Vaccines are a key component of preventive wellness, but many pet owners do not completely understand the “what” and “why” behind routine vaccinations. However, understanding which diseases your pet might face, how vaccines help prevent these diseases, and why you should vaccinate your pet who never goes outdoors is important. 

What are vaccines for pets?

A vaccine’s purpose is to introduce the pet’s immune system to a safe form of a disease-causing organism, allowing the body to produce antibodies without the pet ever becoming infected or sick. The immune system and antibodies then “remember” the organism, should the pet become infected later, and can efficiently seek and destroy the foreign invader before illness occurs.

Which vaccines are recommended for my pet?

In pets, vaccines are classified as “core” or “non-core.” Core vaccines are recommended for all pets, while non-core vaccines are given only to those who need them based on their lifestyle. Core vaccines for cats and dogs include the feline combination vaccine, or canine distemper combination, and rabies. Non-core vaccines include feline leukemia virus for cats, and bordetella, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, and influenza for dogs. Your Wales Animal Clinic veterinarian can help you determine the appropriate vaccines for your pet’s specific needs, and how often they need to be boostered. 

Why are the core vaccines recommended for all pets?

The core vaccines protect against a combination of viruses that are spread by other pets and wildlife and can cause serious disease. Any one of the viruses listed below can prove fatal to your pet, so keeping up to date on their vaccines from puppyhood or kittenhood all the way through to their senior years is vital.

  • Rabies — Rabies is spread through the bite or saliva of infected animals. The virus attacks your pet’s nervous system and causes behavior changes, difficulty swallowing, a wobbly gait, lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite. Rabies has no treatment, and is almost always fatal. 
  • Canine distemper — Distemper in dogs is spread through airborne secretions, and contaminated items, or passed from mother to puppies. Wildlife commonly carries the virus, which causes severe respiratory and nervous system problems. Treatment is supportive, but most dogs do not survive. If they do, they typically have permanent neurological impairment. 
  • Canine parvovirus — Parvo in dogs, which is most commonly seen in young puppies, causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, and lethargy. Death may result from dehydration or secondary bacterial infections. Treatment is supportive and includes hospitalization, fluids, and antibiotics. This virus is easily spread in body fluids or on objects, and can survive in the environment for months to years. 
  • Feline panleukopenia (i.e., feline parvovirus) — Parvovirus in cats is similar to canine parvovirus, but specific to cats. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, and a decrease in white blood cells. Treatment is supportive. Young kittens who survive may develop cerebellar hypoplasia, a brain development problem that causes a specific type of movement disorder. Similar to canine parvovirus, the feline virus can survive in the environment for up to a year.

What are some other reasons to vaccinate my pet?

If you want to take your pet to daycare, the dog park, the groomer, or a boarding facility, all these places will require that your pet be vaccinated—for good reason. These facilities provide wonderful opportunities for socialization, exercise, and play, but they create a perfect environment for disease transmission. Vaccinations are critical to help to reduce that risk. 

Vaccines not only keep the pets in the community safe, but can also help protect humans. Rabies and leptospirosis are examples of zoonotic diseases (i.e., diseases that can spread from animals to humans), and when pets are vaccinated against these diseases, not only are they protected against becoming ill, but their owners are also prevented from contracting the same deadly diseases.

What about vaccinations for indoor pets?

Many people do not realize that indoor pets, or pets who go outdoors only minimally, are still at risk for certain diseases. Indoor pets may be exposed to rabies-carrying bats that enter the home, or to other wildlife or pets through window or door screens. Dogs who are always leash-walked outside may still walk through areas that sick wildlife or other pets have visited. Indoor pets escape and become lost outdoors. All pets are at risk.

What else should I know about pet vaccinations?

Another important reason for vaccinating your pets is to ensure your compliance with state and local rabies laws. Under the law, all pets must be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian every one to three years, depending on the pet’s species and age, and the vaccine type. If your unvaccinated pet bites someone, you’ll have to deal with a quarantine protocol, and may face a legal battle. 

The most important thing to remember about vaccines is that keeping your pet protected means peace of mind for you, and good health and freedom for your pet. Give Wales Animal Clinic a call to schedule your pet’s annual wellness visit, and to get their vaccinations up to date.