Vaccines for Cats and Dogs

Vital Pet Vaccines: Responsible Pet Ownership and Awareness

So, you've brought home a perky little puppy or kitten, feeling confident that your new best friend is quite healthy after its initial round of vet-administered pet vaccines. But just as you wouldn't expect your childhood vaccinations to last forever, neither will your pet's. Ultimately, the key to a healthy, long life for your dog or cat is responsible pet ownership, awareness, and a yearly round of preventative pet vaccines.

The types of pet vaccines that dogs and cats get are for a variety of different diseases; of course, some viruses are shared between the species, such as rabies. Preventing these diseases with annual pet vaccines and an ounce of responsible pet ownership is much cheaper than any treatment would cost to make your pet healthy once again. Normally, the initial rabies vaccination occurs when the pet is four months or older, and the others follow when the dog or cat is at least six months old. Below are some of the more common diseases that afflict pets and what they can do to your favorite companion. Remember that, above all, your new best friend is relying on you to keep him healthy and practicing responsible pet ownership is ultimately up to you!

The Agonizing Effects of Rabies

Rabies is ultimately fatal, and the law requires that you vaccinate your pets against this highly contagious disease. Contracted by saliva, this viral disease can be spread to humans, as well as anyone or anything that the cat or dog bites. The infection spreads through the nerve tissue and eventually into the brain. An animal with rabies will be stiff and unable to swallow in the early stages of the disease. Toward the end, the animal become sensitive to noise and movement and will often strike out to attack anything that moves in its path.

If you live in a wooded area or in a part of town with a high population of bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks, there is a higher chance that your cat or dog can become infected without the proper pet vaccines. Once infected, however, it's too late. There is no cure for rabies in cats or dogs – just remember that a simple measure of responsible pet ownership goes a long way.

Other Common Feline Diseases

  • Chlamydia, Calici, and Rhinotracheitis: All three are common upper respiratory diseases. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, a runny nose and eyes and fatigue, all of which are similar to our common cold. All three have the potential to be spread to humans. If the cat does not die from Rhinotracheitis, it most surely will suffer from problems for the rest of its life. The usual course of medication is antibiotics and a round of preventative pet vaccines for the future.
  • Feline Leukemia/Immunodeficiency Virus: Commonly but incorrectly referred to as Cat Aids, humans are unable to catch FeLV (Feline Leukemia) and FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). Spread through blood and saliva, both diseases weaken and then shut down the immune system. Currently, there are no reliable pet vaccines, but there are preventative measures – mainly stemming from responsible pet ownership.
  • Distemper (Panleukopenia): Distemper in cats is much different than in dogs, and the two cannot be spread from one species to the other. Diarrhea, high fever, vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite are hallmark symptoms of distemper. This disease is almost always fatal without proper pet vaccines beforehand.

More Common Canine Diseases

  • Bordatella (Kennel Cough): Responsible pet ownership dictates you vaccinate your dog against kennel cough if you are boarding your animal on your next trip away from home or even if your dog is involved in socialization activities with other dogs. The vaccine is now frequently administered via a nasal spray. A dog with kennel cough often displays symptoms such as a deep, hacking cough and occasional mucus. If the disease is contracted, the dog is treated with a course of antibiotics.
  • Distemper: A highly contagious disease, distemper is usually fatal to dogs. Affecting the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems, distemper is identified by initial flu-like symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, runny nose and eyes and lethargy. A high fever will accompany these symptoms and will be followed by diarrhea, vomiting, shaking and seizures. If the dog survives, it is normally impacted mentally for the rest of its life.
  • Heartworms: Preventing heartworms is as easy as administering a simple dose of medication every month, normally in the form of a pill or chew. Your dog is at risk all year long because infected mosquitoes transmit the virus to your pet. The disease, caused by a parasite in your dog's heart, blocks the heart chambers, and eventually, smaller parasites flow through your dog's bloodstream. Treatment for heartworms is expensive and potentially fatal. Providing your dog with monthly medication is an important part of responsible pet ownership, and many vet offices will ask if you need a refill each time you come in.
  • Hepatitis: Largely affecting the liver, a dog with Hepatitis will experience a fever, runny eyes and abdominal pain. The fever may increase, causing convulsions. This disease, without prior administration of pet vaccines, can be fatal if not treated in a timely manner.
  • Leptospirosis: If your dog enjoys playing in water, such as lakes or dog park pools, responsible pet ownership again dictates that a vaccination is necessary. Commonly contracted through water in which an animal has urinated, Leptospirosis can be spread to humans as well. In the beginning, symptoms can be nonexistent but will eventually lead to a kidney infection, vomiting, fever, and weight loss. The virus can be fatal if not treated, but the dog most likely will suffer from side-effects for the rest of its life.
  • Parainfluenza: A highly contagious respiratory disease, the symptoms of Parainfluenza include a dry cough, runny nose and eyes and lethargy. The disease will cause damage to the dog's respiratory system and can be fatal if not treated quickly. If you are likely to board your dog, administration of preventative pet vaccines for Parainfluenza is recommended.
  • Parvovirus: Simple yearly vaccinations, responsible pet ownership and a degree of education will prevent this most common, fatal disease in dogs. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. Death can occur in just three days after contracting the disease. The virus is spread through bodily fluids of other dogs, and unfortunately, there is often no sign that the dog is infected until it is too late.

Keeping Your Best Friend Healthy and Happy

Inoculating your best friend with preventative pet vaccines to ward off dangerous diseases is not only necessary, but it ensures that your best friend is safe from harm. While responsible pet ownership is not always cheap, you owe it to your new best friend to make sure that it is kept healthy throughout its life. Speak with your veterinarian if you have questions. A vet can offer information on these regular rounds of pet vaccines and provide tips on responsible pet ownership that may come in handy. So, once you find that little dog or cat that will now be your favorite companion, make sure you schedule an appointment for a thorough check-up and some vital pet vaccines and shots! Being a responsible pet owner is a major concern, and one that you owe to your new companion.

About the Author

Dr. Gloria Dorsey, DVM, MPH, and Director of Medical Services at the Atlanta Humane Society, received a Master's of Public Health Degree in Epidemiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and is a graduate of Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Dorsey, working for the non-profit animal charity and organization for over 12 years, has also been featured in Atlanta Women Magazine and was selected as one of the eight "Women Making a Mark" for 2003 by Atlanta Magazine. To learn more about the veterinary services offered at the AHS by Dr. Dorsey, please visit

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  • Published:
  • Updated: 7/15/2019: 8:00:18 PM ET
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