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Understanding Combination Vaccines
In an increasingly complicated world, it should come as no surprise that even choosing your pet's vaccinations can be a bit confusing.

All those letters, numbers, and combinations of letters and numbers do not help one bit. Learning exactly what the letters stand for and how the numbers are put together can help you make the correct choice when picking out your pet's vaccines.

Let's start with the letters. The letters in the name of the vaccination usually stand for the diseases that the vaccine works to protect against. The letters are frequently the first letter of the name of the disease, so a vaccine that protects against distemper, most likely has a "D" somewhere in its name. Typically, the more letters in the product name, the more diseases covered by the specific vaccine.

The numbers typically stand for the number of individual vaccines combined in the product you will be purchasing. So a product with the number "5" in its name most likely has 5 vaccines in it. This does not always mean that the vaccine protects against 5 different diseases, because some manufacturers put more than one vaccine into a product to protect against only one disease. So a product with the number "8" in its title may actually protect against 6 diseases. This may sound confusing, but the confusion will clear up as you learn about the diseases and their vaccines.

Let's take a look at the vaccines, letter by letter. We'll look at each letter and the disease it stands for, and then examine some of the most common combinations.

The most common dog injectable vaccine products found in the combination products may have the letters D, A2, H, P, PV, Pv, CPV, CV, CVK, L, and L4.

"D" stands for distemper. Distemper is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that often results in the death of the dog. It affects the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system. If the dog survives the initial infection, the illness often spreads to the nervous system, causing death. There is no specific treatment except supportive care, and over half the infected dogs die. Additionally, many more have to be euthanized due to seizures and other chronic problems. Vaccination is the key to prevention and all dogs that are able to be vaccinated should receive distemper vaccinations.

"H" and "A2" stand for hepatitis and canine adenovirus type 2. The disease that both these vaccines protect against is infectious canine hepatitis. This illness is caused by a virus, the canine adenovirus type 1. Both canine adenovirus type 1 and type 2 are used to make vaccinations, so you may see both in the name of the vaccine. Canine infectious hepatitis can cause liver and blood vessel disease. Dogs may recover from the disease, die rapidly, or develop chronic liver problems. There is no specific treatment, except supportive therapy. Vaccination is highly effective at protecting dogs from this illness and all dogs that are able to be vaccinated should receive canine infectious hepatitis vaccinations.

"P" typically stands for parainfluenza. Parainfluenza is a virus that causes respiratory infections in dogs. It is also one of the culprits involved in infectious canine bronchitis, commonly called 'kennel cough'. Vaccination with parainfluenza vaccine is important to protect dogs from respiratory disease. All dogs that are able to be vaccinated should receive parainfluenza vaccine as part of their vaccination regime.

"PV", "Pv", "CPV", and sometimes "P" stand for canine parvovirus. This highly contagious viral disease is a well-known cause of gastrointestinal disease and death in many dogs. It is especially lethal to young dogs or those with inadequate immune systems. Because there is no specific cure, treatment is primarily intensive in-hospital nursing and supportive care. Vaccination can be highly effective at reducing the disease. Canine parvovirus vaccination should be included in the vaccination regime of all dogs that are able to receive vaccinations.

"CV" and "CVK" stand for coronavirus disease. This contagious viral disease causes intestinal illness that can be mild or severe, and has been associated with death, especially in young puppies. It is especially dangerous if it infects a dog at the same time as canine parvovirus. As with the other viral diseases, there is no specific therapy that eliminates the virus. Animals are treated with supportive and nursing care. It is often included in the vaccinations given to young dogs, as well as older animals.

"L" and "4L" stand for a leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can cause several problems, including liver and kidney disease. The illness may be acute or chronic, inapparent or severe, and can cause death. The bacteria exist in many different subtypes, called serovars. Several of these serovars are known to cause disease in dogs. Most available vaccines protect against two of these serovars, L. canicola and L. icterohaemorrhagiae. A few vaccines protect against two additional serovars, L. grippotyphosa and L. pomona. It is important to read the vaccine label carefully to identify which serovars are present in the vaccine. Although vaccination against leptospirosis is very important for many dogs, not all dogs should receive this vaccine. Discuss the use of leptospirosis vaccine with your veterinarian.

In summary, there are six major components that may be found in the combination dog vaccines. These are canine distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvovirus, coronavirus, and leptospirosis. The various combination vaccines have numbers and groups of letters to describe the vaccines present in each product. Because many manufacturers make similar types of vaccine, you may find more than one brand of each combination vaccine.

During production, vaccines are put together in different combinations to meet the needs of all types of dogs in all types of situations. Each vaccine will have a manufacturer's name, a product name, and a listing of the diseases covered by the product. The specific vaccines that you pick for your dogs will depend on several variables, including their ages, previous vaccinations, and their potential exposure to disease. Vaccines can be purchased with only one component, such as an individual parvovirus vaccine or coronavirus vaccine. However, for most dogs, combination vaccines are commonly used.

Cat vaccinations also come in combinations designed to meet the needs of different cats. They are manufactured by several manufacturers, so similar products may be available from different producers. Letters and numbers are also used to identify the different combinations of vaccines available for cats.

"FVR" stands for feline viral rhinotracheitis. This disease is an acute disease of the respiratory tract caused by a herpes virus. Cats that are infected with this virus may show sneezing, coughing, salivating, runny and red eyes, tongue ulcers, and congestion of the nose and sinuses. Eye ulcers may develop. Treatment is usually designed to control the symptoms and includes nursing care. Death may result in cats that are dehydrated, refuse to eat, or develop secondary bacterial infections. Because this illness is extremely debilitating and can reoccur throughout the cat's life, all cats that can be vaccinated should receive vaccines to protect against feline viral rhinotracheitis.

"C" stands for calicivirus. One member of the group of diseases that cause contagious respiratory infections in cats, this virus also causes an acute infection of the respiratory tract and can be difficult to distinguish from feline herpes virus. Signs that may differentiate it from viral rhinotracheitis may include ulcers on the palate and pneumonia. Although often less severe than viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus can lead to death, especially in young kittens. All cats that are able to be vaccinated should receive proper immunization against feline calicivirus.

"P", "FPV", and "FP" stand for feline panleukopenia. Feline panleukopenia is also called feline "distemper" and feline infectious enteritis. This highly contagious viral disease is caused by a parvovirus and leads to a loss of circulating white blood cells. Sign include rapid, sudden onset of fever, lack of appetite, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and often death. It can infect unborn kittens and lead to death of the newborns. Nursing and supportive care are the only available treatments. Feline panleukopenia vaccine should be included in the vaccinations given to healthy cats.

Chlamydia is not usually abbreviated, but is the fourth component of the 4-way vaccines. This bacteria-like organism, Chlamydophila felis, is implicated as a cause of respiratory and ocular infections in cats. It can difficult to differentiate from the herpes virus and calicivirus that also cause feline respiratory infections, and can cause sneezing, congestion, fever, lack of appetite, discharge from the nose, and eye infections. It can be treated with antibiotics. This vaccination may be included with the combination vaccinations designed to help prevent infectious respiratory infections in cats.Chlamydia is not usually abbreviated, but is the fourth component of the 4-way vaccines. This bacteria-like organism, Chlamydophila felis, is implicated as a cause of respiratory and ocular infections in cats. It can difficult to differentiate from the herpes virus and calicivirus that also cause feline respiratory infections, and can cause sneezing, congestion, fever, lack of appetite, discharge from the nose, and eye infections. It can be treated with antibiotics. This vaccination may be included with the combination vaccinations designed to help prevent infectious respiratory infections in cats.

FELV, FeLV, LVK, and LV-K stand for feline leukemia virus. Feline leukemia is caused by a virus that replicates in the cat's body and attacks the immune system. It can cause many illnesses, including anemia, cancer, and multiple infections secondary to the loss of immune function. Cats with feline leukemia may be depressed, lose their appetites, lose weight, run fevers, have vomiting and diarrhea, and show many other disease signs. Infected cats that show disease symptoms eventually die from this illness. Cats with potential exposure to the feline leukemia virus should receive proper immunizations to help prevent infection.

3-Way, 3, or any other title with a 3 in it, typically refers to a vaccine that contains FVRCP, which are feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia vaccines.

4-Way, 4, or any other title with a 4 in it, typically refers to a vaccine that contains FVRCP plus Chlamydia, which means that the vaccine contains components to protect against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, feline panleukopenia, and Chlamydia infection.

It can be confusing when faced with a number of vaccine choices. By carefully reading the product manufacturer, label, and ingredients, you can find the exact vaccines combined in each product. This allows you to choose the best product for your pets.

 
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