.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
Feline leukemia is a high-mortality disease caused by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). It is highly contagious among cats in close contact with one another. This vaccine is highly recommended for cats that go outdoors. Also, FeLV testing is recommended prior to vaccinating. Only cats that test negative for feline leukemia should receive this vaccination. It is recommended that you consult your veterinarian to determine if your cat should be tested and receive this vaccine.
Even if your cat has been vaccinated for FeLV, it should be tested again if there has been possible exposure to the virus. The test should not be given before 30 days after the possible exposure. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, any cat that is sick should be tested for FeLV due to the many and various health issues that are associated with feline leukemia.
For Cats that Go to Boarding Kennels or Groomers
The bordetella bacteria cause highly contagious upper respiratory infections. Your veterinarian may recommend this vaccine before your cat goes to a boarding kennel or groomer. Many boarding kennels require your pet to have the Bordetella vaccine within 6 months before staying with them. It is recommended that you consult your veterinarian to determine if your cat should receive this vaccine.
Additional Cat Vaccination Information
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) — The FIV Vaccine is No Longer Available
According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) attacks the immune system, leaving an infected cat vulnerable to many other infections. Although cats with FIV may appear normal for years, they eventually suffer from this immune deficiency, which allows normally harmless bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi found in the everyday environment to potentially cause severe illnesses. However, recent studies suggest that cats with FIV commonly live normal life spans, as long as they are not also infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV). See above for information on FeLV.
From 2002 to 2017 the FIV vaccination was available in the U.S. and Canada. It was considered mostly safe with rare and minor side effects. However, the vaccine has been discontinued. It was determined that the FIV Vaccine offered limited protection. (About 18% of vaccinated cats continued to receive FIV when exposed.) Furthermore, the FIV vaccine was found to increase the risk of sarcoma. It was an adjuvanted vaccine, which meant that it contained additives that stimulated the cat’s immune system. This fact created concerns of vaccine-site sarcoma, a cancer that could develop at the adjuvanted vaccine injection site.
The FIV vaccine led to false-positive FIV results in cats that had received vaccination.
Titer Testing — Determining Whether to Revaccinate Your Pet
Titer testing—testing your pet’s blood to measure the concentration of antibodies for particular illnesses—is referred to commonly as ‘titers’ and entails your veterinarian performing a simple blood draw on our pet. The primary purpose of titers is to determine if your pet has enough antibodies to protect it from a given illness. Many pet owners are concerned about the adverse reactions their animals may have to vaccinations. While the possible negative effects of vaccines are outweighed by the positive benefits of vaccinations, titers may also be used to find out if your pet has NOT built up sufficient immunity to a particular illness after the initial series making a booster advisable.
Titers can be expensive when compared to the cost of vaccination, yet many veterinarians offer affordable (compared to outside testing) in-office testing that can provide useful information within 30 minutes. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the exact costs and benefits of titer testing. As always, deciding whether or not to vaccinate your pet should be done in discussion with your vet.
If you opt for titers, consider testing for the illnesses protected by CORE vaccines. Please note that it is recommended that your pet maintain its rabies vaccinations throughout its life.
“Core” titers for Dogs
• Canine panleukopenia (distemper) virus
• Canine parvovirus
• Canine adenovirus (hepatitis)
• Canine Parainfluenza
“Core” titers for Cats
• Feline parvovirus that causes feline panleukopenia (distemper)
• Feline viral rhinotracheitis
• Feline calicivirus
There are different recommendations for titer testing. The American Animal Hospital Association believes antibody testing is useful for monitoring immunity to certain viruses in dogs. Guidelines from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association favor antibody testing for determining duration of immunity of core vaccines in dogs. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends definitive revaccination intervals for cats. They all recommend proceeding only upon consultation with your pet’s veterinarian.
Dr. Laurel Gershwin—an immunology professor at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine who has represented immunology on the AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents—has said there are good data that immunity from core vaccines in cats and dogs should last for three years. She cautions, however, that antibody measurement is only one part of the equation.
Your pet’s immune system is made up of much more than just antibodies. You and your pet’s veterinarian should consider a variety of factors when making the decision if an adult animal needs to be revaccinated or given a booster shot including your pet’s risk factors (i.e. indoors vs. outdoors; exposure to other animals), your area’s disease prevalence, and you and your pet’s lifestyle (i.e. traveling with your pet to other states where disease pervasiveness may vary). Non-core vaccinations are termed “lifestyle” vaccines for these very reasons. It may be more cost effective to determine vaccination for non-core illnesses based on your pet’s lifestyle and risk factors than to have titer testing for these diseases.
If you are concerned about over-vaccinating your pet, especially if it is an older animal, a titer test can be one important factor in determining if your pet has antibodies against a particular disease or if a booster is needed. The other conditions stated above should be considered as well.