Similar to you, your pet is susceptible to infectious diseases that can have serious—potentially deadly—consequences. To protect them from contracting these diseases, ensure your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Learn how your pet’s vaccines work and the diseases they protect against by reading our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team’s explanation of why your pet ’s vaccines must be up-to-date to protect them fully from infectious diseases. 

Why pet vaccines matter

Vaccines help the body’s immune system prepare to fight an invasion of disease-causing organisms. Vaccine administration stimulates your pet’s immune system, so that—if they are  exposed to the disease—their immune system is better equipped to fight it off. Your pet is vaccinated for many diseases that are highly contagious, and which can be life-threatening. In addition, diseases that are not deadly often require complex, expensive, and lengthy treatments, and can have a permanent negative effect on your pet’s quality of life. Some diseases are zoonotic—they can be transmitted between humans and animals—and vaccinations help keep humans, as well as pets, safe. 

Core vaccines for pets

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines core vaccinations as those which protect against diseases that are endemic to a region, have a potential public health risk, are required by law, are particularly virulent, and that pose a severe disease risk. Core vaccinations are recommended for all pets and are essential for their health. Core vaccines are usually administered in a series—multiple injections at specific intervals, typically three to four weeks apart—before your pet is fully protected. Core pet vaccines include:

  • Rabies — Most state laws require the rabies vaccination for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. Rabies is a serious health threat to humans and pets. In the United States, this virus is typically transmitted through the bite of a carrier—most commonly bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes. Infection signs—fever, excessive drooling, incoordination, behavioral changes, aggression, seizures, and paralysis—can take weeks to months to appear, and the disease is almost always fatal.
  • Canine distemper — Canine distemper is a viral disease that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of dogs, puppies, foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, and skunks. Transmission most commonly occurs when a susceptible dog inhales or ingests an infected animal’s airborne respiratory droplets released through a sneeze or cough. Infected mothers can also transmit the virus to their unborn puppies. Puppies younger than 4 months of age and unvaccinated dogs are at the highest risk for contracting canine distemper. Initial signs include fever, nasal discharge, cough, lethargy, and vomiting, followed by circling, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions, seizures, and—as the virus progresses through the infected dog’s nervous system—partial or complete paralysis.
  • Canine hepatitis — Canine hepatitis is caused by an adenovirus that attacks a dog’s liver, kidneys, and blood vessels. Transmission occurs when a susceptible dog comes in contact with an infected animal’s feces, urine, or saliva, or contaminated objects. Dogs younger than 1 year of age most often contract canine hepatitis. Signs depend on the dog’s immunologic status, but can include fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, clotting disorders, central nervous system signs, enlarged lymph nodes, and eye inflammation. 
  • Canine parvovirus — Canine parvovirus is a viral disease that commonly causes puppies severe gastrointestinal illness. Transmission occurs when a susceptible dog comes in contact with an infected animal, or contaminated feces or objects. Signs include fever, lethargy, abdominal pain, vomiting, and severe—often bloody—diarrhea. 
  • Parainfluenza — Parainfluenza is a virus that causes respiratory disease in dogs, and is an important agent in kennel cough. Transmission occurs when a susceptible dog comes in contact with an infected dog’s respiratory droplets, or contaminated objects. Signs include coughing, nasal discharge, and sneezing. 
  • Feline distemper — Feline distemper (i.e., feline panleukopenia) is a viral disease that attacks a cat’s rapidly dividing cells, including the bone marrow, intestines, skin, and developing fetus. Transmission occurs when a susceptible cat comes in contact with an infected cat’s blood, feces, or urine. Mother cats can pass the disease to their unborn kittens. In addition, fleas can spread feline distemper. Signs include fever, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. Kittens infected in utero may exhibit neurological signs and appear uncoordinated. 
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis — Feline viral rhinotracheitis (i.e., feline herpesvirus type 1) is a virus that commonly causes respiratory disease in cats, and is the most frequent pathogen identified in cats who have conjunctivitis (i.e., inflammation involving the tissues surrounding the eye). Transmission occurs when a susceptible cat comes in contact with an infected cat’s saliva, tears, or nasal discharge. Signs include lethargy, sneezing, nasal congestion, excessive blinking, and nasal and ocular discharge. In severe cases, a cat’s corneas can become inflamed and infected.

  • Feline calicivirus — Feline calicivirus causes mild to severe respiratory infection and oral disease in cats. Transmission occurs when a susceptible cat comes in contact with an infected cat’s saliva, tears, or nasal discharge. Signs include lethargy, sneezing, nasal congestion, nasal and ocular discharge, and tongue and oral mucosa ulcerations.  

Non-core pet vaccines

Your veterinarian may recommend your pet receive additional protection through the administration of non-core vaccines, which may be advised based on where you live, your pet’s lifestyle, and their likelihood of exposure to the diseases that the vaccine prevents.

Most dogs enjoy the great outdoors, which—depending on where you live—can expose them to additional infectious diseases. Dogs’ non-core vaccines include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Canine influenza

Keeping your cat indoors can help protect them from infectious diseases. However, you never know when your curious kitty will slip through an open door, and come in contact with an infected animal, their droppings, or a contaminated object, so your veterinarian will likely recommend additional vaccines to protect your furry feline friend from diseases that are prevalent in your area of the country. Cats’ non-core vaccines include:

  • Feline leukemia virus
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus 

Vaccination is a powerful tool for protecting your pet—and pets and people around them— from devastating disease. If you would like to discuss which vaccines your pet needs, contact our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team to schedule an appointment, and we will develop an appropriate vaccine schedule based on your pet’s unique needs.