Necessary Vaccines and Tail-Docked Rotties

Q: Our cat, Mitzie, is 17 years old and for the past three years
has never gone outside. Our veterinarian sent us a reminder that
she needs her vaccination boosters. We wonder if it really is all
that necessary for her to get these shots, considering her age and
living conditions. Is it?
Q: Our cat, Mitzie, is 17 years old and for the past three years has never gone outside. Our veterinarian sent us a reminder that she needs her vaccination boosters. We wonder if it really is all that necessary for her to get these shots, considering her age and living conditions. Is it?

A: First of all, congratulations. You must be taking really good care of Mitzie. It sounds as though she’s been living the good life.

Veterinarians recommend that cats routinely be vaccinated for protection against several infectious diseases. But not all these vaccinations are necessary for every kitty. There are at least five different vaccines available for cats. And before any of these are used, you and your veterinarian should decide which would benefit Mitzie.

The first – and most commonly used – vaccine gives protection against feline distemper and the upper respiratory illnesses (chlamydia, herpesvirus, etc.). These diseases can be passed by airborne transmission. So, if a sick cat sneezes, infectious organisms can be passed through open windows or doors. I believe Mitzie needs to be protected from these diseases with a vaccine called a feline 4-way.

Other vaccines protect against the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and rabies. Some cat owners also have their cats vaccinated for protection against feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and for a respiratory infection called bordetella.

Feline leukemia and rabies are transmitted only through direct contact with an infected animal, usually via bite wounds. If Mitzie doesn’t ever go outside, and she’s the only cat in your home, there isn’t much chance she’ll be exposed to these diseases. Realistically, she shouldn’t need protection against them. (One notable exception was recently reported in a Chicago-area newspaper where an unvaccinated indoor cat contracted rabies from a bat that got into the house!)

Keep in mind that local animal ordinances usually require that kitty-cats be vaccinated against rabies, so she may need that particular vaccine to comply with the law.

The vaccinations for protection against FIP and bordetella are somewhat controversial. Many practitioners feel they are of little value because they don’t give full protection against these diseases. Most vets only recommend these vaccines if a cat is in a large kennel or cattery, or if the cat lives in an area where these diseases have been found to be a problem.

All in all, Mitzie probably only needs to be vaccinated with the feline 4-way vaccine. But you should check your local ordinances to see if she would also require a rabies vaccine and certificate.

And here’s to many more years for you and your very special feline friend!

Q: I’m getting a Rottweiler puppy. Does he have to have his tail docked, and if so, at what age?

A: There’s no reason you should feel obligated to have your puppy’s tail docked. Tail-dock surgery has been done for many years, dating back to when Rotties were used as working dogs to help drive cattle to market. (Their owners would also attach their money to the collar of their dog for safekeeping as they returned home from the sale. I’ll bet they were rarely robbed!)

Tail docking has been a tradition for many years, partly because so many people thought a very short tail looked best on this breed. Traditions die hard, as they say, and this is one that has lasted a very long time. But now many folks are showing a change in attitude, and some breeders are choosing to forgo the tail-docking procedure. Fact is, cosmetic procedures such as this have become the center of legal debate in some parts of Europe. In some countries, they are prohibited by law.

If you decide to have your puppy’s tail docked, the appropriate time would be when he is just 3 to 5 days old, when the bones of the tail are soft and not fully calcified. It’s a simple procedure, but it’s uncomfortable, to say the least.

Tail docking is done quickly and without anesthesia. Fortunately, it’s a short surgery, taking only a minute or less to perform. Some puppies cry while they are being treated. But soon afterwards, they seem unaware of what just occurred. They either fall asleep or look to nurse from their mother. Some people say it’s analogous to the circumcision procedure done to small infant boys.

Tail-dock surgery on older puppies is much more involved. Here, a general anesthetic is necessary because by the time pups are just 1 week old, the bones are much larger and more calcified. On these little guys, the procedure is much longer, taking up to 20 minutes. And to add insult to injury, each patient must wear a collar for 10 days after surgery to prevent licking at the suture line.

Many people like the look of a Rottweiler au natural. They think these dogs have more expression with their full tail wagging behind them.

I’m happy to say that more and more, we are seeing Rotties who have not had this surgery. Perhaps someday, in the not-too-distant future, tail docking will be prohibited in this country just as it is in other parts of the world. I’ll bet that given the choice, the puppies would go for that.

Pete Keesling is a veterinarian at San Martin Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts “Petpourri,” a weekly show about pet health on KTEH in San Jose and a bi-weekly column for South Valley Newspapers. If you have any questions about pet care, please mail them to Vets, 30 E. Third St., Morgan Hill, Calif. 95037.

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