Throughout the last century, vaccinations have made an immeasurable impact on human and animal health by preventing or minimizing common infectious and—often deadly—diseases. Vaccines train the immune system to recognize an inert (i.e., neutralized) virus sample, and develop protective antibodies against the disease. The immune system will then be able to deploy these antibodies quickly if the human or animal is exposed to the virus.
To bolster your dog’s or cat’s defense against transmissible disease, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center veterinarians recommend routine vaccination, including booster shots. Learn which diseases core (i.e., essential) and elective (i.e., nonessential) vaccines protect your pet from contracting.
Core vaccinations protect your dog—and people and pets with whom they interact—from the most prevalent life-threatening infectious diseases. Dogs’ core vaccinations include:
- Parvovirus — Incompletely vaccinated puppies and young adult dogs commonly contract this highly infectious disease, which attacks the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, and white blood cells. Parvovirus is a common and hearty pathogen that can survive months or years in the environment or on objects. Your dog can contract parvovirus through direct contact with an infected animal or their bodily fluids, or by coming in contact with contaminated objects or soil. Because of parvovirus’s widespread damage, the virus is often fatal without aggressive treatment. To treat an infected dog’s severe dehydration, nausea, and nutrient depletion, hospitalization is required.
- Distemper — Your dog can contract the canine distemper virus via an infected dog’s respiratory droplets. The virus infects multiple body systems, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal, blood, and nervous systems. Infected puppies and dogs may experience fever, respiratory discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, and neurologic signs (e.g., muscle twitching, seizures). Distemper is considered incurable, and can be fatal. However, mild canine distemper cases may resolve with hospitalization.
- Adenovirus (canine hepatitis) — Adenovirus attacks an infected dog’s blood vessel lining, liver, kidneys, spleen, and lungs, and they experience high fever, congestion, immune system destruction, corneal damage, and decreased blood clotting that can result in spontaneous bleeding. If they recover, infected dogs may shed the virus in their urine for up to six months. Although widespread vaccination has reduced disease prevalence, adenovirus continues to be a potentially fatal threat to unvaccinated or immunosuppressed dogs and puppies.
- Rabies — Because of its near 100% fatality rate and its transmissibility to humans, the rabies virus is considered a worldwide public health threat. The virus enters an infected dog’s peripheral nerves and travels to the salivary glands. You and your dog can contract the rabies virus after being bitten by an infected dog whose saliva transmits the disease. Rabies produces severe neurologic signs (e.g., temperment changes) that may include aggression or excitability, and muscular paralysis that spreads from the body to the neck, throat, and jaw. Although humans infected with the rabies virus usually receive a vaccine series, no treatment or cure exists for humans or animals—making pet vaccination essential.
Elective vaccines protect dogs from viruses they may encounter in the places they frequent, such as boarding and grooming facilities, or because of their age, health status, exposure risks, and lifestyle. Nonessential vaccines may include:
- Canine influenza
- Bordetella (i.e., kennel cough)
- Lyme disease
As with dogs, unvaccinated and incompletely vaccinated kittens and cats are the most vulnerable to viral disease infection. If your cat was found as a stray, they likely have no vaccine history, and should complete the core vaccination series to ensure they have adequate protection from these heartbreaking diseases. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team recommends your cat receive the following core vaccines:
- Panleukopenia (feline parvovirus) — Like canine parvovirus, feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious and lethal virus that survives in the environment for long periods. The virus infects adult cats’ bone marrow, lymphatic tissue, and intestinal lining, and young kittens’ brain and retinas. Infected kittens may be asymptomatic, but experience rapid decline (i.e., fading kitten syndrome), or show generalized illness signs such as fever, depression, lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, and diarrhea. Supportive care—including intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea medications—may help. However, panleukopenia fatality rates are high among unvaccinated kittens.
- Herpesvirus (feline viral rhinotracheitis)— Feline herpesvirus is part of the feline upper respiratory complex that includes several other viruses. Cats contract herpesvirus through close contact with an infected cat, or via their respiratory droplets. Signs include fever, conjunctivitis, eye or nasal discharge, sneezing, and nasal and oral inflammation—all of which result in inappetence and weight loss. Prognosis is generally good with treatment (i.e., antibiotics, antihistamines), however, infections can persist for weeks to months, or become life-long. Herpesvirus can recur, and a cat’s stress response often triggers relapse.
- Calicivirus — Another feline upper respiratory complex pathogen, calicivirus is nearly impossible to distinguish from herpesvirus because cats have identical signs. Oral inflammation and ulcers are classic calicivirus signs, while other viral strains may include temporary lameness or pneumonia.
- Rabies virus — As with dogs and humans, the fatal rabies virus enters a cat’s nervous system, resulting in progressive neurologic signs. Free-roaming, unvaccinated cats are especially vulnerable to the rabies virus because they interact with potentially infected wildlife.
Non-core feline vaccines are recommended on an as-needed basis depending on a cat’s individual risks (e.g., outdoor access, multicat home, or frequent boarding or grooming clients). Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team may recommend your cat receive these non-core vaccines:
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
- Feline leukemia (FeLV)
- Feline bordetella
Vaccinations prevent your pet from contracting deadly diseases. However, a vaccine’s protection is not lifelong, and your pet must receive boosters. Ensure your dog or cat remains protected from disease by bringing your pet to their annual wellness care at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center. Contact us to schedule your pet’s next appointment.