While nursing, pets receive antibodies and nutrients from their mother’s milk. When nursing stops, pets become more susceptible to illnesses because their immune systems do not have the same support they once did. As part of a preventative care routine, pet vaccinations can help protect your pet from life-threatening diseases.
For most pets, routine vaccinations start around the age of 6 to 8 weeks old and continue regularly throughout adulthood. Some vaccinations are even combined into a single syringe so a pet experiences fewer injections. After being vaccinated, most young pets take about 5 days to build protective antibodies with complete protection taking place after 14 days. Some vaccines require multiple dosages given over a short period of time, and most require booster shots every year. Pets who have been vaccinated have an advantage over those who have not. When a disease is detected, your vaccinated pet’s immune system quickly responds, decreasing severity of the illness or preventing it altogether. While it is rare, some pets do not develop immunity from their vaccinations and still become ill. If your pet has been vaccinated, is current on all of their booster shots, and has never shown signs of illness or disease, it has likely been successfully vaccinated.
Pet owners should note that vaccinations are preventative, not curative. A vaccination will prevent an illness, but if your pet is already suffering from a disease, a vaccine will not cure them.
Core and non-core pet vaccinations
There are several pet vaccinations that are necessary for all pets and others that are recommended only under special circumstances. Core vaccinations are those that are commonly recommended for all pets, and non-core vaccinations include those that are only administered to pets considered to be “at-risk.” Necessary vaccines depend on local regulations, geographic location, and your pet’s lifestyle. Your pet will be vaccinated according to their risk of exposure. Your veterinarian will discuss the best options for your pet.
Rabies – The rabies vaccine is considered a core vaccine, and many states require pets to have it by law, but there are a few exceptions. The initial vaccine is first given when the puppy reaches 16 weeks old. A booster shot is necessary after 1 year, then typically every year following that.
Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus (DHPP) – These vaccines are considered core vaccines. Your puppy will receive their first vaccination between 6 and 8 weeks old. Booster shots will be given once every 3 to 4 weeks until your puppy is 16 to 18 weeks old (depending on when vaccinations were started). Adult dogs will receive two doses of this vaccine initially. A booster vaccination is administered after the first year and every year following that.
Bordetella (kennel cough) – This is a non-core vaccine, but your veterinarian might consider your pet to be at risk. The vaccination is first given to puppies when they are 9 weeks old. The new oral vaccine now only needs to be given once a year. Dogs that require this vaccine are those that are exposed to other dogs. If your dog goes to the groomer, a kennel, a trainer, or dog park, this vaccine is strongly recommended. You should also consider this vaccine if you live in a subdivision with a large dog population or travel with your pet to areas with lots of dogs like state parks.
Leptospirosis – This non-core vaccine is given to puppies as part of their puppy series. This vaccination is intended to prevent bacterial infections in the kidneys, liver, and other major organs. Dog's contract Leptospirosis by coming into contact with water that has been contaminated with infected urine from wildlife. If your dog is exposed to puddles, ponds, or roadside ditches that wildlife have access to, this vaccine would be recommended. Keep in mind, humans can contract this infection, so preventing this infection in dogs is very important. Annual booster vaccines are recommended. Unfortunately, a significant number of dogs develop allergic reactions to this vaccine. In those cases, this vaccine is avoided in the future.
Lyme – The Lyme vaccination is a non-core vaccine that is not routinely recommended in Missouri. If you will be travelling to an area of the country where Lyme disease is more common, you might consider vaccination. Strict tick control will also prevent this infection. As long as a tick does not stay attached for 24 hours, transmission of the Lyme bacteria cannot occur.
Rabies – This vaccine is a core vaccination for cats and kittens. The initial vaccine is first administered between 12 and 16 weeks of age. A booster shot is necessary after 1 year, then typically every year following that.
Feline Herpesvirus, Calicivirus, Feline Distemper - These vaccines are considered core vaccines. Your kitten will receive their first vaccination between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks, and they will need to be repeated once every 3 weeks until your kitten reaches 14 weeks of age (depending on when vaccinations were started). Adult cats will receive two doses of this vaccine initially, three weeks apart. A booster vaccination is administered annually to all cats.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV) – Feline Leukemia is a non-core vaccine. The disease is most frequently seen in stray cats and multi-cat households. Because of this, the vaccination is only recommended for cats that go outside or cats that share food bowls, litter boxes, and mutual grooming with other cats of unknown feline leukemia status. Cats and kittens must receive two doses of this vaccine initially. Then a booster is given annually. Since there is a very reliable test for this viral infection, all new introductions to a household should be tested before vaccination is considered.
Non-core vaccines for felines include Chlamydia, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, and Ringworm vaccines, but their use is only considered for cats with a high risk of exposure including cats that are in long term shelters or catteries.
Preventable canine diseases and symptoms:
Adenovirus – a life-threatening viral disease that causes liver inflammation and failure.
Distemper – a life-threatening viral disease that causes diarrhea, pneumonia, seizures, and vomiting. Puppies that recover from this infection can have lifelong problems with seizures..
Leptospirosis – a life-threatening bacterial infection that causes severe liver and kidney damage and hemorrhaging within the lungs. Symptoms include loss of appetite, yellowed eyes (jaundice), vomiting, lethargy, and urine that is dark brown in color. This is a zoonotic infection, meaning it can be transmitted to humans as well. Early treatment with antibiotics can be curative, but intensive supportive care is necessary in some cases.
Lyme – a disease transferred by ticks. It is most common in the northeast and northern midwest which is why the vaccination remains “non-core”. Symptoms include circular skin rashes, depression, lethargy, fever, and joint pain. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught in earlier stages.
Parainfluenza and Bordetella – both are infections that are highly contagious and cause kennel cough. While it is generally not life-threatening, symptoms include a non-stop runny nose and excessive coughing.
Parvovirus – a severe life-threatening viral infection that results in bloody diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and destruction of the intestinal tract and immune system. At least 50% of the puppies who develop this infection will die. Generally, they die from severe dehydration and starvation since they are not able to eat for at least a week. They also succumb to other infections because of their severely compromised immune system. Not only does this infection cause misery in the patient, it is extremely expensive to treat!
Rabies - a uniformly fatal viral infection attacking the central nervous system. Because there isn’t a cure for rabies, animals that contract the disease are euthanized. The greatest risk of keeping the pet alive is that the disease can be spread to humans.
Preventable feline diseases and symptoms:
Feline Leukemia Virus – a life threatening viral infection that causes chronic immune suppression, leading to frequent infections and illness. It often results in cancer. Although a few cats will never develop symptoms, most will die prematurely due to this virus.
Herpesvirus and Calicivirus – highly contagious viruses that cause fever, malaise, runny nose, and watery eyes. Calicivirus has also been found to cause gingivitis and inflammation of the gums that can only be resolved by extraction of all of the teeth.
Panleukopenia (also known as Feline Distemper) - a life threatening viral infection that causes cats to suffer dehydration, diarrhea, a low white blood cell count, and vomiting. Intensive supportive care is required to facilitate recovery from this infection.
Rabies - a fatal disease attacking the central nervous system. Because there isn’t a cure for rabies, animals that contract the disease are euthanized. The greatest risk of keeping the pet alive is that the disease can be spread to humans.
Pet vaccination concerns
Similar to human vaccinations, pet vaccinations do carry a risk of side-effects. While negative side-effects do exist, it is important to note that your pet is statistically more likely to develop a life-threatening illness when not vaccinated, than to suffer adverse results from a vaccination. None-the-less, it is important to remain informed so you can ask your veterinarian the appropriate questions at your pet’s appointment.
After being vaccinated, the injection site can be swollen or sore. Some pets also have a reduced appetite, fever, and experience lethargy. These side-effects should diminish over the next 24 to 48 hours. If you notice your pet’s side-effects are not subsiding, please contact our office. Very rarely, pets develop an allergy to a vaccine. Allergies can be detected within minutes of receiving a vaccination and if left untreated, very rarely result in death. If you witness any of the following, contact our office immediately: collapse, non-stop diarrhea, continual vomiting, difficulty breathing, itching, or swelling of the legs or face.
Regulations regarding rabies vaccinations
While the federal government does not mandate pet vaccinations for rabies, most states implement their own laws regarding pet vaccination. Vaccination laws also vary from country to country, so if you plan on moving, be sure to check necessary requirements to ensure a smooth transition for your family.
States in which your pet can receive exemption from being vaccinated include: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey (dogs only), New York, Oregon (dogs only), Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. All other states require rabies vaccinations by law - for all pets.
If you have any questions about vaccinations or scheduling new pet vaccinations, you may contact our office at your convenience.