Should My Pet Be Vaccinated?

Vaccination is a crucial and cost-effective method to protect your pet’s and the public’s health. Many diseases that affect our pets can spread via wildlife or unvaccinated pets, and several can also affect people. AAHA recommends all pets receive core vaccines—those deemed medically or legally necessary to meet minimum health standards—along with additional vaccines based on lifestyle.

Pet vaccination benefits

Pet vaccinations protect against potentially devastating diseases, such as parvo, rabies, distemper, and panleukopenia, that spread easily among unvaccinated animals, including puppies, kittens, and stray or feral populations. Wildlife can also carry diseases transmissible to pets, which means these disease threats can never be eliminated.

Additionally, vaccinations play a key role in protecting human health. Rabies, which takes the lives of at least 59,000 people worldwide each year according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the best example. Fortunately, only a few of these deaths occur in the United States, because of extensive rabies prevention funding and laws that require and strictly regulate vaccination.

Pet vaccination risks

No medication or vaccine is completely without risks, although the benefits of vaccination typically greatly outweigh the risks. Some pets are sensitive to vaccine components, which can cause varying degrees of allergic reactions—however, the worst, called anaphylaxis, is rare. Allergic reactions usually cause hives, facial swelling, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can progress to collapse or shock in rare cases.

Serious vaccine reactions are uncommon. Most vaccine side effects are mild and include swelling or pain at the injection site, mild lethargy, or a low-grade fever. The likelihood of a dangerous vaccine reaction is low compared with your pet’s risk of contracting a deadly disease from normal daily exposure, such as a visit to the park.

Tumor development at the injection site is another uncommon risk that the development of modern vaccines has reduced. This occurs mostly in cats, but feline-specific vaccines have helped to reduce the risk even more.

Determining pet vaccine needs

AAHA-accredited veterinarians determine vaccine needs by assessing each pet’s lifestyle. Certain vaccines are recommended for all pets in a particular life stage or geographic area, while others are considered optional. Factors that affect vaccine recommendations include:

  • Age — Puppies and kittens require repeated vaccine boosters as the immunity acquired from their mother’s milk wears off. The immune system is more stable in adulthood, so they need less frequent boosters.
  • Geography — Exposure risk for certain diseases varies according to region and local factors, such as weather patterns and pest populations.
  • Lifestyle — Whether a pet lives exclusively indoors or outdoors, interacts with other pets, travels frequently, or visits grooming and boarding facilities greatly affects their disease risks.
  • Health status — Veterinarians may recommend fewer vaccines for pets with underlying health issues, particularly autoimmune disorders. Vaccination is not recommended when pets are actively sick.

Core and lifestyle vaccines for dogs

Core vaccines are those recommended for all dogs, regardless of lifestyle. According to the AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines, core canine vaccines include:

  • Canine distemper — An often fatal virus affecting the respiratory and nervous systems
  • Canine adenovirus — Causes respiratory infection and acute or chronic liver inflammation or failure
  • Parvovirus — Causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and life-threatening sepsis, often in puppies
  • Parainfluenza virus — Causes respiratory infections in dogs—the vaccine may be combined with Bordetella as part of a kennel cough vaccination
  • Rabies — Transmitted through animal bites and causes progressive neurologic decline and death

Additional vaccinations are available for dogs with certain risk factors. Depending on where you live and your dog’s lifestyle, some of the following vaccines may be considered equally important to the core vaccines listed above:

  • Lyme disease — Transmitted by deer ticks, also called black-legged ticks, and causes joint inflammation and potential kidney failure
  • Leptospirosis — Spreads through contaminated urine from infected animals and causes liver and kidney failure—the vaccine is recommended for most dogs in urban and rural environments
  • Bordetella — One possible cause of kennel cough, a common and highly contagious respiratory infection
  • Canine influenza — The influenza virus causes respiratory infection that may lead to pneumonia
  • Western diamondback rattlesnake — Rattlesnake bites can cause significant tissue damage and possibly death

Core and lifestyle vaccines for cats

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners and AAHA guidelines, core vaccines recommended for all cats—indoor or outdoor—include:

  • Feline herpesvirus-1/feline viral rhinotracheitis — Causes infectious respiratory disease and eye ulcers—vaccination does not eliminate the lifelong infection but helps prevent recurrence
  • Calicivirus — Causes respiratory disease, often characterized by oral ulcers
  • Panleukopenia — Similar to parvovirus in dogs, and causes life-threatening vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and immune suppression
  • Feline leukemia virus — Causes lifelong immune system suppression and increases susceptibility to cancer, infection, and autoimmune inflammation—a core vaccine for kittens, but optional for adults.
  • Rabies — As in dogs, causes progressive neurologic decline and death after exposure through an animal bite

Additional vaccines that may be recommended for cats housed in multi-cat homes or who frequently visit boarding facilities include:

  • Chlamydophila felis — Causes respiratory infections, often accompanied by severe conjunctivitis
  • Bordetella — As in dogs, can cause infectious respiratory disease in closely housed cats

Pet vaccinations present a low-risk, high-reward method for pet owners to protect their furry pal’s health. AAHA-accredited veterinary hospitals use only the safest and most effective vaccines and tailor vaccination protocols to your pet’s health history and lifestyle. Speak to a veterinary professional if you have questions about your pet’s vaccines.



Subscribe to Your Pet