You would want small cages if you were a hog

As always, and I will emphasize now, this article deals with California and to some extent, the USA. On this particular topic, I found lots and lots of articles on Europe, but their farms are different, their hogs are different, and I’m relying on data obtained in the States.

O.K.! Before I get started, let’s get some farming terms down. A Gestation Crate: a metal enclosure that restricts turning around in which a pregnant sow is kept for the duration of her pregnancy, about four months. A Farrowing Crate: a wider metal enclosure in which a pregnant sow is kept during labor and nursing, approximately one week.

There has been much confusion in animal welfare talk between farrowing crates and gestation crates. Allow me to be blunt.

Gestation crates are a huge welfare concern. Farrowing crates are a huge welfare benefit.

Gestation crates are being phased out of much of conventional farming (a market driven decision—who knew?). The sows would be housed in a small crate in which they cannot turn around. They only stand up and lay down, for months. The crates are banned in California, a lot of farmers don’t like them, and every animal science professor that I’ve had doesn’t like them. And yes, there have been arguments for their merits—the hogs are protected from one another. The farmer can keep an eye on each individual hog. And, you know, if the farmer loves his or her animals and does a good job, I can see it working in a case-by-case basis—but on the whole, I’d like to see them gone. In California, you typically see group housing (which is its own welfare concern—seems manageable, though).

Farrowing crates are a different story—in fact, they’re very important to ensuring animal welfare. Here’s why:

Sows are big. And fat. And they smell bad—but mostly, we’re concerned about them being big and fat. They really don’t know how to manage their mass. Mother sows, left to their own devices, will stand, meander a bit, turn around and lie down—on their babies.

That’s right. They will accidentally kill off their own litter by crushing them.

The farrowing crate is designed so that there is a barrier that the piglets can get through, but not the sow. The sow may stand, turn around, lay down, and the piglets are free so scurry past the barrier to safety. So, the sow gets a week in less-than-accomodating conditions (although, frankly, they don’t look upset—I can’t tell you why) and the piglets get to nurse from their mother and live to tell the tale.

So, imagine you are a newborn piggie. It’s your first day out of the womb, and it’s bright and not so warm and cozy as it used to be, but at least you get to meet mom face-to-face for the first time. “But wait… what? Mom’s about to lie down—wait—can’t you see me? Wait, mom, stop—noooo!”

One professor gave a similar skit, complete with a look of horror. It was between horrifying and hilarious. What can I say? I’m dark.

Point is, if you were a piglet, wouldn’t you be glad that there’s such a thing as a farrowing crate?

See also:


Vaccine reactions

There are a lot of people who want to know just why they should vaccinate their animals. and Aimee’s Rabies Exemption Law are both very, um, zealous examples. In California, we even have the Hagman bill allowing dogs who get sick from rabies vaccines to get a signed doctor’s note. (Yes, it must be a doctorate in veterinary medicine.)

The Hagman bill is proof that vaccines are dangerous, right? Why should we risk any vaccination at all? For one, putting your pet on titers* is much more expensive than getting a vaccine if your pet is like most others, not to mention that there are a lot of restrictions on the freedom of dogs who aren’t vaccinated against rabies. For another, an animal without a vaccine is a health risk, especially with zoonotic diseases like rabies and lepto. You don’t want to be the owner of a dog who bit somebody and didn’t have rabies shots on file. Plus, reactions are rare.

Most cats and dogs do not develop painful conditions from vaccines developed for them. Cats do react more than dogs do and as far as anyone knows, it’s a species thing. The key word is non-adjuvant: try to stick with these types of vaccines if you have a kitty. Adjuvant-ed vaccines are more effective at what they’re supposed to do but cats seem to be sensitive to them. Now. Reactions that can kill will probably happen while your vet is still talking to you so if they do happen, your vet should be able to do something to save your pet’s life right away. If you’re really worried, watch for the first 3 hours, keep an eye out for the next 21 hours. If 24 hours and all’s well, nothing freaky should happen afterward as a result of the vaccine.

One preventative step that you can try is spacing out your vaccines (if you’re doing the whole catalogue). The only issue with that is that you’re paying for more than one visit so it really depends on how worried you are about vaccine reactions and what your budget is. Of course, if you’re getting only rabies because that’s what the law requires yet your dog still reacts, this suggestion is null.

Also, for the most part, we won’t look at you too funny if you have an indoors-only cat who hates the clinic like nothing else and decide not to vaccinate. I know a vet who has one of those madly fractious cat and forgoes its shots because it ain’t worth it. Is it a health risk? Oh, yeah. But if the law doesn’t require it, it’s entirely up to you and your wallet.

So after your pet’s gotten a shot, any shot, what should you look out for? Drowsiness is normal. Call your vet if the skin where the vaccine was injected looks red or swollen or seems itchy to the animal. (“Call your vet” as in “Take two and call me in the morning.”) Get your dog to emergency if your pet breaks out in hives, gets tummy upset, or starts puking (your vet may use the word anaphylactic).

Now, you should kind of have some idea of what the risks and benefits of these vaccines are. If your vet isn’t talking to you about them, you should probably ask. At the end of the day, it comes down to what is the best for your pet. Some pets really don’t need some of the shots that your hyper-vigilant vet might strongly recommend. Some of your pets could do with some of the shots that all your animal rights activist friends are vehemently opposed to. Some of the diseases that routine vaccines prevent may never show up but if they do, the hospital fees that you end up paying may cost more than the fees for regular vaccines for fourteen years. You should find out first whether your pet must not have vaccines before you decide what’s the best health plan for your pet.

*Titers test the levels of antibodies to determine whether the dog is capable of handling a certain disease without vaccines. It’s sort of like skipping measles vaccinations you’ve had the disease before. This doesn’t work for all diseases like it does for measles so your dog would need to get titers regularly for life. Not a cheap option.

How do you like your eggs: cage-free or scrambled?

Before I say anything, let’s get some terminology and farming practices down. Broiler and fryer chickens are for eating. Layer chickens are for laying eggs. Broilers and fryers are not raised in battery cages. They are also slaughtered before they reach the age when they become aggressive. Layers are raised in battery cages, usually. They reach the age of aggression and they fight. To mitigate the damage that may occur in a fight, the tips of the beaks are clipped. Whether or not pain is involved depends on age, method, a lot of things, but that’s not the topic of today’s piece. Finally, no matter what you do, layers are prone to osteoporosis. It comes of all the calcium they use to form the eggshells on their eggs.

Okay! Let’s go.

I can understand why a person would have a problem with the poultry industry. I really do. Yes, laying hens are kept in cramped battery cages. No, they can’t stretch out and walk around, and yes, they are prone to leg problems and behavioral problems.

But do NOT assume cage-free is better.

This is the dilemma we face in the States. Certain animal rights groups (notably, the HSUS) and others who don’t understand poultry farming oversimplify a complex issue in order to pass feel-good legislature that really doesn’t help. Here’s the deal: cage and cage-free systems both have different welfare problems.

What do we see in a cage-free system?

First up, we have group housing, indoors. I’m not talking backyard farming, I’m talking production-size farming. Chickens fight. They will kill and eat their housing mates. Air quality is poor. Diseases and parasites run rampant, as there is no buffer against the spread of infectious diseases. Broken bones happen. Chickens will injure themselves more often, as now they are free do to so. Fear and hysteria rises. Mortality is way up.

Then, we have the outdoor housing problems. Predation. Humans aren’t the only ones who like to eat chicken–coyotes do too. Again, parasites, diseases and bone fractures. Mortality, way up.

Battery cages were, and are, an effort to correct those problems. But what are our new problems when we use battery cages? Chickens lack bone strength, and they may still get bone-related injuries. They can’t exhibit their natural behaviors anymore: they can’t perch, they can’t nest, they can’t dustbathe, and they can’t forage.

But wait! There’s a second kind of cage—an Enriched Cage—that might not be so bad.

Enriched Cages are an attempt to mitigate the problems posed by caging and cage-free systems. You can see the last URL in today’s article for a live “hen cam” of this system. It is a form of group housing, with areas that allow the chickens to exhibit their natural behaviors: dustbathing, roosting and the use of a nest box. The disease level and cannibalism level is intermediate to that of either existing system. If I had to choose between (A) being a little picked on and a little sick or (B) being potentially eaten by my roommate and dying from plague, I think I pick option A.

And here’s the sad truth. Because it’s still a cage, and because the chickens can’t all fully extend their wings and turn around without touching each other (see Proposition 2 of California, 2008), certain animal rights groups say this isn’t good enough. They want it outlawed. “No animal should live in a cage” and all that. In all honesty? It makes my blood boil. The data clearly shows that cage-free is horrendous in comparison. Isn’t the enriched caging system better than the system they are pushing–general group housing?

And here’s another thing. Legislation like that of Proposition 2 scares farmers. Why? Too vague. It’s not a hard number to follow, and they risk being shut down for a violation when they thought they were following the rules.

And as a last point. A small farm that houses a few chickens that are well taken care of can’t meet the market demand for eggs. And, while in the beef and pork industries, your primary concern is size–and happy cattle and pigs grow better–eggs is a game of numbers. How many can you crank out? Because they’re coming daily no matter what. The cost of happy chickens doesn’t balance. And it’s not the farmer’s fault–if they don’t meet the market demand, they go out of business and now they can’t feed their own families. The best way to address animal welfare in the food industry is to be clever and make it profitable and humane, as is the case with just about every other animal in the industry.

So, you want to feel good about eating eggs? Visit your local egg farms and decide which ones you like. Or raise your own laying hens (I’ve heard mixed things from friends who own chickens—some fight, some play nice. This is thought to be related to population size). Or, you can just trust me and give enriched cages a little extra “hurrah!”

See also: (I apologize for using wikipedia as a resource, but the official text of Proposition 2 is now a dead link)

Myth Buster: There’s pus in the milk! (No, not really)

When you’re a city kid, like me, and you’ve grown up disconnected from the farm world, like me, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s false when it comes to what you eat and where it comes from.

I’ve read it in books. I’ve heard it from peers. I’ve heard it from smart, educated people whom I respect. “There’s pus in the milk! The milk pumps irritate the udder, and there’s blood and pus that comes out with the milk! I saw a video of it!”

… no. My farm-savvy relatives nipped that one in the bud the moment I mentioned it. And now I have the opportunity to hang around dairies regularly and report what goes on.

Here’s a basic rundown of how it works at a California dairy. The cows are milked about twice a day. So far, I’ve never seen pus come out of udders as I stand to watch, washing off my work boots in the milk parlor. I see the dairy workers “stripping” the milk—a phrase that means “squirting some milk from the udder on the floor so they can see if there’s any pus or blood in it”. I see the dairy workers dipping the teats in a “pre-dip”, an antiseptic to kill bacteria (all the cows are using the same milk pumps so you want to make sure you prevent disease outbreak in the same way that you would wash your hands). These little suction pumps are put on the cows and they are milked. Purportedly, they enjoy this—some of them wait outside the milk parlor to be milked. Then, the dairy workers dip the teats again so no bacteria gets inside the teat. Bactera can cause a painful condition called mastitis.

Some humans might be familiar with mastitis. It happens to women as well. And whether you are a cow or a woman, lactation always carries a risk for mastitis. The symptoms? Inflammation, pus and blood.

But wait. I just said there ISN’T pus in the milk, right?

Let me explain.

First of all, there was the milk stripping that happened before anyone was milked. If there was, the cow would be marked to go to the sick pen. After that, guess what the curative treatment is?

You milk it out.

This milk doesn’t go into the bulk tank (where all the other milk is) but you have to milk out the pus to give the udder a chance to heal. Maybe this process is what people are seeing in undercover dairy videos. But it wouldn’t go into the bulk tank at a conventional dairy. Practically impossible.

Want to know why?

We got to the part where the cows were already milked. The milk is then stored in a bulk tank, where it awaits the milk truck to take it all away. The man on the truck takes a small sample of the milk for testing, which will go to a lab. The man then loads all the milk on the truck, to be pooled with all the milk the truck picked up from different dairies that day.

The milk sample goes to a lab. The lab tests for something called “somatic cell count”—a high number of somatic cells indicates potential mastitis. The magic number for the federal government is not exceeding 750,000 cells per milliliter. Remember, some cells are not avoidable. They’re tiny. Whenever you touch anything, you leave your cells behind–same thing for a cow. Nevertheless, California standards are stricter—not exceeding 600,000 cells per milliliter. As if to say, We’re California. We Take Our Milk Seriously.

But that’s not all. California tests for bacterial counts, generally, and coliform counts, specifically (coliform is a bacterial strain reflective of sanitation). Again, it’s impossible to have no bacteria. It’s impossible to live in an antiseptic world. The magic numbers for California: (Raw milk) not more than 50,000 bacteria per milliliter of milk. Not more than 750 bacteria per millilliter of laboratory-pasteurized milk. Not more than 750 coliform bacteria per milliliter of laboratory-pasteurized milk. (Market milk) not more than 15,000 bacteria per milliliter of milk. Not more than 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter of milk.

What happens if one sample from one dairy exceeds the limits?

All the milk on that truck is dumped. All of it. And the dairyman responsible for the waste pays for it.

So, no. Maybe, maybe you have trace amounts of red or white blood cells in milk, but like I said, it’s trace amounts.

And I keep hearing, “The blood is there, you just can’t see it because it was homogenized.” O.K. I’m no artist, but I didn’t know that red and white make white. Tell you what. Take a measure of blood, a good one or two ounces, and dump it in a half-quart of milk. Run your blender. When the blood disappears, call me.

See also:

Puppy’s first shots, Part 2 (other vax)

Most non-core vaccines do not give complete protection but the recommended ones do give very good protection. For example, the lepto vaccine covers the four most common strains of leptospirosis. Your dog can still contract the disease but the likelihood is much lower.


(If you ever want to annoy a vet who seems really uptight, spell Bordetella as bordatella.)

This vaccine is a bit more commonly known as the kennel cough shot. It treats CIRD, which can come from pretty much anywhere. Kennel cough is kind of like any human cold. If you live where you’re touching things that untold numbers of other people touch every day, you are much more likely to get sick than the man living on his 50 acre farm 10 miles from the edge of town. Stressed out dogs who get stuck in an enclosed space with lots of other stressed dogs for a long time are at risk for kennel cough. Dogs who stay home except to go jogging are not likely to start coughing. One cough or sneeze is normal but if your dog suddenly starts coughing and sneezing regularly like it’s got a cold, you should get it checked out.

Any dog or puppy from the pound, an ASPCA shelter, or comes from an unknown background should get this vaccine. If you board your dog at a kennel, your dog should get this vaccine and a lot of kennels ask that your dog get the shot every six months and at least a week before your dog joins the kennel. If you take your dog to the groomer—as in drop off in the morning for a full day’s treatment and not as in a quick nail trim—it’s a good idea to get the shot.

This shot gets a one month booster followed by yearly boosters. If your puppy is definitely going to benefit from this vaccine, take the shots with your DAP shots except instead of boosting every three years, boost every year.  The vaccine takes about four days to go into effect so plan ahead. Unfortunately, this is not on the three year calendar but it’s not required so if your dog isn’t at risk, you’re good to go.


Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease caused by bacterial infection. “Zoonotic” means basically that you and any other pets can get the disease from whoever catches it first. Infected dogs get [kidney/liver] [damage/failure] (circle one).

The bacteria lives in the bladder of an animal, which urinates, contaminating ground water, and then somebody drinks it somehow. The bacteria is everywhere because animals have been urinating since forever. The major source of infection is standing water because running water and salt water is supposed to reduce the risk of infection enough that most beaches are safe but I’ve heard of a dog getting infected from playing at a certain beach, the name of which escapes me.

Lepto is recommended for outdoorsy types like ranch dogs and hiking buddies. If you live in an area with a lot of wildlife, which might not be bears and mountain lions so much as raccoons and opossums, you probably want to think about getting the shot.

If you want the shot for your puppy, the first shot should be no earlier than 12 weeks (coordinate with your second last puppy DAP), followed by a booster at 15-17 weeks (your last puppy DAP), and boost every year. I believe this vaccine takes about a week to go into effect so again, plan ahead.

Canine Influenza

My notes say that dogs get CI from traveling to events such as national meets. For example, a specialty competition like “best labrador retriever in the U.S.” or enzootic racing, cough, greyhound, cough.

First shot is no earlier than 6 months so make sure your vet checked your puppy’s teeth. If your puppy still hasn’t started growing adult canine teeth, you should not be getting a canine influenza vaccine. Second shot is one month later and the following boosters are yearly.


Where I live, we have western fence lizards everywhere. I once caught one and raised it in a little aquarium.  I had a labrador retriever who really did not get along with reptiles. He once killed one of the little lizards and I felt bad but I got over it. Now I feel bad again because according to research, those shy little guys are what keep us and our tick-infested mutts from getting Lyme Disease.

Therefore, if you live in a tick-happy environment but no WFLs, you might consider getting this vaccination.  Puppies have to be at least 12 weeks old to get the shot and the scheduling is a little trickier so pay attention. First, figure out when ticks are in season. If your puppy turns 12 weeks at least 2 weeks before tick season, perfect: the second shot is just before tick season and the first shot is 2-4 weeks before that. Booster every year. If you’ve timed it right, your dog will be vaccinated right before tick season every year.


There is only one rattlesnake vaccine available. It is only for the western diamondback. It does not guarantee that your dog can walk away from a western diamondback bite with no problems.

We do not recommend this vaccine for owners who seem to think that this vaccine makes the dog immune to snake bites. It may buy you time to rush your dog to the ER but if you decide not to do so simply because your dog is “vaccinated”, that worries us.

I am not very familiar with how vaccination protocol goes for this vaccine but I believe you can find more info at Red Rock Biologics, Rattlesnake Vaccines.

You might want to try rattlesnake aversion classes instead. You need to be mentally prepared for these classes. They are not screwing around. The dogs are equipped with shock collars set to full strength (or as high as it can go without causing lasting physical effects to the dog) and put in a room with snakes that have had their venom glands removed. Every time the dogs go near a snake, they get zapped. The goal is for you to be able to call your dog from the other side of a snake and see your dog give the snake a wide berth while coming to you. Let’s be honest. This can traumatize your dog, especially if it’s suddenly getting shocked every time it wants to come over and it doesn’t realize that the snake is the key factor that results in the pain.

I did get an idea from hearing about these classes. If your dog has extremely high prey drive for chickens and you own chickens, you can do a modified version of this training without traumatizing your dog. For one, the factor is going to be really obvious when it gets shocked for running at chickens of its own accord, so the experience shouldn’t affect your dog’s recall skills at all. It might be traumatized towards chickens but it won’t be traumatized towards you. I’m not saying you have to do this but it’s an option to keep in mind when you feel desperate.


All you need to know about this vaccine is that it is not recommended. It used to be core and now it is not.

Slaughterhouse 5 (no, not really)

My first post on CAW.

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Let’s talk slaughter.

Yesterday in Fresno, the Central Valley Meat Company slaughterhouse was shut down by the feds after the authorities received an undercover video that revealed cruel and unusual treatment of the cattle. I won’t link the video (sorry, I love cows, and it hurt my feelings) but anyone who knows how to use Yahoo or Google will know how to find it.

So, let’s talk slaughter. The slaughterhouse did something wrong—it abused its animals. Against the law—shut down. So far so good. On the other hand, one must be cautious when receiving undercover footage. The material can be misleading or edited for the purpose of whatever group produced the video, and really, all that has been done before. But I’m not here to discuss whether I think the video is legitimate or not. It looks real and upsetting, but I will leave that for the authorities to decide.

What intrigued me was the way in which the story was presented—a rare media peek, if you will, into the world of food animal production. CNN’s Kat Kinsman explained that this is not how slaughter is normally done, and that this was cruel and unusual. What is a normal slaughter? “Peaceful,” Kinsman said. “A captive bolt gun is used on their brain, preventing them from feeling anything. After that, they are bled out.” A captive bolt gun is simply a gun with a pin instead of a bullet, that bursts out with great force, but does not leave the gun. The animal becomes insensate to pain and can bleed out without said pain.

Well, that’s interesting. I went through high school, some college and—heck—generally life hearing that food animals were killed with a shotgun (for the record, legal but just not done at a slaughterhouse). Or that they were beheaded. And that the adrenaline rush from the fear and pain made the meat practically toxic.

Thank you, Kat Kinsman, for telling it like it is.

Although… she did miss a few things that I find  personally fascinating. Like, that is illegal to sell a sick animal to a slaughterhouse. A sick animal causes concern for tainted food. And, when an animal is bruised, the bruised meat must be cut from the carcass and discarded. Great incentive for treating your animals well. And the chutes that lead cattle to the slaughterhouse floor are designed to comfort the cattle—they are led, single file, down a curvy road, that mimics their natural pattern of moving. Happy cattle are just easy to work with. And by the end of it, meat from an unstressed cattle tastes better.

That’s because there is natural sugar (glycogen) in the muscles of cattle (and humans) that is used up when in fear or excitement. When it’s used up, the muscle becomes tough. When it remains, the sugar turns to a lactic acid and makes the meat tender. The difference is actually visible, so you can go to the store and see which cuts came from a calm animal and which cuts came from a stressed animal. Check the last link in this entry to see the difference between “pale soft exudative” meat (bad), normal meat (g00d) and “dark firm dry” meat (bad).

What is some good advice for looking at undercover animal welfare videos?

  1. Is the video old? If the video is old, it cannot be weighed against modern slaughter practices. Organizations like PETA and HSUS have no qualms with showing you footage that is decades old to get a rise.
  2. What are you looking at, exactly? Things can happen in a video that seem horrific to the average consumer, but when explained by a veterinarian or some other professional, it becomes understandable. For example, it is not uncommon for a slaughtered or brain dead animal to twitch its muscles in violent ways that make it seem like it’s in pain. I have personally seen a sheep with its head removed from its body still twitching its tongue and moving its jaw, and I have known another that has gone to the slaughterhouse to pick up a beef heart, and went home with the heart pounding in the ice chest. What you must do is look at the head, for expressiveness. If you’re around food animals a lot, you know the difference.
  3. Is the video edited?
  4. Weigh the video against statements made by those in the industry, veterinarians and the concerned public and make your own judgement from there. In my experience, those in the industry are just as horrified as everyone else when something goes wrong.

And, when you do see legitimate animal cruelty videos, as awful as they are, remember this: one video of a parent beating their child does not mean all parents are abusive. One video of a pet owner beating their pet does not mean all pet owners are abusive. One video of a slaughterman/rancher/dairyman abusing their animal does not speak for all people in food animal agriculture.

Now, if you’re a vegetarian because you’re worried about animals in pain, I can assure you that there are ways around it. Know your farmer. Know your slaughtermen. They can be very nice people—really—who take their job very seriously.

On the other hand, you might love animals and think all of this is creepy. You’re taking living, thinking cattle, and you’re making them happy and secure as you lead them to death. Valid point. I’m just a person with an undying love of animals, and understanding of vegetarianism and a craving for meat. If animals are going to die to feed the country, then this is how I want them to die.

If you would like to know more, the following are helpful links:

Post Script—”cows” are female cattle. “Bulls” are male cattle and “steers” are castrated male cattle. Don’t call all cattle cows, especially in front of farmers—you’ll only look silly.

Puppy’s first shots, Part 1 (core vax)

Puppies are wonderful. Puppies are cute. Puppies are little bundles of God-given therapy. Even for people who are allergic to fur, there are Bichon Frise puppies. A lot of people have raised or will raise a puppy sometime in their life, whether as a companion, as a playmate for their kids, to practice before having kids, et cetera. No matter what category you fit into, you want to make sure your dog grows up happy and healthy… and within the county rabies regulations.

What kind of shots do dogs need?


Experienced dog owners may know about the DHPP-LC, which includes Distemper, hepatitis (adenovirus), parvo, parainfluenza, lepto, and coronavirus. The DA2P includes Distemper, adenovirus-2 (which covers adenovirus-1), and parvo. Parainfluenza and lepto shots are can now be taken by choice and the coronavirus shot is now not recommended. More on those in part 2.

For an older puppy or dog, the first DAP shot needs to be followed in 3-5 weeks by a booster, which needs to be followed in one year by a second booster, after which the dog will only need a booster every three years. Once upon a time, shots were given every year but thanks to research, the needle jabbing doesn’t need to be quite as often as it used to be. Yay!

The law doesn’t require DAP, so why should your dog get it?

DAP protects against common, easy-to-treat diseases that can kill your dog. If your dog contracts yet survives one of these diseases, symptoms will likely persist for the rest of its life.

Why do younger puppies get 2-3 monthly shots?

Puppies first get maternal antibodies from their mother’s milk. These antibodies decrease as they are weaned. Maternal antibodies interfere with the success of a vaccination until the puppy is about 12 weeks old, give or take a few weeks. Ideally, the vaccine gets phased in as the maternal protection gets phased out. Although the window of actual vulnerability is not very long, the maternal protection sometimes ends very early and sometimes very late. This leaves a huge window of potential vulnerability so your vet can’t guarantee that the first booster will “take” until the puppy is about 16-17 weeks old. That’s why vets recommend doing an 8, 12, 16-week series.

Your vet may recommend that you don’t go on walks and such until a week after the last of the 4-week shots. This is called the parvo quarantine and it’s also related to the window of vulnerability. If you live in a place with a lot of dogs of unknown disease protection, the puppy does not leave the house. If you live in Beverly Hills and everyone on the street are Jennifer Aniston types, people who can afford personal trainers and spoil their dogs, letting your puppy walk around a bit is probably not risky at all. If you live among normal people in the middle, do a head count and decide whether you think the neighborhood dogs are vaccinated or not.

If you bring in a 6 week old puppy, be prepared for three boosters. It’s up to you to wait until your puppy is 11-14 weeks old to get the first shot but it’s better to start as soon as you get your puppy, just in case.


Chances are that the law requires you to get a rabies certificate and a dog license. Canine rabies technically doesn’t exist in the U.S. so why should you get one?

Veterinarians are required to strongly advise that you take the rabies shot. If you decline, and if your dog somehow manages to bite someone who doesn’t know whether your dog has rabies or not, shit hits the fan.

  1. Bitten person goes to a doctor.
  2. Doctor files a bite report.
  3. Police check up on the dog: no dog license means no rabies certificate but they can still ask your vet if you just didn’t bother getting a license.
  4. Police talk to your vet: vet’s record says, “client declined vaccine,” meaning that the vet played the public health official rôle and can’t do any more for your dog.
  5. Police quarantine your dog for 10 days, fine you $3000, and may euthanize your dog.
  6. If you’re not very lucky and your dog gets put to sleep, you have to deal with the legal process while facing the fact that you sentenced your own man’s best friend to death by refusing to give the dog a really cheap vaccine.

Besides that, your dog can get non-canine rabies from rats, bats, raccoons, people, et cetera, and that’s really what you’re vaccinating against.

In California, you may legally own a dog that has not been vaccinated for rabies if your dog has a note. Essentially. It makes life more complicated, though, because only dogs with certain conditions are allowed to have their doctor’s note and there are a lot more rules and risks for owners to remember when walking around with an unprotected dog.

We recommend taking the first rabies shot with the “last” puppy DAP (16-17 weeks), followed by a booster with the One Year Later DAP, followed by the three year boosters. See how nicely it lines up with DAP shots?

Now, what do shots look like?

It’s one thing to tell a kid to be brave and hold still.

Telling dogs is a whole other cookie.

Rule number one is to avoid being bitten. If the vet plus staff get bitten, we have to follow through whatever our protocol is and sometimes that involves a wave of bureaucratic procedural messiness that you don’t want to deal with. We don’t want to make you deal with that, either. We know that people on YouTube love to jeer at “inept” or “fearful” vets and vet techs but I promise, your dog is smelling the insecurity of a previous client, not your vet. Remember, most of us are confident by our third day of hands-on experience but the dog has no idea why we’re poking it with needles. Guess who’s freaking out?

Rule two is to restrain the animal exactly as much as necessary: no more, no less. Canine vaccines are not for humans and don’t come without risks for their own patients, either, so we try to avoid accidentally injecting ourselves or injecting into a dog where we don’t want to inject. Sometimes, a dog will be perfectly calm with just a precautionary hand resting on the neck and some treats for good measure… but completely flips out if a stranger gets any more intimate. Other times, a dog needs to be muzzled and held down by two people. We do what we can and try to make a note of what works and what doesn’t.

Most shots are given subQ (subcutaneous) or intermuscular in a thigh or shoulder, which basically means that we make sure we’re not sticking the needle into veins before delivering the shot. You might see us pull up the skin into a tent and insert the needle into the “door” of the tent. You might not. If you really pay attention, you will see us draw back the needle very quickly before pushing down the plunger. What we’re doing is checking for blood and if we draw blood, we’ve gone into a vein and we have to pull out and retry.

Your puppy may scream during this process, depending on how nervous it is. We can’t do anything about this because
1) your puppy has a personality and sometimes, that’s just how it goes, and
2) if we’re having a certain degree of difficulty just getting one shot in, we don’t want to do two shots just to sedate the poor thing, plus we have to supervise it for another hour or so, waiting for it to wake up and making sure it’s O.K.
You, however, can be a huge help.

One major thing to prepare your dog for shots and just going to the vet in general is to get your dog used to touching and poking, starting as young as possible. The basics of mimicking your vet are running your hands over your dog’s ribs, massaging the belly, playing with toes, sticking your fingers into the ears gently, holding the mouth open to look at teeth (using a finger brush and brushing teeth doubles as starter preventative dental care), and lots of hugs. I hope you don’t need an excuse to give a warm puppy lots of hugs but if you do, there you have it.

Also, ask if your vet allows “happy” visits, which goes like this: Puppy goes to vet clinic. Puppy is scared but Puppy gets lots of love and treats. Puppy starts to think maybe the vet clinic isn’t so scary. Puppy goes home.

To be continued.


Just what the internet needs: a new blog. YEAH. YOU HEARD ME. THE WORLD HAS NOT ENOUGH. (Pat yourself on the back if you get the reference.)

The founders of CAW were driving in the desert in the middle of nowhere, talking about veterinary medicine and PR. We were not even veterinary students (yet) but we did have a healthy chunk of experience with veterinarians as both clients and interns. We talked about how easily the public could be misled to think silly things like “There’s pus in our milk! Boo-hiss-y!” and how that was a shame. So. Don’t think silly things just because someone else told you so! Honestly, if that’s all you ever get out of this blog, we’re pretty happy.