Preventive care is the most important step you can take as a pet owner to guard your pet’s health. Regular vaccinations at Little Animal Hospital will provide your pet with protection against highly contagious diseases, by building a strong immune response. Your pet’s vaccinations are crucial during early life, but must be maintained through all life stages to ensure lifelong protection.

How pet vaccines work

Vaccination allows the body to safely encounter an otherwise dangerous pathogen without the threat of disease. By presenting the immune system with an inactivated pathogen (i.e., antigen), vaccines capitalize on the body’s natural response, and the development of specific antibodies, to prime the body for future exposures. If the real antigen is encountered, the pet’s immune system will remember, and react quickly.

If an unvaccinated pet encounters a pathogen naturally, they are in danger of infection. Without previous knowledge of the virus, the immune system may be unable to fight back fast enough, the virus will overwhelm the body’s natural defenses, and the pet will become sick.

Hot zones—common locations for pet disease

Disease transmission most commonly occurs where pets are housed in high numbers, interact with unfamiliar pets, encounter infected wildlife, or are exposed to contaminated environments. Common areas where transmission and outbreak occur include:

  • Dog parks
  • Dog events (e.g., dog walks, festivals, dog shows) 
  • Dog-friendly retail stores
  • Catteries
  • Shelters
  • Boarding, grooming, and daycare facilities
  • Veterinary hospitals

Pets who live indoors or stay at home are not safe from disease. Some infectious viruses and bacteria can live on clothing, shoes, and objects that enter the home, and expose your pet. Pets may regularly cross paths with wildlife, or their excrement, in their own backyard.  

Commonly vaccinated diseases in pets

Infectious disease outbreaks can rapidly affect the pet population. For pet and public safety, pets are commonly vaccinated for the most virulent diseases, and those affecting human health. Core vaccinations (i.e., vaccinations required, or strongly suggested, by law) include:

  • Rabies
  • Canine distemper
  • Canine infectious hepatitis
  • Parvovirus
  • Feline panleukopenia
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis 
  • Feline calicivirus

Rabies is typically required by state or local law, for public safety. Pets may be vaccinated against additional diseases, based upon their lifestyle and risk factors. These non-core (i.e., optional) vaccinations include:

  • Bordetella
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Feline leukemia
  • Canine influenza

Proof of core and select non-core vaccinations is required by many pet facilities, such as grooming, boarding, and day care. Check with each business to ensure your pet meets their requirements. You should reconsider using a facility that does not require vaccinations.

Pet vaccination pays it forward

Vaccinations do more than protect your pet. Vaccinated pets reduce disease transmission and protect: 

  • Puppies and kittens — They may be unvaccinated, or incompletely vaccinated. 
  • Sick pets — Debilitated and immunocompromised pets may be unable to receive vaccines. 
  • Public health —Vaccinations protect against several pet diseases, such as rabies and leptospirosis, that are zoonotic (i.e., transmissible from pets to people). Rabies has an extremely high fatality rate, making virus control crucial to human health and safety. 

A life well lived—vaccinations at every pet life stage

Vaccinations are not a one-and-done situation. Regular vaccinations are critical to pet health on an individual and broad scale. Entirely because of widespread vaccination protocols, some diseases have been eliminated, and prevalence for many others has been greatly reduced. However, any breaks in our pets’ defenses could see a tragic resurgence. Don’t let your pet go unprotected at any life stage.

  • Life stage: Puppies and kittens A young animal’s developing immune system is fragile. Fortunately, nursing puppies and kittens receive short-term immunity from maternal antibodies, but this temporary protection wanes when puppies and kittens are between 8 and 16 weeks old. Since maternal antibodies cancel out the vaccine’s effects, and knowing exactly when maternal antibodies fade is impossible, puppies and kittens should be vaccinated every two to four weeks to prevent life-threatening gaps in immunity. The full three- to four-round series must be completed to ensure an appropriate immune response.
  • Life stage: Adult pets — Acquired immune responses can fade over time, so pets need booster vaccines at 12 months old, and then every one to three years. Rabies vaccination must be given in accordance with state and local laws. For other vaccines, owners may prefer to have their pet’s blood tested for circulating antibodies (i.e., titer testing). If a pet’s circulating antibodies are adequate, vaccination can be delayed. Regular vaccination should be maintained in healthy adult pets to protect the general pet population, reduce disease transmission, and ensure continued good health.
  • Life stage: Senior pets — Aging pets may have a more leisurely lifestyle, but they also have a weakened immune system, making them susceptible to contagious disease. Senior pets with medical conditions are at higher risk of illness.

Our veterinarian will adjust your senior pet’s vaccination protocol according to their more limited lifestyle, but maintaining twice-yearly examinations and core vaccinations is critical for senior pets, for their continued health and early detection of non-vaccinated diseases.

Routine vaccination makes highly contagious, potentially deadly diseases preventable for your pet, and others. Considered that way, vaccination is the single most effective, economical health decision you can make for your pet. Schedule an appointment at Little Animal Hospital to discuss your pet’s vaccination protocol.