Pet Immunization

The Importance of Pet Immunization


The month of August is National Vaccination Awareness Month. During August there are more concerted efforts made to raise awareness about the importance and timely immunization of pets and the value of booster shots to keep pets safe from diseases, such as Rabies, Canine Distemper, Parvovirus and Adenovirus (Canine Hepatitis).

Immunization is the greatest form of protection against the many illnesses your pet can contract.


Pet immunizations are divided into two basic groups, core (recommended) and non-core (optional) vaccines. Core vaccines are essential for your pet, whereas non-core vaccines are given depending on your pet’s exposure risk. Your veterinarian will consider the animal’s age, environment, lifestyle, overall health, severity of disease or transmissibility to humans.

Core (Recommended) Vaccines for Dogs

Core canine vaccines include:

  • Canine Parvovirus (CPV or parvo) – a  viral disease affecting the intestines; it is transmitted through sniffing or eating infected feces or direct contact with an infected dog.
  • Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) – an airborne viral disease affecting the lungs, brain and intestines transmitted through sneezing or coughing by an infected dog or wild animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment.
  • Canine Adenovirus-2 (CAV-2) – infectious hepatitis – this viral liver disease istransmitted  directly from dog to dog through infected respiratory secretions or by contact with contaminated feces or urine.
  • Rabies – a fatal viral disease transmittedthrough direct contact (such as, through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth) with saliva from an infected animal.

Once the rabies virus is contracted it may affect the spinal cord and cause inflammation in the brain. However, growth starts in the muscle tissue before attacking the nervous system and spreading. By the time the symptoms appear, it is generally too late to save the animal.

Humans are at risk of infection, if bitten by an infected animal or if the saliva of an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound. However, a person who may have been exposed to rabies can usually be treated effectively, if they seek help at once. If bitten or scratched, immediately consult a healthcare professional about treatment known as rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). If rabies is left untreated, the disease usually progresses from mild symptoms to coma and eventual death.

Non-core (Optional) Vaccines for Dogs

Non-core vaccines include those for the following diseases:

  • Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) is commonly known as “kennel cough” and also “infectious tracheobronchitis” – is caused by the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica. This bacterial infection affects the upper respiratory system.
  • Borreliosis (also known asLyme disease) is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to dogs and humans by the bite of infected ticks.
  • Leptospirosisis an infectious disease that causes serious illness in dogs, other animals, and people. The disease is caused by bacteria called leptospires that live in water or warm, wet soil.
  • Canine Influenza – Canine Virus-H3N8 (CIV or dog flu); Canine Influenza Virus-H3N2 (CIV or dog flu). These infections share similar symptoms, including fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite and nasal discharge.

Core Vaccines for Cats

Core vaccines to protect cats against specific viruses include:

  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) (feline distemper): This highly contagious virus causes vomiting, diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, and in some cases death. Kittens are very vulnerable.
  • Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1) (viral rhinotracheitis): This virus causes upper respiratory infection with fever, sneezing, eye and nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, inflammation of the cornea and lethargy. Kittens are particularly vulnerable to infection.
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV) is a highly contagious virus that causes a mild to severe respiratory infection and oral disease in cats. Affected cats may experience sores on the gums and in the mouth, sneezing, eye and nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, lethargy, loss of appetite and lameness. Affected kittens may develop pneumonia. It is especially common in shelters and breeding colonies, and often infects young cats. The majority of cats recover after a calicivirus infection, but rare strains can be deadly. Humans are not at risk of infection.
  • Rabies virus: This deadly viral infection is transmitted mostly through bite wounds, but it can also spread to any animal or human by exposure of an open wound to the saliva of an infected animal. Skunks, foxes, raccoons, coyotes and bats are the most common wild carriers in North America.

Non-Core Vaccines for Cats

Non-core vaccines are recommended by a veterinarian after a careful assessment of the cat’s lifestyle, age, health status, exposure to other cats, vaccine and other medication history.

Non-core vaccines to protect cats against specific viruses include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough): This bacterium is a common cause of upper respiratory infections. Infection can cause sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, and sometimes a cough. Cats can be infected by direct contact with oral and nasal secretions of infected cats or dogs. This vaccine helps control the spread of infection in situations with a high density, such as in shelters and households with multiple pets.
  • Chlamydia felis: The signs in cats of an infection from this bacterium include conjunctivitis and upper respiratory infections. Vaccination can help control the transmission of the bacterium in environments with multiple pets.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): This bacterium is the leading cause of virus-associated deaths in cats. It spreads through the saliva, nasal secretions, feces, urine, and milk of infected cats. Infection is transmitted through casual contact, bite wounds, and nursing. Approximately 50 percent of cats diagnosed with FeLV die of the disease within two and a half years. Cats infected with FeLV may suffer from anemia, immune suppression, and cancer. Kittens in their first year of life should be vaccinated against FeLV.
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): This virus compromises the cat’s immune system and may lead to a number of other infectious diseases. It is transmitted through bite wounds and the saliva of infected cats. Outdoor cats are particularly at risk.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): This is a rare but usually fatal viral disease transmitted directly between cats. FIP vaccination is not commonly recommended since studies have shown that the efficacy of this vaccine has been variable.

A cat may need additional vaccines depending on its risk of exposure to infectious organisms due to outdoor access, living in a shelter, or being housed in a home with infected pets. Consult your veterinarian to determine if any of these vaccines may be appropriate for your cat(s).


Each state has its own laws governing the administration of the rabies vaccine. Some areas require yearly rabies vaccination. Other areas call for vaccines every three years. In almost all states, proof of rabies vaccination is mandatory.


Vaccines cannot completely prevent your pet from getting a disease. They are administered to provide resistance, if the disease is contracted. There are too many factors, including environmental factors, that hinder complete prevention.

Related Articles

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