Vaccinating your pet is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help them live a long, healthy life. Our Stack Veterinary Hospital team knows that determining which vaccines your pet needs and how often they need boosters can feel overwhelming, especially for new pet owners. We created this pet vaccination guide to help you understand this essential component of your pet’s health and wellbeing. 

Why vaccines matter for pets

Vaccines are designed to trigger your pet’s protective immune responses and prepare their immune system to fight infections from disease-causing agents, without causing the disease itself. When healthy pets are vaccinated, their immune system responds to the vaccine, remembers the vaccination’s infectious agent, and mounts a defense when that infection occurs. Vaccines can provide a pet with complete immunity or lessen the severity of many common infectious diseases, and offers other benefits that include: 

  • Preventing spread of illness — Vaccines can prevent pets and people from contracting and spreading illness.
  • Saving pet owners money — When your pet is vaccinated, you avoid expensive treatments for diseases that the vaccination prevents.
  • Protecting pets from wildlife — Vaccinated pets are more protected from diseases spread by wildlife.
  • Following the law — Many local and state ordinances require that pets receive certain vaccinations, such as rabies.

Core pet vaccines versus lifestyle vaccines

Vaccinations are divided into two categories:

  • Core vaccines — Core vaccines are those recommended for all pets for protection against common fatal diseases that can spread easily between animals, and sometimes from animals to people.
  • Lifestyle vaccines — These vaccines protect pets against diseases they may contract based on their exposure risk, age, location, and lifestyle (i.e., indoor versus outdoor pets). 

Rabies vaccines for cats and dogs

Rabies is a core vaccine for cats and dogs that is required by law in many states, including New York. Rabies, which is a neurological disease that is spread through an infected animal’s bite, is zoonotic (i.e., can be passed from animals to humans). Rabies has no treatment once the clinical signs appear, and the disease is nearly always fatal. 

Core vaccines for dogs

In addition to rabies, core vaccines for dogs include:

  • Parvovirus — Parvovirus, or parvo, is a highly contagious virus that most often affects unvaccinated and incompletely vaccinated puppies. Parvo is transmitted mainly through fecal contact and infects the small intestine, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. With early diagnosis and treatment, 90% of puppies survive, but the disease is usually fatal without treatment. 
  • Canine hepatitis — This viral infection, which is spread through contact with the feces, urine, or saliva of an infected dog, affects the liver and often causes acute or chronic liver inflammation. Canine hepatitis in puppies is often fatal.
  • Canine parainfluenza — Canine parainfluenza (i.e., kennel cough) is a contagious respiratory virus that often spreads through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. The virus can lead to severe pneumonia, and is often fatal in puppies and immunosuppressed adult dogs. 
  • Canine distemper virus — This virus, which affects the respiratory and nervous systems, can be spread through direct contact with an infected animal or object, airborne exposure, or the placenta. The virus is often fatal, and dogs who survive will likely have lifelong neurological issues.

Core vaccines for cats

Core vaccines for cats include rabies, and the following:

  • Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) — This highly contagious viral infection is spread through contact with an infected cat’s saliva, mucus, or other secretions, and can cause serious upper respiratory infections and conjunctivitis.
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV) — Feline calicivirus is a common respiratory infection that can be spread through contact with infected cats’ respiratory secretions, such as saliva, mucus, or blood, as well as through contact with contaminated objects, such as food bowls, bedding, or toys. FCV signs include sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, oral ulcers, and lethargy. Infected cats can carry the virus after recovery and continue to infect other cats.
  • Feline panleukopenia (FPV) — FPV (i.e., feline distemper) is a viral infection caused by parvovirus that is commonly spread through contact with an infected cat’s feces or saliva, and through contact with contaminated objects, food, or water. The virus can survive in the environment for long periods, making preventing disease spread difficult. Young kittens, cats with compromised immune systems, and unvaccinated cats are most susceptible to infection, which can be fatal if not diagnosed and supportive care provided early. 
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) — FeLV suppresses the cat’s immune system and can cause anemia, lymphoma, and other deadly infections. FeLV is passed through the exchange of bodily fluids, most often a bite. Kittens can contract leukemia from their infected mother. No FeLV treatment is available, and most infected felines die less than three years after diagnosis.

Lifestyle vaccines for pets

For many pets, lifestyle vaccines are as important as core vaccines. For example, for pets who have been bitten by a tick or who live where ticks are common, your veterinarian may recommend vaccinations against Lyme disease and other deadly bacterial tick-borne illnesses. Lifestyle vaccinations recommended can include: 

  • For dogs:
    • Lyme disease
    • Leptospirosis
    • Bordetella bronchiseptica
    • Canine influenza
  • For cats:
    • Chlamydia felis
    • Bordetella bronchiseptica

By keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date, you are protecting them—and everyone you encounter—from contracting many common infectious, sometimes fatal, diseases. Contact our Stack Veterinary Hospital team to ensure your pet’s vaccinations are current.