By Dr. Marty Becker

Universal Uclick

In case you've been on a desert island for the past few months, vaccinations are in the news. Fearing vaccine-related reactions or other concerns, some people are leery not only of vaccinating their children against preventable illnesses, but also their pets.

Protecting against something you've never seen can be a difficult concept for both pet owners and veterinarians. Many veterinarians (and probably 90 percent of vet techs) who have graduated in the past 10 to 20 years have never seen a case of canine distemper. For the pet owner -- add in families, friends, co-workers and acquaintances -- who has also never seen or known a dog with the disease, it's easy to begin to believe the threat doesn't exist, isn't serious or is overblown.

Those of us who have been practicing longer (35 years, in my case) have seen the green discharge from the eyes and nose, the hardening footpads, the neurological signs and death. Many deaths. We know this invisible and now infrequent killer can gain ground quickly in a community of dogs that are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated and kill indiscriminately and grotesquely. Distemper and parvo outbreaks occur in shelters across the country every week because approximately half of the dogs coming in have never been vaccinated.

For 35 years I've told pet owners, if you love your dog or cat specifically, and dogs and cats in general, you'll get your pets vaccinated not only to give them potentially life-saving protection, but also to put an invisible blanket of protection over the whole pet community.

That doesn't mean your pet needs every vaccination out there. Your pet's vaccination program should be individualized, based on factors such as his age, health, medical history, lifestyle (is he a homebody or does he go to dog parks or cat or dog shows?), and the prevalence of disease in your locale. Here's what you should know:

-- Dogs and cats should receive core vaccines -- those that protect against the most common and most serious diseases. In dogs, core vaccines are distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis and rabies. In cats, they are panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus) and rabies, as required by law.

-- For a minimal vaccine program, veterinary immunology expert Ronald D. Schultz, Ph.D., recommends a first vaccination no earlier than 8 to 10 weeks of age (6 weeks for shelter animals), followed by one or two more doses, the last when the animal is 14 to 16 weeks or older. Get a titer test two or more weeks after the final vaccination to make sure the immune system has responded to the vaccines.

-- At one year, your pet can receive a booster vaccination or titer to ensure he has antibodies to disease. Then you can simply do titers every three years for the rest of the animal's life and revaccinate as needed, or you can revaccinate every three years for the rest of the animal's life.

-- In dogs, give non-core vaccines, such as those for leptospirosis or giardia, only if your pet is at high risk of the disease. The coronavirus vaccine is not recommended by the current guidelines. In cats, vaccines with little or no efficacy include those for feline infectious peritonitis, feline immunodeficiency virus, virulent calicivirus and bordetella. Alice Wolf, DVM, an internal medicine specialist and professor of small-animal medicine at Texas A&M University, advises against giving those vaccines to cats.

-- Some animals are more at risk of vaccine reactions than others. They include certain breeds, such as akitas, American cocker spaniels, American Eskimo dogs, Great Danes and Weimaraners; young puppies or kittens who are stressed from being transported to new environments; animals who are sick or have a fever; animals with white coats and pink noses or with dilute coat colors; and small dogs in general. Talk to your veterinarian about ways to reduce the risks.


Surgery best for

dislocated tendon

Q: My Sheltie was playing in the backyard, and I noticed afterward that she was limping. The veterinarian did X-rays and found that she had torn the tendon that attaches to her hock. Is she going to need surgery to repair it? -- via Facebook

A: The $5 term for this type of orthopedic injury is luxation of the superficial digital flexor tendon, which runs along the back side of the Achilles' heel. If the tissues that hold it in place tear, the tendon becomes dislocated, causing lameness. It's an unusual injury, but when we see it, it's usually in Shelties and other collie-type dogs.

We usually recommend surgical repair, especially for young, active dogs, because recovery is quicker and more predictable. Afterward, exercise is commonly limited for a couple of months, and your dog may need to wear a splint to support the repair while it heals. Pain medication and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug will help with discomfort and swelling.

If finances or other factors, such as age or illness, make surgery inadvisable, though, talk to your veterinarian about conservative management of the injury. This may involve an injection of Adequan to help reduce swelling and lubricate the joint, combined with crate rest for three weeks or more.

It can be difficult to keep a young dog inactive for long periods while injuries heal (another reason that surgery is preferred). One way you can keep your dog occupied is to offer Kong toys that have been stuffed with plain yogurt, mashed banana, pumpkin, peanut butter and kibble, and then frozen. Treat puzzles that don't require a lot of action on your dog's part are also useful. Practice tricks that don't require your dog to use her legs, such as "Give it" or pushing a ball with her nose. Your dog will also appreciate some good old-fashioned quality time, whether she's sitting on your lap while you watch television or sitting with you outdoors on a pretty day. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Journalism study follows

trends in cat tales

-- News about cats has been fodder for journalists for more than 140 years. University of Illinois journalism professor Matthew C. Ehrlich, intrigued by New York Times articles on cute cat videos and cats and wildlife interactions, decided to dig deeper into the cultural history of cats in journalism, specifically in the paper that publishes "all the news that's fit to print." He found nearly 700 articles, from the 1870s to the present, portraying cats as commodities, heroes, villains, victims, women's best friends and urban symbols. The stories, he suggests, are more than fluff, offering insights into our evolving relationships with animals.

-- Sometimes it's good to think inside the box. In a study published in the November 2014 issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Dutch veterinarian Claudia Vinke of Utrecht University in the Netherlands reported that newly arrived cats who were provided boxes to hide in at a shelter had significantly decreased stress levels, adjusted more quickly to their new surroundings and were more interested in meeting people. Future investigations will examine whether reduced stress levels correlate with reduced outbreaks of infectious disease as well as the effect of a hiding box for cats housed in groups.

-- Ever think that maybe you're just a little neurotic when it comes to caring for your pets? Turns out that could actually be good for them, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley and California State University, East Bay. "Helicopter" pet owners tend to be highly conscientious and enjoy close relationships with their animals. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, is the first to find a positive correlation between neuroticism, anxious attachment and the care of and affection for pets, says CSU-East Bay psychologist Gretchen Reevy, who co-authored the paper. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.



Caption 01: Dogs and cats should receive core vaccines at least once in their lives. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Cats respond to stress and change by hiding. A box is the perfect getaway. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2
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