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Matthew Sisk: The difference between a vaccine and an infection
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Lemmy recovers from his bout with apparent “kennel cough” with no complications.

Still, his run-in with the dry cough points out a key difference between the vaccine against kennel cough and most other vaccines.

Most vaccines have the goal of preventing disease, but it is not the same as preventing infection strange as it may sound.

For example, your dog may become exposed to the parvo virus. And while he is vaccinated, the virus gets inside his body. His protective immunity recognizes and eliminates the virus before he shows signs of illness. But the fleeting first step of infection occurred before the body recognized the virus.

Thus, a clinically relevant infection never occurs. But philosophically, an “infection” did. Most vaccines work this way.

The Bordatella or kennel cough vaccine is a bit different. It can be more accurately called an ameliorative vaccine. That is, while it is aimed at preventing disease, it more commonly prevents severe disease. A milder course of brief illness can occur.

Lemmy could have been much worse. In fact, the disease can be so mild in a vaccinated dog, the owners never bother to seek treatment.

The rapid recovery eases my worries about more arcane causes for a cough and collapse in a middle-aged to older dog. If Lemmy showed those signs because of cardiac disease or cancer, he shouldn’t have recovered in such a manner. Coincidences do occur, but they are the exception.

Lemmy has now moved into the latter stages of his middle age. Therefore, I recommend he be examined twice a year.

Changes can occur more rapidly in a older dog. The difference between being 9 and 10 years old is greater than the difference between being 2 and 3.

Yearly senior blood work will become part of Lemmy’s routine. This will check his blood cells, internal organ function and thyroid levels.

Lemmy may be a mixed breed, but that doesn’t guarantee he harbors no genetic landmines.

In two months, I’ll see him for his first “senior” visit. In those two months, something startling happens.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at


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