You may bring your pet in to see us when he or she is due for “shots”, but do you really understand what is in that syringe or why we even recommend vaccines for pets? Keep reading to learn why your pet needs to be immunized.

What a Vaccine Does

If we can prevent a disease from affecting a pet, why wouldn’t we? Some diseases that we vaccinate against can cause severe illness or even be fatal. Others can be inconvenient, costly, and no fun at all.

When we administer a vaccination, we are preparing a pet’s body to fight off disease-causing organisms. The vaccine allows the body to make antibodies and learn to recognize a particular virus or bacteria. This means that a vaccinated pet is better equipped to fight off a disease than one who has not been vaccinated.

Which Vaccines for Pets are Needed?

Not all pets need all vaccines. Individual lifestyle and risk factors help us to determine which vaccines are needed for which pets. The best place to make that assessment is during your pet’s annual wellness exam. In general, pet vaccinations are divided into core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are those that are recommended for almost every pet, while non-core vaccines are recommended based on risk.

Core vaccinations include:

Rabies – The state of Michigan legally requires all dogs over four months of age be vaccinated against rabies. It is also strongly encouraged that cats be vaccinated as well. Because rabies is a human health concern, we take this disease very seriously.

Canine distemper combination vaccine – This vaccine is against several diseases which include canine distemper, canine hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. These highly contagious diseases are a serious concern for all dogs.

Feline distemper combination vaccine – This vaccine protects cats against several serious diseases including feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (distemper).  Nearly all cats should receive this vaccine.

The first rabies and distemper vaccination for dogs is for one year and then every three years. Our protocols are adjusted based on each animal’s risk factors. For cats, we offer a one or three year rabies vaccine. Distemper is recommended every three years.

Other non-core vaccines that may be recommended based on your pet’s risk include:

Bordetella (Kennel cough) – Kennel cough is an often very contagious disease that causes upper respiratory infections. Any pet who may be exposed to other pets such as at the groomer, boarding kennel, training classes, or dog park likely should be vaccinated. This is so contagious that we recommend this vaccine every 6 months and is required every 6 months for dogs at our daycare, kennel or grooming.

Leptospirosis – Dogs who contract leptospirosis experience serious kidney and liver failure. Lepto can also be transmitted to humans, making this vaccine doubly important for dogs who are exposed to infected urine outdoors. Urine from wildlife and other pets can collect in pooled water when it rains. Any pet who might share space with rodents or other wildlife needs to be vaccinated where possible. We recommend an annual vaccine for at-risk dogs.

Lyme Disease – Michiganders are no strangers to ticks. Dogs who have exposure to ticks should be vaccinated against this tick-borne disease that can cause fever and joint pain. We also recommend this vaccine annually for at-risk dogs.

Canine Influenza – The dog flu is a disease that can cause upper respiratory symptoms. While not usually fatal, it can cause serious illness.

Feline Leukemia (FeLV) – Feline leukemia is a serious and contagious disease of cats. Infected cats experience immunosuppression and tumor formation. Cats who go outdoors, or live in households with other infected cats or kittens, are at highest risk and our recommendation is based on each cat’s risk factors.

Vaccination Schedules

It can be a little confusing to know when your pet needs what vaccine. We will help you remember for the most part, but pets tend to fall into one of two categories:

Pets who need to be boostered – Puppies, kittens, and pets with an unknown vaccination history need a little help to get their immune systems in gear. In general, we start vaccines around six weeks of age and then boost them every three weeks or so until the pet is over four months old. Animals who have not been vaccinated before, but are adults, will only need one booster for most vaccines. Bringing your pet in for his or her boosters ensures the best possible immunity. Vaccination schedules can vary slightly by veterinarian.

Pets on an adult vaccination schedule – Once your pet is on an adult vaccination schedule, he or she won’t need to come for shots so often. Most vaccinations are given on a yearly basis. Bordetella is recommended every six months. This is because the pet’s immune system may start to forget about the disease sooner with this vaccination.

Vaccines for pets are an invaluable tool that we can use to prevent serious disease in our four-legged friends. Our Union Lake Veterinary Hospital veterinarians are happy to discuss with you which vaccinations are necessary for your pet and when. Please never hesitate to let us know if you have questions or concerns.