It’s National Immunization Awareness Month, and vaccines aren’t only for people. Our pets also need to be vaccinated to prevent serious, sometimes deadly, diseases.
What is immunization?
An immunization, or vaccine, is the introduction of a weakened or killed form of a disease-causing microorganism into the body. By introducing the bacteria or virus in a controlled manner, the immune system can form immunity against it that will remain in the body. In the event of a future exposure, the immune system will recognize the invading pathogen and hopefully kill it before it can cause illness.
When should my pet be immunized?
Vaccination should start when your puppy or kitten is approximately six weeks old. Newborn animals acquire maternal immunity from their mother, however, it begins to wear off around this age. A series of vaccinations will be administered in three- to four-week intervals until your pet is about four months old. After the initial series of immunizations, booster vaccines are typically administered every one to three years.
Immunizations for dogs
Although some diseases, like rabies, can be contracted by multiple species, most of the vaccines for dogs and cats are species-specific. Canine immunizations will protect your pooch from:
- Canine distemper, which is caused by a virus, leads to severe respiratory and neurologic disease. After the initial signs of fever, malaise, and coughing improve, the neurologic component of the disease progresses and often causes death.
- Infectious hepatitis, also caused by a virus, leads to progressive inflammation of the liver that can eventually lead to cirrhosis.
- Parvo is caused by canine parvovirus type 2. Dogs with parvo experience uncontrollable diarrhea and vomiting, subsequent dehydration, and even sepsis. Both dehydration and sepsis are life-threatening, making parvo one of the most devastating diseases a dog can acquire. The virus is shed in the feces of affected dogs and can live for years in the environment, making it almost impossible to avoid exposure.
- Kennel cough can be caused by one (or more) of a number of pathogens; Bordetella bronchiseptica (bacteria), parainfluenza virus, and adenovirus type 2 are the most common. Regardless of the cause, the symptoms are similar: coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Kennel cough can progress to pneumonia, especially in vulnerable puppies who are not vaccinated. This disease is easily spread between dogs that are housed together, and most boarding facilities require that dogs be vaccinated before they can board.
- Leptospirosis is caused by the bacteria Leptospira interrogans. It is passed in the urine of affected animals, and dogs are typically exposed by drinking contaminated water (usually puddles, ponds, and lakes). Leptospirosis causes kidney and liver failure and, if left untreated, can cause death. Humans can also contract Leptospirosis from contaminated water.
- Canine influenza (dog flu) is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza A virus (both H3N8 and H3N2 strains). It causes typical respiratory signs (sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy, and decreased appetite) and is easily spread.
- Lyme disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is transmitted by the bite of the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). It affects many animal species and humans, causing fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and inflamed joints.
- Rabies can affect most animal species, including humans. This virus is passed in the saliva of an infected animal, typically during a bite. Rabies causes progressive neurologic disease and is always fatal.
Immunizations for cats
Our feline friends have their own list of potentially dangerous diseases we must protect them against, including:
- Feline infectious respiratory disease can be caused by one or more of a group of pathogens: feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and the bacteria Chlamydophila felis. Affected cats display sneezing, coughing, decreased appetite, oral and nasal ulcers, conjunctivitis, and even arthritis.
- Panleukopenia causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, a rapid decrease in white blood cell production (causing immunosuppression), and even neurologic disease in young kittens. It is caused by the feline parvovirus (similar to the virus that causes parvo in dogs) and is passed in the feces of affected cats. It is highly infectious and often deadly.
- Feline leukemia is caused by a virus that is passed through nasal and oral secretions as well as through milk and even the placenta to fetal kittens. This devastating disease causes immunosuppression, leaving the cat vulnerable to various infections, and can also cause cancer. It is progressive and eventually leads to death. Cats that go outside or have exposure to other casts should receive this vaccine, but it may not be necessary for indoor cats.
- Rabies affects cats in the same way that it does dogs. It is particularly scary because humans can also contract rabies and it is always fatal.
These diseases are lurking everywhere in the environment, just waiting to attack their next victim. The only way your pet can be adequately protected is through regular immunization. Unsure if your pet is up-to-date with her vaccines? Call us at 704-827-7422.