August marks the month of National Immunization Awareness Month. This pet holiday was designed to bring awareness of the importance of pet immunization. Most pet parents understand that these vaccinations are essential for the health of their fur babies and prevent them from any severe diseases—like rabies or heartworm.

Pet immunizations are split into two groups: core and non-core vaccinations. The core vaccines are the ones that are recommended to all dogs and cats.  The non-core vaccines are situational and depend on your pet’s lifestyle—for example, if your pup attends a doggy daycare or if they go to the dog park every weekend.  

All of these vaccinations can be a bit confusing and daunting to pet parents. To help us understand these vaccinations better, we got the pleasure to speak with our Board-Certified veterinarian on staff, Dr. Bradley Quest: 

Why are vaccinations for your pets important?

Vaccinations are key to preventing many serious diseases in our pets and helping to protect humans as well in some cases such as rabies.  Before we had safe vaccines for many common diseases of pets, many pets would become ill and some cases die from these devastating diseases.  Having your pet vaccinated is easy to have done.  Most vaccines are given under the skin, in the muscle or squirted in the pet’s nostrils.  A vaccine is simply a small part of the disease causing organism that has been altered so it will not cause disease.  When the pet’s immune system is presented with this altered form of the bacteria or virus it will develop antibodies against the organism to protect the pet if it were to encounter the disease causing organism naturally in the environment.  It is always best to talk to your Veterinarian to decide what vaccines are appropriate for your pet based on the pet’s risk of exposure to a specific disease, the part of the country you reside in, and local laws.

What are the essential vaccinations that dog owners should get for their dogs and the reason why they should get each one?

Core vaccines for dogs:

  1. Rabies- viral. This vaccine can be given every year or every three years depending on local laws. It is a legal requirement to have your pet vaccinated for rabies. Rabies is a fatal disease of the central nervous system and is commonly transmitted by saliva to mammals through bite wounds from the infected animal.
  2. Canine Distemper- viral. Affects the nervous, GI and respiratory systems.  Is commonly spread via aerosol route and is usually a fatal disease.  It is common to vaccinate annually for distemper.

III.        Adenovirus 1 (Hepatitis) & Adenovirus 2- viral.  These viruses can cause liver  and respiratory diseases.  The liver form of the disease is commonly fatal. Usually given as an annual vaccination.

  1. Parainfluenze- viral. This virus commonly causes respiratory disease.  It is not usually fatal by itself but can lead to serious secondary infections.  Annual vaccination is recommended
  2. Parvovirus- viral. Usually affects young dogs and possibly old un-vaccinated dogs.  Sever disease that affects the GI tract and is extremely contagious.  Annual vaccination is recommended.

Non-core vaccines for dogs

  1. Leptospirosis- bacterial. Dogs are usually infected by drinking contaminated water.  It attacks the kidneys and if not properly treated can cause death.  Annual vaccination is recommended for dogs at risk.

VII.       Bordetella (Kennel cough)- bacterial.  Aerosol transmission and causes respiratory infections and if left untreated can lead to secondary serious diseases like pneumonia.  Usually vaccinate annually for dogs at risk.

VIII.      Lyme’s Disease- bacterial.  It is a tick transmitted disease and can cause immune, joint and nervous system problems.  If untreated it can be devastating for the pet.  Annual vaccination is recommended for at risk dogs.

  1. Coronavirus- viral. Usually seen in young puppies and can cause GI problems.  Usually only given to young puppies.

What are the essential vaccinations that cat owners should get for their cats and the reason why they should get each one?

 Core vaccines for cats.

  1. Rabies- viral. Just like in dogs, vaccines can be given every year or every three years depending on local laws. It is a legal requirement to have your pet vaccinated for rabies. Rabies is a fatal disease of the central nervous system and is commonly transmitted by saliva to mammals through bite wounds from the infected animal.
  2. Feline Distemper (panleukopenia)- viral. Can cause GI problems and extremely low white blood cells that help fight off infection.  Usually transmitted through body fluids.  Annual vaccination is recommended.

III.        Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis- viral.  Causes upper respiratory symptoms and can lead to more serious infections.  More serious in kittens.  Annual vaccination is recommended.

  1. Calicivirus- viral. Can cause upper respiratory problems and infections in the mouth.  Can also lead to more serious secondary infections.  Usually vaccinate annually.

Non-core vaccines for cats-

  1. Feline Leukemia- viral. Spread through body fluids.  Causes anemia, immune suppression and can cause cancer as well.  Is a slow to develop disease that can be fatal.  Annual vaccination recommended
  2. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus- viral. Compromises the immune system and the cat is susceptible to other serious diseases.  Spread primarily through saliva.  Annual vaccination.

VII.       Bordetella- bacterial.  Like in dogs can cause upper respiratory problems leading to serious secondary infections.  Aerosol transmitted.  Annual vaccination.

VIII.      Chlamydia- bacterial.  Can cause upper respiratory infections and transmitted by sneezing and nasal discharge.  Annual vaccination is recommended.

  1. Feline Infectious Peritonitis- viral. Is a mutation of the coronavirus that happens in the cat causing infection of the cells that line the abdomen.  It is a painful and usually fatal disease.  There is a commercially available vaccination for it but most experts question its effectiveness.

How often do dogs need to get re-vaccinated?

Rabies vaccines should be give every year or every three years.  Some local governments require vaccination yearly and in this case the one year rabies should be used.  Otherwise, there is a three year rabies vaccine available.  Most other vaccines are typically given annually but it is best to discuss this with your Veterinarian to determine what is the right vaccinations and frequency for your dog.

How often do cats need to get re-vaccinated?

 Just like in dogs, cats should have a rabies vaccination annually or every three years where permitted.  Other vaccines are typically given annually.  Similar to dogs, each individual cat’s situation is different and it is best to discuss with your Veterinarian which vaccines are right for your cat and how often they should be given because each pet and each situation is different.

What should the pet parent do if their dog or cat has an allergic reaction to a vaccination?

 Anytime something different is introduced to the body there is always a chance for the animals’ immune system to have an allergic reaction to it.  Even though this is rare it is possible.  Some things to look for are hives, swelling of the head/face/neck/paws, fever, lethargy, and GI symptoms.  If you notice any of these it is best to contact your Veterinarian immediately for assistance.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Vaccinations for infectious diseases are one of the best ways to help keep your pet healthy and happy.  There is information in the public today that criticizes vaccine use but there are far more pets that have avoided disease because of vaccinations that there are pets who have had problems with vaccinations.  Vaccinations do come with some risk like pain at the injections site and injection site growths.  But these are rare and most of the time go away with time.

In the case of rabies vaccination, it is an important part of human health as well.  Please consult with your Veterinarian about what vaccines are appropriate for your pet.

Meet our Veterinarian

 Say hello to our knowledgeable veterinarian on staff, Dr. Bradley Quest, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

With over fifteen years of experience in the pet food industry and over 11 years of experience in clinical veterinary practice, we are proud to introduce our veterinarian on staff, Dr. Bradley Quest. 

A little bit about Dr. Bradley Quest:

Dr. Quest graduated from University of Missouri with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and has been working in the pet food industry developing new products, working in nutrition formulation, doing clinical studies, and working in Veterinary professional services since 2004. He is currently an active member of AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), MVMA, FoVD, and Phi Zeta Veterinary Society.