From the series “Top Twenty Questions Veterinary Clients Ask”

Distemper vaccines are multivalent.

This means a distemper vaccine protects your pet against 3-4 of the common viruses that can cause illness or death in cats and dogs.  Most canine distemper vaccines are comprised of modified distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza virus.  Most feline distemper vaccines are modified panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus.  Canine viruses can be carried by foxes, coyotes, and other animals.  Feline viruses are carried by other cats, including wild or feral cats.  Veterinarians are experts at diagnosing, treating, and preventing these viral illnesses in your pet, and distemper vaccines are the first weapon in our arsenal.

Young animals are the main victims.

Puppies and kittens have a greater than 50% mortality rate when exposed to the distemper viruses.  Receiving the vaccine in a series protects your puppy or kitten, and works best if they start between 6-8 weeks of age and then receive a booster every 3-4 weeks until 2 vaccines are given after 12 weeks of age.  When pets are older, they should receive the vaccine at least every three years, depending on their life style. This is to protect the pet, but also to protect any young animals they may encounter.

Will distemper vaccines harm my pet?

Vaccination stimulates the immune system to protect our bodies from diseases.  The immune system is complicated however, and sometimes can be overstimulated.  Your veterinarian is an expert in determining whether your pet will benefit from a particular vaccination.  Some pets can have a mild fever, lethargy, and some missed meals for up to three days after vaccination, but serious reactions are extremely rare.  Usually, much more harm can come to your pet by not vaccinating, especially against distemper.

Is there an alternative to vaccinating?

Veterinarians now have the ability to perform blood tests called vaccine serology to determine if your pet is protected against distemper and parvovirus.  These tests usually cost around $70, and can be used if the patient is sensitive to vaccines, or has another illness which makes vaccination a concern.

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