The Perils of "First Shots"
We frequently see patients (puppies & kittens) whose owners inform us they were told by the prior owner or breeder that their pet had its "first shots." What does this term really mean? Misunderstanding can unfortunately put your new pet at risk.
In general, most puppies and kittens are ready for their first vaccination at about 7 - 8 weeks of age. This vaccine is typically referred to as "Distemper," but it is actually a combination vaccine that protects against several diseases (click here for specifics on puppy and kitten vaccines.). Since many puppies and kittens go to new homes at about this age, many times this first vaccine is given within a week or so of going to a new home.
The problem is that "first shots" is a vague term:
- To some owners, "first shots" means that the puppy or kitten is completely vaccinated (i.e., no further vaccines are necessary).
- To some owners, "first shots" means that the vaccine series has been started, but it may be somewhat unclear when the next booster is due (in 1 month?, in 2 months?, in 3 months?). Sometimes no paperwork (or incomplete paperwork) accompanies a new pet, and therefore it may not be specified when the next booster is due. "Booster" vaccinations (described further below) are critical. As pet owners get involved with all of the daily care their new pet requires, it is easy to lose track of time, and important booster vaccination due dates may pass by.
- The reality? In most cases, only the initial vaccine has been given, and the crucial boosters are still due over the next 5 - 10 weeks. Keep in mind that the next booster due date may be coming up within a week or two.
Here are the primary take-home points:
- Puppies and kittens need a series of vaccinations — not just one.
- Vaccines should typically begin at about 8 weeks of age, and boosters are given every 3 - 4 weeks until the pet is 15 - 16 weeks old. If greater than 4 weeks elapse between boosters, additional vaccines will likely be required.
- Failure to complete (or a delay in completion of) a proper vaccination series puts your new pet at risk for contracting contagious diseases.
- Call us as soon as you get your new pet and relay prior vaccination names and dates to us. We can then direct you when your new pet should be seen by us for the first time. We will usually recommend a physical exam within a few days of obtaining your new pet — even if booster vaccinations are not yet due. This ensures that we identify any medical problems early. Remember: vaccinations are only a part of good puppy & kitten medical care.
- Lastly, remember that your new pet isn't fully immune until a couple of weeks after its vaccination series is completed. So in general, avoid taking your pet to public areas (common dog-walking areas, parks, pet stores, etc.) where lots of other pets (with unknown health status) may have been. These public areas likely expose your new pet to a higher-than-average concentration of disease-causing viruses and bacteria.
We look forward to seeing your new puppy or kitten! Give us a call with any questions or concerns you may have.