Pet vaccination strategies are constantly changing; there is controversy over the ideal protocol. I feel that, unfortunately, most puppies and kittens receive many more vaccinations in their early life stages than are needed. Dogs and cats purchased from pet stores are commonly jabbed every week or two, with multi-valent vaccines that just keep challenging the immature immune system. This sets those animals up for a lifetime of immune system problems, including allergies, leaky gut, and chronic infections and inflammation.
Not that I ever plan on becoming a breeder, but if I did…this would be my approach:
Make sure the parents of the litter are healthy. Negative parasite screens, species-appropriate diets being fed (I’m a fan of raw feeding), positive titers for core vaccines (particularly distemper and parvovirus), no external parasites present, living in a stress-free environment: this is the ideal scenario.
Puppies and kittens, in my opinion, should remain with the mother and littermates for a minimum of ten to twelve weeks. I know, a lot of new owners want the babies sooner and a lot of breeders don’t really want to hang onto them for that long. But the babies learn a lot from their mother and their litter mates about proper social interactions during that time. Weaning is very stressful; when accompanied with vaccinations and moving to a new home without the litter mates, the immune system can have a negative response.
Maternal immunity is passed from the mother to the newborns through colostrum, which is the first milk on which they feed. The colostrum contains a lot of antibodies, which are large molecules that are easily absorbed in the newborns’ gut during the first 24 hours of life. If the puppy or kitten misses out on the colostrum during the first 24 hours, they will not be able to absorb the antibodies later and will be left un-protected from disease.
The maternal immunity will protect the newborn during the first few weeks of life. The immunity derived in this manner will start to decline with time, usually reaching a low point between twelve and sixteen weeks of age. Vaccinations given when the maternal antibody is high will not produce immunization of the puppy or kitten; they will only serve to “poke” an immature immune system. One study showed that only 60% of puppies were able to respond to a vaccination at 16 weeks, but 95% could be immunized at 18 weeks. In my opinion, if puppies were kept in a safe environment and had good maternal protection (based on having a mother with good titers before breeding), waiting until 16 to 18 weeks to immunize would be ideal. I recommend giving one antigen at a time, meaning parvo by itself, then two to three weeks later, give distemper by itself. Run titers one month later to make sure the puppy produced immunity against the viruses.
I like to wait until six to twelve months of age to give the Rabies vaccination.
Obviously, this protocol will not work for everyone. Breeders would need to hold onto puppies and kittens longer. Mothers would have to have good health with protective titers and a strong immune system. Diets would need to be species-appropriate. The majority of breeders are not willing to hold the litters for four months, which is understandable, as new owners also do not want to wait for 16 to 18 weeks to get their precious babies. In the right situations, the puppies or kittens could leave the litter at 10 to 12 weeks, but still wait until 16 to 18 weeks to be immunized. This protocol will not work and should not be attempted if the breeder does not have strong healthy parents for breeding.
When the puppies and kittens are ready for weaning, they should be started on a healthy, species-appropriate diet. I love the fact that Allprovide makes a puppy weaning paste that can be used and then followed by their raw puppy formulation.
Make good choices when breeding or buying your new pets. By starting them out on a healthy path, they will hopefully have a strong start that will help them maintain good health for many years to come.