Pet Matters: The importance of vaccinating, spaying and neutering your pets

I’m Jeanine Bishop, executive director of Alpine Humane Society and the head of the Far West Texas Rescue Coalition. I live in Fort Davis with seven rescue dogs. In this standing column, I’ll share helpful information about life with pets in the Big Bend Region.

The Far West Texas Rescue Coalition is a group of a dozen rescue groups and shelters in a five-county area. We are all working together to help area pets and their owners. Two main focus areas are spaying and neutering all pets, and promoting the importance of vaccines for dogs and cats.

Recently, a friend found a stray puppy, probably a few months old. The couple was not looking for a dog but quickly fell in love with Jet. They got him neutered and vaccinated in August at one of our pop-up clinics within days of bringing him into their home. They did everything right, but Jet became ill last week and quickly died of Parvo, an entirely preventable illness that is very difficult to cure. 

What went wrong? Jet should have been vaccinated, beginning at age six weeks. It’s essential that vaccines are boosted every two to three weeks and that during this time, they are not outdoors.

It was already too late when Jet’s new owners did the right thing. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do. It is likely that Jet’s original owners, like so many in our area, failed to vaccinate him on the recommended schedule. Parvo is a potentially fatal disease. The survival rate of dogs treated by a veterinarian is 68 to 92%.

There is no cure for Parvo. A vet can only offer supportive care throughout the illness, treating symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, and ensuring that a puppy gets adequate nutrition. Serious viruses like Parvo weaken a puppy’s immune system and lower their white blood cell count, reducing their ability to fight off secondary bacterial infections. 

Public areas such as parks, dog parks, animal clinics, etc., should be avoided with puppies until they are five months old. The common phrase is “NO PAWS ON THE GROUND.” Owners should prevent pups from being on the ground outside, including in private backyards because pathogens like Parvo live in the soil for years.

The first important vaccine for puppies is DAPPv – Commonly called the “Distemper Shot.” This combination vaccine protects against five diseases: canine distemper, adenovirus, hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus. Deworming with Strongid is also recommended at six weeks. 

The next rounds of vaccines will boost the DAPPv shot and include one for Bordatella (kennel cough). A Rabies vaccine will be added at 12 weeks. At this point, it is also recommended to add the DHPP vaccine for distemper, adenovirus [hepatitis], parainfluenza, and parvovirus), influenza, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease as recommended by your veterinarian. Annual boosters are needed for the DHPP and Rabies vaccines.

Puppies who stay with their mother and litter mates until ten weeks of age get the healthiest start in life. They also learn essential lessons from their mother and siblings that make them successful throughout life. Puppies who are taken away from their mother early — before eight weeks but especially before six weeks — are more prone to:

  • Separation anxiety, fear and nervousness
  • Excessive barking
  • Food/toy guarding and aggression
  • House training issues
  • Destructiveness   

After vaccines, the next important step is spaying or neutering your puppy. While the traditional age is six to nine months, healthy puppies as young as eight weeks old can be spayed or neutered. A female puppy will live a longer, healthier life if spayed and will avoid uterine infections and have a decreased incidence of breast tumors, which are malignant or cancerous in about 50% of dogs. Spaying her before her first heat offers the best protection from these diseases. Neutering your male dog prevents testicular cancer and some prostate problems.

There are also behavioral benefits, particularly with male dogs. Your male dog will be less likely to roam away from home, avoiding injury in traffic and fights with other animals. Unneutered dogs are more likely to mark their territory by spraying urine in the house. Some aggression problems may also be avoided by early neutering. Spaying or neutering will not cause your pet to become overweight. Lack of exercise and overfeeding will cause your pet to pack on the extra pounds — not neutering. 

All of this may sound like a lot for a new pet owner. But, once a puppy is adopted, the most important thing a pet owner can do is establish a good relationship with a local veterinary clinic and follow their recommendations. Alpine Humane Society can assist with the costs of vaccines and spay/neuter services because the health and comfort of pets and the happiness of their owners matter. Details are available at