The Importance of Vaccinating Your Pet
Similar to how people receive vaccines for certain illnesses, we can protect our four-legged friends with shots for pets.
These vaccines guard against many serious conditions that could threaten your pet's overall health or longevity.
We can sympathize with pet owners for whom money is tight. While having your cat or dog vaccinated might seem like an unnecessary expense at the time, pet vaccines are likely to cost far less than having the illnesses they protect against treated.
How Pet Vaccines Work
Vaccines offer your pet a defensive level of antibodies, which triggers their body to build immunity against specific serious, highly contagious diseases. After your dog or cat has been vaccinated, a disease-enabling organism stimulates the immune system and gives the body instructions on how it should fight those diseases in the future.
While animal vaccines aren't 100% effective, they can help your pet fight off illnesses or recover much more quickly if they are infected.
Not All Pets Need Vaccines
Your vet can recommend which vaccines your pet should have based on their lifestyle and other factors since not all animals will need all the vaccines that are available. Your pet's age, lifestyle and where you live are major factors that will determine which vaccines will benefit them the most.
For pets over 6 months of age, rabies vaccines are required by law in most locations across the United States and Canada. This vaccination must be kept up to date and pet owners will receive a certificate once their cat or dog has been vaccinated.
Why should I vaccinate my pet?
Some pet owners wonder what the dangers are of having their pet unvaccinated. You can protect your pet from deadly, dangerous diseases and preserve their health by proactively having them vaccinated and keeping your four-legged family member up to date on their booster shots.
Many vaccines, such as rabies vaccines for both cats and dogs, are mandated across the United States. In many areas, residents require vaccination records to obtain a pet license.
If you stay in pet-friendly hotels, attend dog parks, have your pet groomed or travel with your pet, vaccinations may be required and can prevent your furry best friend from contracting contagious diseases from other animals, along with inadvertently spreading infection. This is also accurate for doggy daycares, pet sitting services and other businesses.
Your dog is at grave risk of illness even if they are always leashed when outdoors. Many viruses and bacteria can survive on surfaces for long periods of time, so your dog could potentially contract a serious disease even without coming into close contact with another pup.
Other conditions are airborne and are easily contracted by dogs who encounter infected pooches while out walking.
While outdoor cats are clearly at higher risk of contracting serious diseases, it can be easier to dismiss the need for indoor cats to be vaccinated. However, pet owners shouldn't be fooled since it only takes a second for your kitty companion to escape out an open door or window.
Many cat viruses can remain on surfaces or the ground for a long time, meaning that even if your escaped cat is brought back in the house quickly, there is still a risk of exposure. Not only that, but wildlife can also sneak their way into your home, posing a health risk for your cat.
Core Vaccines for Pets
Core vaccines are recommended for most dogs and cats living in the United States. They are designed to help protect your pet by preventing diseases that are commonly present in your area. These diseases spread easily between animals (and in some cases, from animals to people) and have a high fatality rate.
Here are core vaccines for dogs.
- Canine Parvovirus
Canine parvovirus is an extremely contagious viral disease that can be life-threatening. Parvovirus can be transmitted by any person, animal or object that comes in contact with an infected dog’s feces. Dogs that are not vaccinated are at risk of contracting the virus. Vaccinating your puppy or dog against parvovirus could save their life.
Canine distemper is a virus that affects a dog’s respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system, as well as the conjunctival membranes of the eyes. Distemper is spread through contact with the fresh urine of an infected animal. This virus can travel to the brain, causing seizures, shaking and trembling. Protect your dog against distemper by having them vaccinated.
- Canine Hepatitis
Dogs suffering from canine hepatitis experience swelling and cell damage in the liver, which may result in hemorrhage and death. This virus is spread through contact with the feces and urine of infected dogs. Simply by having your dog vaccinated you can protect your dog against canine hepatitis.
Rabies is typically transmitted through a bite from the infected animal and is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted to people from their pets. The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and will gradually infect the entire nervous system of the animal or person causing death.
In many states, including New York, rabies shots are mandatory for dogs, cats and ferrets, without exception.
Here are core vaccines for cats.
- Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper or Feline Parvo)
Panleukopenia is an extremely contagious viral disease that is closely related to the canine parvovirus. Caused by the feline parvovirus this disease is life-threatening to cats. This virus attacks the rapidly dividing blood cells in the body, including the cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, skin or developing fetus. Panleukopenia is spread through the urine, stool, and nasal secretions of infected cats, or from the fleas of an infected cat.
- Feline Calicivirus
Feline calicivirus is a common respiratory disease in cats and kittens. This illness attacks the cat's respiratory tract including the nasal passages and lungs, as well as the mouth, intestines and the cat's musculoskeletal system. This illness is highly contagious in unvaccinated cats, and is often found in multi-cat homes, or shelters. This respiratory illness can be very difficult to get rid of once it has been contracted, and vaccinating your cat against feline calicivirus is strongly recommended.
- Feline Herpesvirus Type I (Rhinotracheitis)
Feline Herpesvirus (also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis -FVR) is a major cause of upper respiratory disease in cats, as well as inflammation of the tissues surrounding the cat's eyes. Once a cat has been infected with FVR it becomes a carrier of the virus. While most carriers will remain latent for long periods of time, stress and illness may cause the virus to become reactivated and infectious.
Rabies is typically transmitted through a bite from the infected animal and is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted to people from their pets. The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and will gradually infect the entire nervous system of the animal or person causing death. In many states, including New York, rabies shots are mandatory for dogs, cats and ferrets, without exception.
Lifestyle vaccines for cats and dogs protect pets against diseases they may be exposed to if they lead particular lifestyles, such as dogs that spend time with other dogs in doggie daycares or cats that spend a great deal of time outdoors. The following are lifestyle vaccines that you may want to consider for your four-legged friend.
Lifestyle Vaccines for Dogs:
- Bordetella (Kennel Cough)
Bordetella bronchoseptica is the bacteria which can lead to the respiratory disease known as “kennel cough.” This respiratory illness earned the name kennel cough because it is easily transmitted when dogs share indoor space, such as kennels. That said, dogs that attend dog parks or doggie daycares may also be at risk of contracting this disease. As with the human flu vaccine, the bordetella vaccination will not prevent your dog from getting sick, but it will help to decrease the severity and length of symptoms. Speak to your vet about the Bordatella vaccine if your dog spends time with other dogs.
Leptospirosis is a bacteria that is spread in water contaminated with urine from infected wildlife. While most cases of leptospirosis are mild and easily treated with antibiotics, some dogs get very sick and may even suffer kidney failure. Leptospirosis can also be transmitted from animals to people in some cases. If your dog is fond of drinking from puddles, ponds or rivers in your neighborhood, speak to your vet about vaccinating your canine companion against leptospirosis.
- Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)
Symptoms of the dog flu often begin as kennel cough then become increasingly more severe, and in some cases require hospitalization. There are two strains of dog flu that are widely spread throughout the country. Speak to your vet to find out if this vaccination is right for your pooch. If your dog spends time with other dogs in daycares, kennels or dog parks you may wish to vaccinate them against dog flu. Short-faced dogs with an increased risk of respiratory illness should also be vaccinated against this condition.
- Lyme Disease (Borrelia burgdorferi)
In some regions of the US, the Lyme vaccine is considered a core vaccine because of the high prevalence of the disease in that area. If you live in an area where the black-legged tick (deer tick) is present in large numbers, our vets may suggest tick preventive medications be given to your dog year-round, and the Lyme disease vaccination be given to pets who spend time in wooded areas, parks, or farmlands. Speak to your vet to learn whether the Lyme disease vaccine is right for your dog.
Lifestyle Vaccines for Cats:
- Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
Feline leukemia is spread by saliva and can be transmitted from cat to cat through mutual grooming, bite wounds, mother's milk to kittens or through shared litter box use.
This disease is the leading viral killer of cats and kittens. While it can hide undetected for long periods of time it weakens the cat's immune system, increases their susceptibility to other diseases, and is the most common cause of cancer in cats.
Kittens are at high risk for contracting this disease and should be vaccinated against Feline leukemia starting at 9 - 12 weeks of age. This vaccine requires booster shots to maintain its effectiveness. Cats that live in multi-cat households, or that spend time outdoors should be regularly vaccinated against this disease.
Depending on the vaccine, adult dogs and cats should receive booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will notify you about when your pet should be brought back for booster shots. Booster shots are essential for maintaining your pet's immunity.
It's important to note that your puppy or kitten will not be fully protected by their vaccines until they’ve received all of their vaccinations - when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old. After your vet has administered all of their initial vaccinations, your young pet will be protected against the conditions or diseases covered by the vaccines.
We recommend keeping your puppy or kitten in restricted to low-risk areas (such as your own backyard) if you plan to allow them outdoors before they have been fully vaccinated against the diseases listed above.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.