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Do Our Pets Really Need All Those Vaccines?

Posted by Cari Wise on Aug 3, 2016 7:09:58 AM


August is National Immunization Awareness Month.  Given the controversy that surrounds vaccinations, pet owners also wonder whether or not their pets really need all the vaccinations that veterinarians recommend.  To follow is a list of the vaccinations most commonly recommended for our companion animals, along with information to help you pet owners when to say yes, and when to say no.

Core Vaccines

Due to the potential for severe illness in unvaccinated pets, or potential for transmission to humans, there are very limited circumstances when the administration of these vaccinations is not advised.  As a general rule, these vaccines should always be given, unless medically contraindicated.

Rabies-  Cats and Dogs should be vaccinated for Rabies and remain current on this vaccination at all times.  Multi-year vaccines exist to decrease the frequency of injections. 

Distemper, Hepatitis (Adenovirus Type 2), Parvovirus-  Dogs should be vaccinated for these nasty diseases without exception.  They are typically delivered together as the DHP (or DA2P) components of a combination injection. However, they can be administered individually as well.  Multi-year vaccines exist but may not always be appropriate.  Some breeds require more frequent vaccination to remain protected.  And some locations may require more frequent administration due to increased disease prevalence and increased risk.

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (Herpesvirus Type 1), Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (feline distemper)- Cats should be vaccinated for these nasty diseases without exception.  They are typically delivered together as FVRCP components of a combination injection. However, they can be administered individually as well.  Multi-year vaccines exist but may not always be appropriate.

Non-Core (Elective) Vaccines

Vaccinations in this category are reserved for pets at increased risk / increased exposure to these diseases. 

Coronavirus- Vaccination against Corona is typically included in combination puppy vaccinations due to its prevalence in shelters, breeding facilities, and other high density areas.  The disease causes diarrhea, but is much less likely to be fatal than is parvovirus.  Because it is so common, including vaccination against coronavirus with puppy vaccinations is generally recommended. 

Bordetella-  This is one of the key components in kennel cough (tracheobronchitis), which is very contagious. Therefore, vaccination is recommended for Dogs and Cats who frequently interact with other animals in places like boarding facilities, grooming facilities, parks, pet stores, animal shows, etc.  Frequency of administration depends on risk, but boosters are typically advised every 6-12 months.

Parainfluenza- Another key component of tracheobronchitis in Dogs, vaccination is recommended for those dogs at risk for kennel cough, as described above.

Influenza-  Dog flu vaccinations do exist, but are unlikely to prevent disease.  The vaccination is likely to decrease the severity of Dog flu if contracted.  Because the disease is transmitted in aerosol through coughing, it should be considered in the same circumstances that warrant vaccination against tracheobronchitis.   Cats can be infected with canine influenza.  Unfortunately, at this time, vaccinations against influenza do not exist for use in cats.

Leptovirus- Dogs with potential for exposure to wildlife areas and contaminated water sources should be vaccinated as leptovirus causes a life-threatening disease in dogs, and can be transmitted to people with devastating effect.  Lap dogs that rarely leave the house probably don’t need it.  But for pooches who frequent off-leash areas, it really should be considered.

Lyme- Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks, so tick prevention is the best first defense against this disease.  Dogs can be vaccinated for Lyme disease, but the vaccination is not always effective.  Some veterinarians strongly believe in using the vaccine to increase the odds of protection in dogs at greatest risk (particularly those outdoor or hunting dogs who spend a good deal of time in wooded areas where ticks reside). As with Lepto, the lap dog living primarily inside probably can go without this one.

Chlamydophila- Chlamydophila can be part of a respiratory disease complex seen in cats, though the vast majority of cases are caused by Herpes.  Therefore, this vaccination is typically only recommended when the risk for transmission is high, such as in catteries or colonies known to be infected.

Feline Leukemia- Cats that go outside, or interact with cats that go outside, or with cats of unknown feline leukemia status, should be vaccinated for this deadly disease.  However, testing prior to vaccination is recommended.  Cats who are known to be feline leukemia positive should not be vaccinated.  For cats who live strictly indoors and do not interact with other cats, this vaccination can be skipped, but testing should still be done so the cat’s feline leukemia status is known.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus-  Also known as Cat AIDS (and not transmissible to people), this disease is typically transmitted through bite wounds.  Vaccination should be considered for outside cats, particularly those who fight with other cats.  However, cats who have been vaccinated will test positive for the disease in the future.  Therefore, it is important to test in advance, reserve vaccination only for negative felines, and use a method of permanent identification to serve as a reminder that the cat has been vaccinated for FIV, deeming future FIV test invalid.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis- Also called FIP is a nasty disease that is not well understood.  Suffice it to say, a vaccination exists, but it is not shown to be protective.  Skip this one.

Bottom Line

Our companion animals absolutely require some vaccines.  Other vaccines exist to protect pets who have an increased risk to exposure, and the decision to use those vaccines should be based on discussion between pet owners and veterinary professionals. 

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