When your pet is due for their vaccinations, can you translate all those acronyms, and tell if your furry pal needs all those shots? You’re not alone. Vaccinations, and the diseases they prevent, are commonly misunderstood aspects of wellness care for cats and dogs. But, if you bring your pet to Homestead Animal Hospital for their annual wellness appointment, our veterinarians will discuss with you their lifestyle and exposure risk for infectious diseases, including zoonotic diseases (i.e., those that can be transmitted from pets to people), to determine the best vaccination protocol that will protect your four-legged friend, and your family. 

Although vaccines, diseases, and veterinary shorthand can be confusing, rest assured we have your pet’s best interests at heart, both from a personal, and public health viewpoint. To help clear up any confusion you may have about your pet’s annual vaccinations, follow our cheatsheet of common core and non-core vaccinations for cats and dogs.

Core vaccinations for dogs

Core vaccinations are highly recommended, or legally required, for pets.

  • Canine distemper virus — Capable of affecting a variety of wild and domestic animals, distemper is a serious virus that can leave lifelong effects. This disease attacks the respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal system of puppies and dogs. Distemper can be easily transmitted through coughing, sneezing, or contaminated objects, and mother dogs can also pass the virus through the placenta to their puppies. Since this disease can infect wildlife, local outbreaks in raccoon populations or other wild species can also put your dog at risk.
  • Canine parvovirus — A highly contagious disease that can affect all dogs, parvovirus typically infects unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 4 months. The virus is spread through direct dog-to-dog contact, or indirect contact with contaminated objects or surfaces, and attacks the dog’s gastrointestinal tract. The well-known signs include profuse bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy.
  • Rabies — Virtually eradicated in the U.S. domestic pet population through a rigorous vaccination regimen, we rarely see rabies in cats or dogs, although the disease is occasionally transmitted through an infected wild animal’s bite. Sadly, rabies in pets has no cure, and humane euthanasia is the only option.

Non-core vaccinations for dogs

Non-core vaccinations, which are administered based on your pet’s lifestyle and exposure risk, include:

  • Leptospirosis — Caused by a bacterium found in soil and water, leptospirosis has many strains that can lead to disease. Leptospirosis, which is considered a zoonotic disease, can be contracted through contact with infective urine, soil, or bedding, during recreational water activities, or when a mother passes the disease to her puppies through the placenta. The signs vary, and may include those associated with bleeding disorders and kidney and liver failure (e.g., drinking and urinating excessively, jaundice, nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhea, and blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool, or saliva).
  • Bordetella — Also known as kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, Bordetella is highly contagious, and can spread like wildfire through animal shelters and boarding facilities. Notorious for its hacking cough, kennel cough can also lead to conjunctivitis, sneezing, and nasal discharge.
  • Lyme disease— Transmitted through tick bites, Lyme disease can be difficult to manage, because of serious, recurring issues, but proper tick prevention and vaccination for high-risk dogs can greatly reduce disease potential.
  • Canine influenza — Similar to kennel cough, infected dogs develop a persistent cough, and may have a thick nasal discharge and fever. Most dogs recover in two to three weeks, but some may develop secondary bacterial infections that can lead to pneumonia.

Core vaccinations for cats

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis and calicivirus — These two highly contagious diseases in cats and kittens are often indistinguishable, as both cause upper respiratory issues. Feline viral rhinotracheitis is caused by a herpesvirus infection, which can persist life-long and cause flare-ups throughout a cat’s life.
  • Panleukopenia — Caused by the feline parvovirus, panleukopenia is a highly contagious disease that spreads through direct and indirect contact, and affects rapidly growing cells, such as those in the bone marrow and intestines. Since the virus is exceptionally hardy, and can linger in the environment for a year, virtually all cats and kittens are exposed to this virus at some point. Vaccination is the best way to protect your cat from this life-threatening illness.
  • Rabies — Vaccination for rabies, which is a fatal disease, is required for all pets, including house cats. Bats and other infected wildlife can enter your home, or your cat can be bitten and infected when they slip outside.

Non-core vaccinations for cats

  • Feline leukemia — Feline leukemia is spread through sustained close contact with an infected cat, whether through grooming or sharing resources. While feline leukemia may be mild at first, the disease is progressive, and may lead to lymphoma, anemia, oral health issues, or a variety of other illnesses.

Now that you know how deadly infectious diseases can be for your best friend, don’t let their immunity lapse. Give us a call to check when your furry pal is next due for life-saving vaccinations, or to schedule their annual wellness exam.