Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pet Vaccines 104 - How Often Should You Vaccinate?

Try these links for previous articles in the series on canine vaccines, feline vaccines, and how vaccines work.

You've probably had many vaccines yourself - vaccines for measles, mumps, hepatitis, tetanus and more. And if you're like me, you're likely hard pressed to remember what you've had and when... but you probably remember several sore arms spaced throughout life. Every vaccine varies in effectiveness and duration, meaning sometimes you need a vaccine once (measels), annually (flu), or every several years (tetanus). This article will attempt to demystify some of the when of vaccines for your dog and cat.

The Vaccine Schedule
For those who just wandered by looking for the recommended vaccine schedule without a burning need for the why behind those recommendations, let's get it out of the way:
  • Puppies 
    • Distemper, Hepatits, Parvovirus (DAP): every 3-4 weeks, from 6-16 weeks old
    • Rabies: once at 12-16 weeks
    • Bordetella (optional, but recommended for puppies): intranasal once at first vaccine appointment
    • Leptospirosis (optional, recommended in most areas): at 12 and 16 weeks
  • Kittens
    • Herpes, Calicivirus, Panleukopenia (FVRCP): every 3-4 weeks, from 6-16 weeks old
    • Rabies: once at 12-16 weeks
    • Feline Leukemia (FeLV) (optional, recommended for kittens): at 8 and 12 weeks
  • Adult Dogs & Cats with initial and regular vaccination history
    • DAP or FVRCP: every three years
    • Rabies: every three years (some states/municipalities require annual vaccination, however)
    • Bordetella and leptospirosis (dogs), FeLV (cats): Annual if indicated
Why Are Puppies and Kittens Different?
Right after birth some "magic" happens inside mom and her kids - and by magic, I mean really complicated physiological changes. These allow antibodies (proteins that help prevent infection) from the mother to exuded in her milk, and for a brief period the pups or kittens can absorb these antibodies through the gut and into the bloodstream. These maternal antibodies hang around for the first six weeks or so and protect them from common diseases - that's why we generally wait until after six weeks to begin vaccinations.

Eventually those maternal antibodies start to break down, however, leaving the kids increasingly susceptible to disease. So, we start vaccinating them to teach their own  immune system how to protect itself. There's a hitch, though: the remaining maternal antibodies interfere with those vaccines and prevent the pet from developing a full immune response until they are gone. Somewhere around 12-14 weeks the maternal antibodies should have entirely disappeared, and that's why we booster most vaccines every 3-4 weeks until then - each vaccine gives the immune system a boost that keeps the pet safe, but that boost doesn't "stick" until mom's antibodies get out of the way. It's also why we don't give rabies vaccines until after 12 weeks.

Why Do Some Vaccines Need A Second "Booster?"
Some vaccines are more effective at stimulating the immune system than others; for example, a single dose of rabies will typically provide immunity for at least a year. Others, like leptospirosis, pack less of a punch; for those the first shot "warms up" the immune system so it's ready to mount a full response when boosted 3-4 weeks later. The reasons for this mostly have to do with the type of vaccine in question (see the previous article) and are beyond the scope of this article - trust your vet to sort this out for you, or ask them for the details when you've had six or more cups of coffee.

Wait, I Thought Fluffy Needed Shots Every Year?
How long is a vaccine good for? It's an easy enough question to answer - if you're willing to spend the money and time to vaccinate a bunch of animals, then maintain them in a controlled environment monitoring their immune response. The vaccine companies did this, of course, but generally just for a year. So, we knew the vaccines were good for at least that long but really didn't know when immunity started to fade, and thus when a booster vaccine was really necessary. At the time, recommending annual boosters made perfect sense as the safest thing for pets.

We now know, however, that most of the "core" vaccines generally provide good immunity for three years or longer, and most of us have changed our recommendations to reflect that. So, why so some veterinarians still hang on to the old annual recommendations? Maybe you're tempted to think it's about money - that vets see yearly dollar signs associated with yearly vaccines. That couldn't be further from the truth - after all, if money was our focus we'd all have become human physicians instead, doing essentially the same work on a different animal for three times the income. No, the reason many vets still recommend annual vaccinations is because it's a reliable way to get you to bring your pet to the clinic for the most important part of the annual visit - the physical exam.

This bladder stone - which basically filled the entire
bladder - was discovered on "routine" physical exam.
The owners had no idea the dog was having urinary issues.
It's no secret most people associate going to the vet with "getting muffy's shots," not "getting a physical." And yeah, you likely don't take yourself in for a physical yearly, either. The trouble is you know when your tooth hurts, when you've been nauseous for a month, or when your knees are starting to feel sore in the morning. You can get in the car and head to the doc as needed, or at least tell someone what's wrong and ask for a ride. Our pets don't have that luxury. Sure, sometimes it's obvious Muffy isn't feeling well - but ask yourself, do your friends and family notice every time you're not feeling well? And how long does it take them if they do notice. I couldn't tell you how often I find problems a pets' people had no idea about - everything from bum knees and ear infections, to bladder stones and broken teeth. Regular physical exams are hands-down the most essential service your vet offers, and while I don't agree with recommending vaccination more frequently than necessary to get pets in the door for that exam, I certainly understand why some vets still do it.

Note that several vaccines - leptospirosis, feline leukemia, bordetella, and lyme to name a few - don't last as long and really do need annual boosters. And for any vaccine, I always recommend a booster at one year the first time a pet receives it, regardless of the potential duration. Better safe than sorry (or stuck in the ICU with parvo). Our final article will cover adverse vaccine reactions; these are understandably a major concern of many folks, but fortunately are fairly rare.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Holiday Pet Survival Guide

Give up the toys! 
I'm pretty sure pets love the holiday season just as much as I do. Think about it - for a month or two shiny new toys get hung up all over the house, the whole house smells like food, and lots of gullible friends and relatives wander in and out who are much more likely to fall prey to puppy-dog eyes and give you some of whatever they've got handy. And, if you're lucky, you get into enough trouble for a visit to your favorite person - the veterinarian!

Okay, so maybe we aren't your pet's favorite person (second favorite? third?). Unfortunately, that is an all-too-common holiday scenario. So, if you'd like to give Muffy the gift of staying away from me this season, read on for simple tips to keep pets safe and healthy during the holidays.

They Call It "People-Food" For A Reason
Human foods may agree quite well with pet's mouths, but they often disagree quite strongly with their stomachs. While eating random table scraps and treats usually just causes a day or two's discomfort, there are very, very, very  (!) serious problems that may result:

  • Many common foods - and holiday treats in particular - can be deadly toxins for pets.
  • Pancreatitis is a life-threatening condition that may be triggered by fatty foods.
  • Bones - all bones - commonly result in fractured teeth, intestinal obstruction, and even stomach perforation.
Last but not least, holiday treats are a leading cause of Food-Amplified Tissue (FAT) syndrome, which can take a year or two off your pet's life (and lead to a lecture from me about putting Muffy on a diet).

Curiosity Can Kill The Cat - Decorate Carefully!
The holidays bring lots of exciting things for pets - shiny tinsel, ribbons galore, electrical cords running everywhere, and a big green scratching/climbing post right in the living room!

  • Strings and ribbons can be deadly if ingested - aside from causing blockages, they can saw right through intestines - and the only thing more interesting to most cats than string is a shiny string. Keep tinsel and ribbon well out of reach or avoid them entirely.
  • Anchor your tree to the ceiling or wall to keep anyone from tipping it over. Fake trees are best, too, since pine needles can also poke through intestines if ingested.
  • Missletoe, Holly, and Ivy can all make your pets ill. Check out this link from the ASPCA for a laundry list of other problem plants.
  • Try to keep all those extra electrical wires neat and hidden.
  • Don't leave candles unattended, and make sure pets can't reach them or otherwise knock them over.

Curiosity Can Kill The Cat (Again) - Keep Things Tidy! 
These bars will not hold me. I will eat
your toys, and garbage, and shoelaces.
I will eat them all.
My wife is going to laugh when she reads this - me, telling people to keep things neat and clean. But, a big part of keeping pets from getting into things they shouldn't is preventing access, so:

  • Clean the kitchen as you go, and don't leave bowls of candy and the like out where pets can reach them.
  • Pick up all the wrapping paper and ribbons immediately after opening gifts. December 26th is usually paper/ribbon/string foreign body day at the ER.
  • Don't let the kids (or your husband) leave new toys laying around, else they get confused for chew toys, food, or both.
  • If you have a ferret, lock it in the bathroom with food and water until late January. Okay - that's a little extreme, but those buggers get into everything!

Respect Pet's Personality and Space 
Some pets are social butterflies, but many just get stressed by the all the people and commotion that come with holiday parties. It's never wrong to put the furry kids in a room of their own for the evening and let them have some peace and quiet. And even if they do enjoy a good party and are given roam of the house, you should provide a room or crate for them that's off-limits to guests in case they do need some alone time. New Year's Eve is a particular problem for many pets, with the potential for lots of noise and even fireworks - this article offers some tips for pets with noise fears.

Also make sure any random children the in-laws drag along only get to interact with pets while supervised, as kids who aren't used to pets usually don't understand "boundaries" at all. Or, suggest putting the kid in the spare room with food and water while the pets roam free. That usually goes over poorly with their parents, though.

Choosing Pet Gifts
Best. Christmas. EVER!
I'm all for a new toy or special treat for the holidays. Seriously, send me something. Oh, and get the pets something too - just be thoughtful in your selection.

  • Toys should be resistant to shredding into small, ingest-able bits
  • Also avoid super-hard chewables like Nylabones. These are a big cause of fractured teeth. My rule of thumb: bit down hard on it yourself - if there's no give or the pressure hurts you, Muffy shouldn't have it either. Plus, it's really amusing for anyone walking by in the pet isle.
  • Avoid treats made in China, or anywhere else with questionable regulatory oversight.

Educate Your Guests
You, dear reader, are smart enough to take all this advice and avoid any unexpected visits to me and my ilk this holiday season. But it's all for naught if you set a couple dozen folks loose in your home who really think Muffy needs that turkey bone, chocolate candy, ball of yarn to play with/eat...or that despite her pulled back ears and snarl, she really just needs a belly rub right now. Make sure your guests know what is and isn't okay. If educational enlightenment doesn't seem to work, consider threatening them with fruitcake. Works for me.

Two final tidbits: make sure all pets have up-to-date ID (tags, microchips, or both) in case someone leaves a door open, and check out this article if you plan to travel with Muffy this season. Happy holidays!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pet Vaccines 103 - How Vaccines Do (And Don't) Work

So, we've talked about the diseases we commonly vaccinate for in the first (canine) and second (feline) articles. Now we'll offer up some answers for the questions we commonly field about vaccines.

How do vaccines protect my pet from disease?
That's a deceptively simple question, considering how complicated Muffy's immune system is. The basic idea is easy enough to grasp, however. In order for your immune system to fight off an invading disease, it first needs to identify it. In the cellular soup that is the living body, when something new and harmful comes along it can take some time to identify it - time you often don't have when under attack by disease. Remember how much of the town got wiped out in Invasion of the Body Snatchers before folks figured out how to tell who's who? So, vaccines contain bits of the offending virus or bacteria that have been rendered harmless, giving your immune system a "heads up" on what to look for if infected in the future. That means they can take care of the enemy before it becomes a problem, instead of wasting time trying to figure out who the enemy is.

What's actually in those vaccines?
There are three basic types of vaccines. 
  • Killed vaccines are basically busted-up bits of a virus or bacteria. They contain important proteins your immune system can recognize and learn to differentiate in the future, but everything's dead so the virus or bacteria can't spread or cause disease. 
  • Modified live vaccines actually can multiply in the body, but they've been altered by the kids in the lab so they no longer cause disease. These generally produce much better immunity since your immune system gets exposed to a lot more virus. 
  • Recombinant vaccines take the best of both worlds - generally, a harmless virus (yup, probably the majority of viruses out there cause no real harm) is injected with a few genes that allow it to produce a few proteins that are specific to the disease we want to vaccinate against. It's sort of like a good samaritan going door-to-door with photos of annoying door-to-door salesmen so you know when not to open the door.

Are vaccines 100% effective?
Realistically, nothing is 100%, but most manufactures claim efficacy of 100% or at least the upper 90's for the "core" vaccines. Non-core vaccines like leptospirosis, FeLV, and FIV sport lower numbers but are generally still pretty good - in the case of lepto, sometimes even if disease isn't prevented, a reduction in severity could be life saving. 

It's also worth noting that a very small percentage of animals will be "non-responders" to a particular vaccine - for whatever reason, there immune system won't recognize and mount a response. Another potential reason for failure is mishandling of the vaccines, which generally are sensitive to temperature - this is the main reason buying and giving vaccines yourself is a bad idea. I threw out $800 worth of vaccines a few months back when a refrigerator died over the weekend - I frankly don't trust the kid at the feed store or the businessman running a mail-order outfit to do that.

What's "herd immunity?"
Okay, so no one's ever actually asked me about the concept of herd immunity. But it's worth bringing up here. Basically, the idea is that if you create immunity to a disease in a majority of a population through vaccination, the individuals who don't develop immunity (from failure or lack of vaccination) get a sort of second-hand protection, since you've drastically decreased the odds of them being exposed to the disease. Imagine 100 people in an office. If 90 of them get flu shots, you've just reduced the risk of exposure to the flu at the office by 90% for the other 10 folks. So, even if a vaccine isn't 100% effective for everyone, if everyone gets it they'll be well protected regardless (and that's how you end smallpox, kids). 

As an aside, this is why I tend to think of vaccination (both animal and human) as a social responsibility - those 10 folks who didn't get the flu shot are not only freeloading on everyone else's vaccines, but they're serving as a potential reservoir for the disease, too.

So, two big questions remain - how frequently should pets be vaccinated, and what are the risks of vaccinating (hint: they're a lot less than not vaccinating). We'll get to them next, but for now I'll let "herd" immunity serve as an excuse to leave you with the following video.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pet Vaccines 102 - Common Feline Vaccines

For the the first article on canine vaccines, and a discussion of rabies, click here.

Cats are not just small dogs that will agree to relieve themselves on ground-up clay. They have their own medical (among other) quirks, their own diseases, and with the exception of rabies, their own unique vaccination needs. This article discusses those vaccines and the disease they prevent. Rabies vaccination is recommended (and legally required) for cats as well; we discussed that in the prior article on canine vaccines so I won't repeat myself here.

Feline Distemper Complex (FVRCP)
This is the standard combination vaccine for cats, along the lines of the canine "parvo combo." I'll be the first to admit all the different names and acronyms make talking about it confusing. Most vets, and their medical records, use the acronym FVRCP; I've underlined the letters that acronym comes from below in an attempt to clarify.

  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (Herpes) and Calicivirus: These are two separate diseases, but they are so similar in how they affect cats that we tend to lump them together. Both primarily cause transient upper respiratory symptoms - sneezing, nasal discharge, lethargy and the like (rhinotracheitis = inflammation of the nose & windpipe). Infection is permanent, and both viruses may flare up temporarily any time the animal is stressed - just like cold sores in people. Herpes commonly causes ulcers on the eyes, while calicivirus more often causes oral ulcers. Both are highly contagious between cats, so it's no surprise that many cats are infected as kittens. So why vaccinate everyone then? Well, if you don't have it you don't want it - and equally important, vaccinating everyone reduces viral spread through the population in the long run.

  • Panleukopenia (Feline Parvovirus or Feline Distemper): Yeah, this one has too many names. Here's the scoop - this is very closely related to canine parvovirus, and typically produces the same sort of disease - vomiting, diarrhea, etc. In kittens it also is very effective at damaging white blood cells, hence "panleukopenia," which translates to "all white cells decreased." That's important because that means their immune system is suppressed and thus they become very likely to get secondary diseases. And, in neonates, the disease may damage the nervous system, resulting in problems similar to canine distemper. So that's where all the names and confusion come from. Fortunately, a very effective vaccine comes from your veterinarian so your cats hopefully never need to worry about those details.

Non-Core Vaccines
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): This disease primarily affects white blood cells, potentially turning them cancerous (leukemia). However, the most common effect is a depression of the immune system, leading other illnesses to be more severe and predisposing to secondary infections when sick. It is transmitted via saliva, and cats are most susceptible when young. Thus, an initial series is recommended for all kittens, and adult boosters are recommended for cats that spend time outdoors - potentially exposed to other cats. Since cats may be infected for years before showing signs, testing is also recommended for all cats when young.

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): In many ways similar to FeLV, FIV is basically the feline equivalent of AIDS. It is capable of dramatically depressing the immune system, leading to potentially fatal opportunistic infections. The virus must enter the bloodstream directly, making bite wounds the most common manner of transmission. Vaccinated animals will test positive, meaning there's no way to differentiate vaccination from a sick animal in the future. Considering the efficacy of FIV vaccines is somewhat questionable, vaccination is recommended only on a case-by-case basis, primarily for outdoor male cats - since guys, as always, are more likely to fight. 

So there are your kitty shots in a nutshell. The next article in the series will cover questions about vaccine types, frequency, and risks. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pet Vaccines 101 - Common Canine Vaccines

Almost everyone has their pets vaccinated against a variety of diseases. I'm always surprised how few questions I get about what all those needle-pokes are for. Well, if you've ever wondered about the whole story on all those tiny little vials - this series is for you. The first two articles will cover what diseases we vaccinate in dogs, then cats. Then, we'll cover the questions I do get asked on a regular basis - like how often to vaccinate, how vaccines differ, and potential reactions to vaccines.

2009 animal rabies cases (CDC).
Rabies Virus
It's the big one that everyone is familiar with, thanks to the fact that rabies is pretty much 100% fatal once it becomes symptomatic - and therefore your pet is legally required to be vaccinated against it. Transmitted by saliva into open wounds, it travels to the brain where it causes neurological effects ranging from stupor and loss of coordination (the "dumb" form) to violent outbursts (the "vicious" form). The time from infection to symptoms can vary from weeks to several months; after symptoms develop it progresses to death fairly quickly, though.

Pretty much any mammal can get it and give it - to your dog, cat, ferret, or you. Fortunately, human and pet infections are rare in the US nowadays - thanks largely to vaccination. It is very present in the US, however; every state except Hawaii reports anywhere from a handful to hundreds of cases in wild animals annually. The most common carriers are bats, raccoons, skunks and the like.

"Parvo" Vaccine Complex
Pretty much all veterinarians use a combination vaccine that includes parvo, distemper, and hepatitis. These are discussed individually below. Some combo vaccines also include parainfluenza, which is discussed below under "kennel cough."

There are tons of variations on specific
vaccines and combinations.
  • Parvovirus: Most folks have heard of this one too, as it is the only disease we routinely vaccinate against that's still relatively common. The virus very efficiently destroys the cells lining the intestines; this leaves the dog unable to digest food, retain water, or keep intestinal bacteria from entering the bloodstream. A malnourished, dehydrated, septic puppy is generally a dead puppy without treatment. On the bright side, if caught early and treated aggressively dogs generally respond well - if they live long enough, they'll generally clear the virus on their own. However, several days in the hospital on intravenous fluids and antibiotics gets costly fast, and is by no means a guarantee.

  • Distemper Virus: About 50% of dogs who catch distemper will experience mild general malaise and/or respiratory disease. Unfortunately, the others will develop a potentially fatal infection of the brain and spine; those that survive often have serious long-term neurological problems. All affected dogs will experience severe suppression of the immune system - the virus first attacks white blood cells - and potentially life-threatening secondary infections often occur in any affected dog. You may not hear a lot about it, but it's out there - and it's not a disease to be trifled with.

  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis (Canine Adenovirus Type-1): This is a disease that primarily damages the liver, potentially fatally, but it may also affect the eyes, kidneys and other organs, or turn into a chronic, low-grade infection. Fortunately, it's very rare nowadays because of routine vaccination. Interestingly, the vaccine is actually CAV-2, a related virus that causes transient respiratory disease and is part of the "kennel cough" complex discussed below. CAV-2 vaccine provides good cross-protection against the more serious CAV-1, and the old CAV-1 vaccines had more frequent side effects.
Other, Non-Core Vaccines
  • "Kennel Cough" - Bordetella bronchiseptica & Parainfluenza Virus: "Kennel cough" is the common term for a group of upper respiratory infections that are generally self-limiting. They generally don't hang around in the environment long, and instead are passed between dogs in close quarters - most commonly, in kennels, at dog parks, or at events like shows or agility contests. Bordetella & parainfluenza are two of the more common culprits, and the primary ones we vaccinate against. They aren't consider "core" vaccines, since many dogs never board at a kennel and have minimal contact with other pets - but they are highly recommend for those who do, and required to stay at kennels.

  • Leptospirosis: Lepto is a bacterial disease that can shut down the kidneys and may damage other organs like the liver. That's bad. It's also something you can get, though good oral hygiene minimizes risks (making it mostly a concern for children). The majority of mammals can carry it, sometimes without major symptoms, and transmit it via urine. We all know what dogs do when they find urine, hence why they're prone to it. Risk levels vary from area to area, so talk to your veterinarian. However, if you travel with your pets it is a good idea regardless.

  • Lyme Disease: This bacterial disease is most commonly associated with severe arthritis, though it can also seriously damage organs such as the kidneys. It's transmitted by ticks, and is also known as borreliosis after the bacteria that causes it. This is another fairly region-specific disease, with the east coast and Great Lakes regions being at greatest risk, so talk to your vet.
Continue to the next article, Pet Vaccines 102 - Common Feline Vaccines

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Leaving On A Jet Plane - International Travel & Pets

Traveling across town to with your pet in the car can be an adventure; traveling outside the country with your pet can be like navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis. I should know. I currently run an Air Force clinic, and we help people get their furry family members overseas on a daily basis. Every single country in the world gets to make its own decisions about what hoops you need to jump through to import your pet. They also get to change them whenever they want.

This article is geared toward travel outside North America (including Hawaii). Mexico and Canada are fortunately pretty easy to travel between. For travel outside North America with your pet the best advice I can give you is this - start early (like yesterday), research thoroughly, and double-check everything. You will need at least a month's lead time, and for countries like Japan you may need six months or more.

This is also one situation where I'll tell you your veterinarian is not the expert; few vets ever send pets to Japan, let alone Moldova. They'll do everything they can to help, but ultimately it's your responsibility to become the expert and make sure everything Muffy needs to get where you're going is taken care of. This article should give you the tools to turn yourself into that expert. If you're serious about this, you might also start by make yourself a nice, calming cup of chamomile.

Before You Do Anything Else:
  1. Contact the consulate of the country you are traveling to; this is the horse's mouth, so to speak, when it comes to what is required to get into that country. You must do what they require or they can detain your pet. You must know what the current and specific requirements are. 

  2. APHIS is another good resource for export regulations. The country in question has the final word, but the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maintains information on most countries at the website above, which may (or may not) help to clarify instructions from the consulate.

  3. Research airlines. They all get to make their own rules about what can fly, how it flies, and how much it costs. Pets with significant health issues may be okay to fly in the cabin, but they should not fly in cargo - often that is the only option for international travel. Your flight plan is an additional consideration; if you have a layover in a country other than the destination you might need to make import arrangements for that country too.

  4. Check out this article for tips on making travel less stressful for you and your pet.
Things You WILL Need:
  1. Current rabies vaccination and certificate: Usually this must be done at least a month prior to travel, and for some countries can be six months or longer. This is currently all you need for Canada. Vaccination must also occur after microchip implantation.

  2. Veterinary health certificate: Your vet will need to examine your pet and sign a form attesting that they are in good health and free of disease. APHIS Form 7001 is good for general travel; however, many countries require special certificates (especially if English is not the national language). Contact the country's consulate or check with APHIS to be sure. 

  3. ISO Compliant microchip: Unfortunately, some US microchips may not work for international travel. ISO-compliant 134.2kHz chips are the current international standard. Check your pet's number, if it's 15 digits you're OK. If not, you'll need to get a new chip or bring a scanner with you. Excepting a few unique situations, I wouldn't recommend the later. A scanner costs $150-$200, and more importantly, if your pet were lost while traveling no one could read the chip to get them back to you.

  4. USDA endorsement: Generally, you will be required to visit your local USDA office after getting a health certificate from your regular vet. You do not need to bring your pet with you, just all the documentation. They will make sure everything is in order, which is great since small mistakes - which can lead to big problems at foreign airports - are easy to make in this process.
Things You MAY Need:
  1. Anti-Parasite Treatment: Many countries require treatment for parasites shortly before travel. This generally needs to be given by your veterinarian and attested to on the health certificate, so make the appointment with that in mind. As a side note, it may be worth considering a broad-spectrum deworming when you get home as a precaution against any unwanted stowaways in Muffy's gut. Talk to your vet.

  2. Other Vaccines: Since they all get to make their own rules, countries may require all sorts of vaccines or treatments. Guam, for instance, requires Coronavirus vaccination...which is pretty silly if you ask me, since the vaccine is junk and the disease isn't very serious. But no one asks me, and if you want to take your pet overseas you have to play by that country's rules, period. It's also a good idea to ask your vet if there's anything Muffy hasn't had that might be recommended - Bordetella (kennel cough) and leptospirosis in particular.

  3. FAVN (rabies) testing: This is a special blood test that verifies your pet has enough antibodies against rabies to prevent infection - in other words, that the pet was effectively vaccinated. It is required for import into most rabies-free countries and quite a few others as well. This often requires a lot of planning and time, since:
    • Your pet generally needs at least two prior rabies vaccinations, at least two weeks prior to testing.
    • At least one vaccination must happen after microchip implantation.
    • Getting results often takes 2-4 weeks.
    • After the test, there is usually a minimum waiting period before importation of anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months.
    • There's always the possibility your pet fails the test - though this is unlikely if they have a good vaccination history.
Your veterinarian likely runs few, if any, FAVN tests; look like a genius and tell them they can send the blood to Kansas State University for testing. Likewise, if there are any unusual vaccines, treatments, or forms required your veterinarian may need a significant heads-up period to get what you need, or may need to send you to another vet. Hardly anyone stocks coronavirus vaccine, for instance.

If you've read all this and you still want to travel internationally with your pet...I admire your fortitude. You either really love Muffy, or you're crazy. Probably a little of both. But with preparation and planning, it is manageable. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Quick Tips for Pet Travel

Maybe you're headed on a big cross-country road trip. Maybe it's just a weekend with the in-laws a few hours away. Whatever the occasion, traveling with pets can be fun, exciting....and stressful. Poorly planned, it might even be dangerous. Today's article covers several easy tips to lower the stress level and keep things safe, so you can focus on relaxing and having a good time together.

Bear in mind this just refers to domestic travel by car; airlines and international travel are different beasts that will be covered in future articles.
  1. Bring plenty of extra food / medications: This is an obvious it should be no surprise it's the most common one folks forget. Imagine running out of food, having to substitute something else, and triggering a nice bout of diarrhea. While driving. In your car.

  2. Seatbelts / carriers:  I'm not going to lie - my dog usually rides shotgun, unrestrained. He's also been dumped forcefully into the floor when I've had to slam the brakes. That wouldn't happen if I was smart enough to practice what I preach and get a pet seatbelt. Excited pets bouncing around the cabin isn't conducive to safe driving, either.

  3. Windows up: I once witnessed a Yorkie jump out of the car window as it drove by the vet clinic I was working at. Good timing, I guess - but it nearly killed him.

  4. LEASHES!: Never let your dog (or cat, or iguana) off leash in an unfamiliar place. I don't care how much you know/trust them - the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells could provide the unexpected surprise that leaves you spending the day searching for them, or worse.

  5. Dealing with anxiety and car-sickness: Pheremone collars (DAP or Feliway) can help many pets with mild travel anxiety. For motion sickness or more significant anxiety, talk to your vet about Benadryl and other options.

  6. Current flea & tick prevention: Make sure your pet's flea prevention will cover the duration of the trip; no one wants to finish off a vacation with a bunch of nasty new house guests. Do this even if you don't normally use a flea preventative - trust me. 

  7. Microchips: Make sure your pet's microchip is registered to your current address. If they don't have a microchip consider getting one
Here are a few more things you may want to ring your veterinarian's office for:
  1. Get a record or certificate of all vaccinations (and make sure they are up-to-date): Most hotels require up-to-date rabies vaccination at a minimum. Tell them where you are going, and ask if there are any other vaccines they'd recommend. These may include Bordetella, Leptospirosis, lyme disease, or others.

  2. If your pet has any major medical history - chronic diseases under treatment or past major surgeries - ask for a copy of the medical record to take with you. Hopefully your pet won't need veterinary care during the trip, but if they do that record may be invaluable.

  3. Ask your veterinarian about an official health certificate: may be required to enter certain states or to stay at some hotels, and all airlines require them. Your veterinarian can provide one after a thorough physical exam - which is itself valuable, since more than once I've picked up problems owners weren't aware of that might make travel a bad idea. Health certificates may only be good for a limited time (10 days for airlines), so set your appointment appropriately.