Your Puppy Is NOT Protected
Written By: Leah Laprade
(Co-owner of Small Wonders Kennel)
Your puppy has had one vaccine given somewhere between six and seven weeks of age. Many people seem to be under the mistaken impression that this means their puppy is protected against the most commonly contracted diseases of puppyhood. This is not true. It is recommended that your puppy receive 3 and, preferably, 4 vaccinations to ensure that he develops enough antibodies to give him good protection. The vaccinations are given at 3 – 4 week intervals and you should not think your puppy is safe until about 10 days after the last vaccination has been administered.
Why Your Puppy Needs ALL Its Vaccinations
When a puppy is born the first thing it will try to do is nurse. For the first 48 – 73 hours the mother produces a very special kind of milk called colostrum. This colostrum milk is very rich in fat and contains the mother's antibodies. Her antibodies will provide protection for the puppy through its first weeks of life. Note that the colostrum will only contain antibodies to diseases that the mother has developed some immunity to either through vaccination or exposure. In a large litter where puppies are having to compete for nursing time, some puppies will get more colostrum than others and, therefore, be better protected. If a vaccine were given to a puppy while the mother's antibodies are still high in its system, those antibodies would attack the vaccine and nullify it. As the puppy grows and the weeks pass, these borrowed antibodies are slowly depleted. When they are low enough the puppy can be vaccinated and the vaccine will trigger the puppy's immune system to develop antibodies of its own. Sounds simple? Here's the catch... without doing titer tests on every pup, it is impossible to know when mom's antibodies are low enough in the pup not to interfere with the vaccine. We know that this happens anywhere between 6 and 16 weeks of age. To hit that “window of opportunity” the puppy should be vaccinated at 3 -4 week intervals until it is 16 weeks of age or as recommended by your vet.
Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!
If I've explained this well then you will now understand that when you buy your puppy at 8 weeks of age or younger, it most likely has no immunities of its own yet, in spite of having been given its first shot. In fact, at this age, the chances are very good that the first vaccine has been nullified by the mother's antibodies that are still in the puppy's system. At this stage your puppy is extremely susceptible to some very nasty and potentially deadly diseases. The mother's antibodies have depleted to the point where they may no longer protect your puppy and yet are probably still high enough to prevent it from developing antibodies of its own through vaccination. YOU will have to be your puppy's protector until it has had all its shots. Treat him like he has no immunities in a world riddled with contagious viruses and infections. Take every precaution to avoid the heartbreak and expense of a very sick puppy. Does it seem like I'm trying to frighten you? I am! You are going to bond with your puppy very quickly and so will the rest of your family. They become very precious to you very quickly. You don't want to lose him when a few, simple precautions will keep him safe and healthy.
How To Keep Puppy Safe From Disease
The first step in keeping your puppy safe from disease is to acknowledge that contagious diseases exist all around you and to understand how they are contracted. I have come to realize that many people have a fairy tale notion of bringing home a fluffy bundle of love and living happily ever after. They envision scampers in the park with the kids and puppy tumbling together in the grass. They are under the impression that if a puppy gets good food and clean water and lots of exercise it will grow up healthy and strong. They are not familiar with diseases such as parvovirus, leptosporosis, distember, parainfluenza and assume they are remote and rare possibilities that they will never encounter. People are often shocked when their puppy ends up sick and fighting to survive or when they are faced with a $1000 vet bill and no guarantee their new little family member will live. It's heartbreaking!
So how do puppies catch a contagious canine disease? By being in places that are often frequented by other dogs and their owners such as dog parks, pet stores, dog shows, puppy training classes, and even the vet's office. Keep in mind that not everyone who owns a dog is a responsible pet owner. Every community has its share of dogs that have never been vaccinated or have not received annual boosters. Those dogs may not have any symptoms of illness but can still be carriers of a contagious disease. These dogs walk, sniff, urinate, defecate, and sneeze in all of the above-mentioned places. Even vaccinated dogs then walk, sit, lie, and roll in the places unvaccinated dogs have visited. Pet owners walk where these same dogs have been, making their shoes potential carriers. They pet their dogs making their clothes and hands possible carriers. If your puppy happens to sniff or walk through the same area as one of the carriers or if one person with a microscopic amount of virus on his hands or sleeves pets your puppy, he has been exposed and may become gravely ill. Some viruses are spread through contact with the feces or vomit of other dogs. Other viruses are airborne. Cut your puppy's risk of exposure by avoiding contact with other dogs and their owners. Keep your puppy at home in his own back yard until he is fully vaccinated.
You Can't Socialize a Dead Puppy
There are vets who will argue that the benefits of socialization for your puppy outweigh the risk of contracting a contagious illness. Easy for him to say! It won't be him who is heartbroken and financially beaten down if the pup picks up something deadly like parvovirus. He isn't going to reduce your bill when you remind him that he told you socialization was more important than protecting the puppy from exposure. He isn't going to replace your puppy or soothe your children if your puppy dies. You can't socialize or train a dead puppy! Remember... This Isn't Forever! Once your puppy has been fully vaccinated you will be able to visit all the puppy parks, pet stores, and training sessions you want and you'll be doing it with a live, healthy pet.
What About Visitors?
Let's face it... life can't stop until your puppy until your puppy has received its third or forth vaccination. Extended family will want to visit, friends will want to drop by, deliveries will be made, the kids will come and go, etc. People will come into your home and your yard and with them will come the possibility of contaminating your puppy's safe environment. Here are some simple tips that will significantly reduce the risk:
Explain to family and friends that your puppy is not yet immunized and ask them to change their clothes before coming over. Most will not be insulted. They will chuckle at the “new parent” protectiveness.
Set a large boot tray outside your entrance door, lay a folded towel in it, pour enough bleach water in the tray to saturate the towel. The bleach/water ratio that is capable of killing parvovirus (the hardiest of all the viruses) is 6 parts water to 1 part bleach. Have everyone step into the boot tray with both feet before entering your home.
If friends or family will be bringing a dog of their own with them, make sure the dog is up-to-date on vaccinations, insist that the dog be bathed before it visits, and have the dog also walk through the solution in your boot tray.
Ask visitors if they've been to a pet store, SPCA, or dog park. If they have, ask them to leave their shoes outside sitting in the boot tray, hang jackets and outwear out of reach of the puppy, provide hand sanitizer. Better yet, put your puppy away in a crate for a nap until they leave.
Wash floors with the bleach solution and feel free to liberally douse your walk, steps, and porch with the same solution.
At The Vet's Office...
At your vet's office, DO NOT put your puppy on the floor at any time. Keep it in your arms or in a crate until you are called into an examination room. A crate is the best solution because then you don't have to ask other pet owners and/or their children to please not pet your pup. Puppies are so hard to resist and most people don't understand that their hands or clothes may have touched something that had a virus on it. Take a clean towel with you to the vet clinic and when you go into the examination room, place this towel on the examination table to provide a barrier between your puppy and the table. All vet's tables are disinfected between patients but the disinfectant is not always allowed to sit long enough to actually kill viruses and bacteria. Where do people take sick animals? To the vet, of course. So it stands to reason that your vet's office is one of the most likely places for a puppy to be exposed to contagious illnesses. Take these precautions and the visit will be a positive experience. When you leave the building, before you get into your car, spray the bottoms of your shoes with your bleach solution and give your hands a good rub with a sanitizer.
There is a lot of information available online about preventing contagious illness in pets. I encourage every new puppy owner to do some research and familiarize yourself with the common illnesses and their symptoms. Parvovirus is the one “I” am most paranoid about because it is the most likely to be fatal to your puppy. It also is the hardiest of all the viruses, being able to survive in the environment for months, possibly years, even through extremely hot or cold weather. It is hard to kill and there is no actual treatment. All that can be done once a puppy has parvo is support its system with re-hydration and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections while the virus runs its course. Most puppies will have only a 50% or less chance of surviving if they contract this virus. Treating the symptoms is very, very expensive and often the owner is forced to choose euthanasia because treatment is not an affordable option. If the puppy does survive it will continue to shed the virus in its stools for up to 3 months, further contaminating the environment and putting other dogs and puppies at risk. Every puppy owner should take the time to understand the diseases that can affect their pet and share in the responsibility to reduce the risks to their own and other people's pets. Vaccination is the best prevention along with keeping your puppy in a clean, safe environment until it has received all of its shots.
I'm Scared Now! Maybe I Won't Get a Puppy Afterall.
The fear in writing a paper like this is that some people may be so afraid of their puppy getting sick that they reconsider getting a puppy. My intention certainly is not to turn you off of raising a puppy. Sharing your life with a pet is a wonderful, rewarding experience. Keep in mind, too, that having done dog rescue for a number of years I have seen more than my share of sick puppies and this does influence how passionate I am about protecting them. I am also a firm believer that knowledge is empowering and gives us the tools to change or eliminate certain outcomes. Having knowledge gives us the power to protect our puppies so that they can bring love and fun into our lives for many years. If you have children, think about the tiny newborn you brought home from the hospital. Remember how protective you felt? If Aunt Mable had a cold or was getting over the flu, you didn't want her holding or kissing your precious bundle. Your new puppy is also a precious bundle and needs the same protection for a while, until its immune system is more mature and vaccination has encouraged its body to produce antibodies. Again, remember this is not forever. Take care now, relax and enjoy later. Believe me, your puppy is worth it.