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Ask the Vet: Protocols for pet vaccines address health concerns

Q: The breeder who sold me my dog administered the rabies vaccine. But now my vet says I need to have my dog vaccinated again. Can you explain this to me?

Rabies is a public health concern, and vaccination of dogs is mandated in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The city of Duluth also requires rabies vaccination for cats. According to the laws in both states, the rabies vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian or under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

While your breeder may have administered the rabies vaccine, Minnesota and Wisconsin law would consider your dog unvaccinated because a veterinarian wasn't involved. If your dog were to be bitten or would bite another animal, it would be treated as an unvaccinated animal. In addition, your county or city would consider you ineligible for licensing until your pet had a rabies vaccine administered by a licensed vet.

Q: I've heard you can save money by giving your own vaccines. What you do think of this?

I have mixed feelings when it comes to owners giving their pets vaccines other than the rabies preventative. Let me explain why.

Last week, my clinic received an order of vaccines. They arrived in a cooler with ice packs. But when we unpacked the vaccines, the vials felt a bit warmer than we expected. So we got on the phone with the distributor to discuss the shipping date, the container and the condition of the ice packs on arrival. We were able to determine the vaccine still was safe and effective. But we had concerns, and we checked them out.

Veterinarians consider administering vaccines a medical procedure, so we don't take it lightly. We want to ensure vaccines are administered to pets with healthy immune systems. We also ensure staff members are trained in the proper handling, administration and storage of vaccines. Vaccines begin to break down and lose their effectiveness if not stored at the appropriate temperature or administered soon after they are mixed.

If you purchase your vaccines from a reputable source and can ensure they have been handled appropriately until they are administered, then your pet should be protected.

Another caution for owners giving vaccines at home, particularly the distemper combination vaccine, is to make sure the final booster is given at or after the age of 14 to 16 weeks. Years ago, the recommendation was to vaccinate until 12 weeks of age. But we now know that puppies and kittens aren't fully protected until they have that final booster at or after 14 to 16 weeks.

While you can save a few dollars vaccinating your pet at home, the value in visiting a vet for puppy and kitten appointments goes well beyond vaccines. A veterinarian will examine your pet and may identify underlying issues that may not be obvious. The vet also can talk to you about all relevant topics, such as breed-specific issues, parasite protection and a long-term vaccination protocol.

Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior is owner of PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns at or 218-461-4400. For more information about this subject, go to