After all the presents are given out and we clean up from the holiday festivities, many are left with a gift that keeps on giving everyday—that gift of a new puppy or kitten. The most important thing to consider with a puppy or kitten whether they are adopted from a local rescue group, purchased from a pet store, or from a local breeder. It is vital that you review all the paperwork provided to you when you pick up your new pet. Many agents will tell you that the animal is current on their vaccinations; however this may not always be the full picture. In fact many times I have found that all of the initial vaccinations are not even completed. The most important thing to do when acquiring a new pet of any age or size is to have it evaluated by a veterinarian within at least a 24-hour period. This way you have a professional looking over not only the paperwork, but also the animal, to evaluate for any signs of illness or other abnormalities. By having this done early on, you ensure that if the pet has any illnesses they are addressed quickly. It also allows you the opportunity to contact the person/place from which you acquired the animal and make them aware.
In respect to puppies, vaccination is started at either six or eight weeks of age and must continue with boosters every two to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old. In general, vaccinations are broken into core and non-core groups based on the risk of disease exposure to a particular patient. For example, a dog that never leaves the yard may not receive the same vaccinations that a show dog or a hunting dog may receive. It is extremely important that all the vaccination series be administered at appropriate times, as there is no such thing as partial immunity. You are exposing yourself as well as your pet to high risks of developing fatal diseases if not fully vaccinated, and in some localities, you can be fined for failure to vaccinate.
In respect to kittens, vaccinations also are started at either six or eight weeks of age, the same as with puppies. Similarly, veterinarians do not administer all the same vaccinations to cats regardless of their breed or environment. A house cat does not have the same illness exposure that an indoor/outdoor or completely outdoor cat may have. For this reason, I tailor all my vaccination protocols to each individual patient, keeping in mind the effects of over-vaccination.
Are you considering purchasing vaccinations and administering them yourself? I strongly discourage this practice, and financial interests on my part do not fuel my concern. Many people are not aware that when your veterinarian administers the vaccinations to your pet many of those vaccinations come with a guarantee from the manufacturers. We can all appreciate that not everything comes with a 100% guarantee; however the manufacturers will often cover a significant portion if not all of the veterinary bills if your pet becomes sick despite being fully vaccinated as recommended by your veterinarian. A very realistic example of this would be if a puppy contracts the deadly parvovirus and requires a week or more in the hospital, which can cost in excess of $2,000. If it is documented that a licensed veterinarian vaccinated the patient, many companies will cover the bill. They will not cover such care if the vaccine is purchased from a third party and administered by yourself, your friend, or any others.
Please be sure to have all of your pets examined by a licensed veterinarian and be sure that their vaccinations are current. Keep in mind that even indoor-only cats require at minimum a rabies vaccination by New York State and PA law. Feel free to contact your family veterinarian or me with questions regarding vaccinations.
(For canine and feline vaccination guidelines, see www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vmth/small_animal/internal_medicine/newsletters/v...  and/or www.vetmed.wsu.edu/depts-vth/vaccinations.aspx .)
[Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, D.V.M. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , or visit www.facebook.com/CatskillVeterinaryServices.]