Vaccination is essential to your pet’s preventive care and demonstrates your responsibility as a pet owner, but you may not know which diseases vaccines protect your pet from contracting. To better understand your pet’s vaccinations, read recommendations from our veterinarians here at Belmont Animal Hospital

An overview of vaccines for pets

When your pet is vaccinated, they are administered a killed or modified disease-causing organism that triggers a protective immune response telling their body how to fight future infections. While no vaccine can provide 100% disease protection, vaccinations are effective in most pets for the prevention of future diseases or a decrease in disease symptom severity. 

Rabies protection for cats and dogs

While cats and dogs require species-specific vaccinations, a rabies vaccine is recommended—and often required by law—for all domestic pets. Rabies is a deadly zoonotic (i.e., can be transmitted from animals to people) virus found in wild and domestic animals. The virus travels from the nerves to the spinal cord and brain. After reaching the brain, the virus travels to the salivary glands, and an infected animal transmits rabies through bite wounds. Because of the vaccine, cats and dogs rarely contract rabies; however,  the disease has no cure and infected pets must be humanely euthanized.

Core vaccines protect pets

Core vaccines are recommended for all cats or dogs because of a specific disease’s severity and ease of transmission. Ensure your pet receives core vaccines’ powerful protection. 

Infectious disease risk is high among unvaccinated puppies and dogs. Dogs especially enjoy interacting with each other, allowing many diseases to easily spread. Core vaccinations for dogs include:

  • Distemper — This disease attacks the respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal systems, and is easily transmitted through an infected pet’s coughing, sneezing, or contaminated objects. Mother dogs can also pass the virus to their puppies through the placenta. 
  • Adenovirus — Canine hepatitis (i.e., adenovirus) attacks an infected dog’s blood vessel lining, as well as their liver, kidneys, spleen, and lungs. Infected puppies and dogs experience high fever, congestion, immune system destruction, corneal damage, and a decrease in blood clotting, which can result in spontaneous bleeding. Widespread vaccination has reduced this disease’s prevalence, but unvaccinated or immunosuppressed dogs and puppies can contract this potentially fatal disease. 
  • Parvovirus — Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that most often infects unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 4 months of age. The virus is spread through direct dog-to-dog contact, or through indirect contact with contaminated objects or surfaces. Once transmitted, this virus attacks a dog’s gastrointestinal tract, and causes severe bloody diarrhea, vomiting—and often death.

You may believe your indoor cat is safe from infectious disease. However, if they inadvertently slip out the door, they could come in contact with an infected animal or contaminated objects. Core vaccinations for cats include:

  • Feline herpesvirus — This viral infection is transmitted through contact with an infected cat’s saliva, nasal discharge, and ocular secretions. Feline herpesvirus (FHC) is the major cause of upper respiratory illness. 
  • Feline calicivirus — Feline calicivirus (FCV) is a highly contagious viral infection that causes respiratory disease and oral ulcers. Transmission occurs through contact with an infected cat’s saliva, nasal discharge, or ocular secretions. The virus infects cats’ respiratory tissue and the mouth lining, often causing an upper respiratory infection or pneumonia. Although the vaccine cannot protect against FCV entirely, if your vaccinated cat does contract FCV, their disease severity is reduced. 
  • Feline panleukopenia — This devastating virus can survive for more than a year in some environments. Feline panleukopenia (i.e., feline distemper) is transmitted through body secretions or the placenta, often causing an infected cat to experience rapid deterioration or a sudden, unexplained death.

Additional vaccinations tailored to your pet

In addition to core vaccinations, your veterinarian will recommend non-core vaccinations based on your pet’s lifestyle and exposure risk. Non-core vaccinations provide your pet with additional disease protection. 

Some diseases are prevalent in certain geographic areas. In addition, your dog may be more susceptible to some diseases depending on their lifestyle. For example, if your dog is a water lover, you may not be able to restrain them from jumping in a pond or stream—where they may contract an infectious disease—during a hike. Dogs’ non-core vaccinations include:

  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Bordetella
  • Canine influenza

Your veterinarian will recommend administering certain non-core vaccines to your cat based on their health status (e.g., if they are immunosuppressed) and their lifestyle (e.g., an indoor cat allowed to roam their fenced-in backyard). Cats’ non-core vaccinations include:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Keep your pet’s vaccinations up-to-date

Kittens and puppies should receive a series of vaccinations to ensure they are fully protected from disease starting at 6 to 8 weeks of age and repeating every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks of age. Pets as young as 12 to 16 weeks of age can receive the rabies vaccine. Core vaccines generally provide immunity for several years after the initial series, and your veterinarian will administer your pet’s boosters in the appropriate time frame at their annual wellness exam. While your pet may not require annual boosters for every vaccination, they should have an annual wellness exam so your veterinarian has the opportunity to identify potential illness signs in a disease’s earliest, most treatable stage.  

One of the best ways to protect your pet’s long-term health is by ensuring their vaccinations are current. Schedule an appointment with our Belmont Animal Hospital team for your pet’s annual wellness exam, and to verify they are fully vaccinated.