Keoki's Corner

Why Vaccinate Your Pet?

In our last discussion about wellness care for your pets, we discussed the wellness examination. When your pets come to see the veterinarian for their wellness exam, they will be assessed for the risk of exposure to infectious diseases. Many of these diseases can be prevented through vaccination. Puppies and kittens go through a series of vaccinations against common, preventable diseases. These vaccinations need to be boostered at appropriate intervals to provide continued immunity.

The most important vaccine for dogs and cats is their rabies vaccination. Rabies is a fatal infection that affects the central nervous system and can be transmitted though the bite of an infected animal to other animals and people. The frequency of vaccination is determined by state law and the type of vaccine used.

Both dogs and cats receive vaccinations commonly referred to as the “distemper” vaccine that protect against multiple viruses in one vaccine. For dogs, this includes distemper – an often fatal disease which causes vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, and brain damage and is highly contagious; hepatitis – a viral disease leading to liver damage; and parvovirus – a potentially fatal intestinal disease causing vomiting and diarrhea. For cats, “distemper” includes panleukopenia – potentially fatal causing vomiting and diarrhea; rhinotracheatis – a common respiratory infection that is often fatal in kittens; signs include sneezing, decreased appetite, fever, and ocular discharge; and calicivirus – a respiratory virus that can lead to more serious respiratory infections, signs include those similar to rhinotracheatis with ulcers often appearing on the tongue or other parts of the mouth.

Bordetella is a vaccination for dogs that protects against the most common causes of “kennel cough.” The illness causes coughing, nasal discharge, and flu-like Dog getting a vaccinesymptoms. It is easily transmitted through the air and studies have shown that it is present in the general environment. Dogs should be vaccinated if they are going to be boarded or around a lot of other dogs in close quarters such as grooming, dog parks, dog shows or training classes.

Some dogs will receive leptospirosis, which is a bacterial disease that is transmitted through urine of an infected animal, and can cause kidney and liver damage. A wide range of mammals including rodents, deer, rabbits, hedgehogs, cows, sheep, raccoons, opossums, skunks, and certain marine mammals are able to carry and transmit the disease. Dogs can contract the disease by drinking water contaminated by urine of infected animals or even licking grass where infected animals have urinated.

Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease that causes fever, arthritis, lameness, and kidney disease. The deer tick that carries the Lyme disease organism is very common in the mid-Atlantic region. The vaccine is recommended for dogs who spend time outside and have any potential exposure to ticks.

Cat getting a vaccineFeline Leukemia is a very contagious viral disease that is a major cause of death in cats. The virus decreases the immune system’s ability to respond to infections and can lead to certain types of cancers. The virus is transmitted through respiratory discharges (sneezes) so requires close proximity an infected cat. Vaccination is recommended for all kittens. The risk for exposure in adult cats is reassessed to determine the need for ongoing vaccination.

Vaccines contain viruses or bacteria (or parts of viruses or bacteria) that have been modified so that they will not cause disease. When an animal is vaccinated, the vaccine stimulates two parts of the animal’s immune system. The first results in the production of antibodies and the second stimulates cell-mediated immunity. Together, these processes enable the body to mount a response against the bacteria or virus in question. If the dog or cat is later exposed to that organism, the two parts of the immune system will react quickly to destroy the disease-causing agent.

It is important to discuss which vaccinations your pet should receive with your veterinarian, along with the potential risks of vaccination. Not every pet will need the same vaccinations. The risk of exposure will be assessed based on the environment of the individual dog or cat. Vaccination can provide life-saving protection against infectious organisms.