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Posted on 08-30-2017

You just brought home a baby ball of fur, and you couldn’t be prouder.  Everything about your new “fur-baby” is perfect.  Definitely the cutest, the smartest, and the hand’s-down, no-doubt-about-it, pick of the litter!   Congratulations!  You are about to become a “frequent flyer” at the vet’s office, at least for a few months.  And you may start wondering WHY puppies and kittens need so many vaccines?  It starts making sense when you think about HOW vaccines work…

The superheroes of the immune system are antibodies, which are blood proteins that actively attack and destroy specific antigens like bacteria or viruses. There are two kinds of immunity – passive and active – and they both rely on the presence of antibodies.

When mammals are born, they carry with them antibodies from their momma’s immune system, passed to them through the placenta.  This is called “maternal passive immunity”.  This protection is boosted by the colostrum-rich milk she provides for the first two or three days of their life.  A catch is that the babies can only receive this passive immunity to diseases for which their mother has, herself, developed antibodies!  So if mum wasn’t vaccinated against, say, parvovirus, she won’t have any parvovirus antibodies and neither will her litter!  Another limitation is that we aren’t certain how long these antibodies last – some of the variables may include the strength momma’s immune system, and even how much colostrum an individual pup or kitty got to drink in those first few days.  That is why most veterinarians recommend starting the vaccine series around 6 to 8 weeks of age… to make up for the waning maternal immunity…

As your baby matures, so does his or her own immune system. By the time a kitten or puppy is 12 weeks old, their passive immunity is all but gone, and their own immune system is ready to produce antibodies to a vaccine.  This is called “active immunity”.  So while vaccines given before 12 weeks MAY stimulate their own personal immune system, vaccines given after 12 weeks WILL stimulate the production of antibodies.  This is why the rabies vaccine is never given until after 12 weeks of age, and regardless of vaccines given before then, your pet will need additional vaccines at about 12 and 16 weeks.   After the “puppy series” or “kitten series” are completed, your vet will send you a reminder each year for annual physical exam and vaccines and keep them safe.

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