OVMA Logo

Q & A - Pet Vaccinations

  1. Are vaccinations really necessary?
    Yes. Vaccinations help protect your pet from a number of potentially serious and even fatal diseases, such as Rabies. Not only that, vaccinations cost considerably less than the treatments available for the diseases pets are normally vaccinated against. Every pet should be vaccinated - even indoor dogs and cats can be exposed to a rabid bat.
  2. How do vaccinations work?
    Vaccines contain viruses or bacteria that have been modified so that they will not cause disease. When an animal is vaccinated, it stimulates two parts of the animal's immune system. One is the production of antibodies, the other is the stimulation of cell mediated immunity, which, in combination, mount a response against the bacteria or virus in question. If the dog or cat is later exposed to that disease, the two parts of the immune system will react quickly to destroy the disease-causing agent.
  3. Why does my pet need regular booster vaccinations for the same disease?
    The protection provided by a vaccine gradually declines over time. Your pet needs regular "booster" vaccinations to ensure ongoing immunity from disease.
  4. Do I need to get my pet vaccinated every year?
    This is a topic which is currently under investigation within veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, the duration of immunity for each vaccine is not currently known.

    While pet owners can have blood tests done on their pets to assess the pet's antibody level, this does not test the level of immunity currently provided by the pet's cell mediated immune system. Until more is known about the duration of immunity, the frequency and type of vaccines administered will vary. Talk to your veterinarian about the risk of viral and bacterial diseases in your area, and the need for one, two or three year vaccines.

    When considering what is best for you pet, please remember that pets age faster than people. Pets can't talk, and because "survival of the fittest" meant that only the healthy and strong survived in the wild, animals will try to hide any evidence of illness as long as possible. This means that there may not be any outward signs that your pet is ill until the disease is quite advanced.

    That's why, in addition to having regular vaccinations, it is extremely important that your pet has an annual physical examination. By performing a yearly physical examination, your veterinarian can detect early signs of organ dysfunction and illness. With early diagnosis comes early treatment. Early treatment in turn leads to an increased life span and an improved quality of life for your pet.

  5. What diseases are vaccines available for?
    Vaccines available for dogs include:
    • Rabies
    • Distemper
    • Hepatitis
    • Parainfluenza
    • Parvo virus
    • Leptospirosis
    • Lyme Disease
    • Corona virus
    • Bordetella
    • Giardia
    Vaccines available for cats include:
    • Rabies
    • Panleukopenia
    • Feline calicivirus
    • Feline rhinotracheitis
    • Feline leukemia
    • Ringworm
    • Chlamydia
    • Feline infectious peritonitis
    • Bordatella
    • FIV
    • Giardia
    Speak with your veterinarian about which of these vaccines are necessary for your pet(s).
  6. Are vaccinations 100% safe and effective?
    Although your veterinarian cannot guarantee that a vaccine will fully protect an animal against a given disease, vaccinations have proven to be the simplest, safest and most effective means of preventing a number of diseases in pets.

    It is important to administer vaccines only to healthy animals. If the animal is already suffering from an illness, or is receiving certain drugs, its immune system may not be able to respond to the vaccine. For that reason, prior to vaccinating your pet, your veterinarian will ask you about your pet's medical history and perform a complete physical examination.

    Puppies and kittens require a series of vaccinations during their first four months of life. Nursing pups and kittens receive antibodies from their mother's milk (maternal antibodies) which protect them from disease during the first months of life. These same antibodies can prevent a vaccine from being totally effective. Consequently, as maternal antibodies decrease, your veterinarian will give your pet a series of vaccines spread over a period of 6 to 16 weeks of age, to provide your pet with the best possible protection.

    It is very important that you follow the vaccination schedule provided by your veterinarian. Missing a vaccine booster or being more than a few days late could put your pet at risk of contracting disease.

    Puppies and kittens should not be exposed to unvaccinated dogs and cats, sick dogs and cats, or places where dogs and cats roam (public parks etc.) until they have completed their puppy or kitten series of vaccinations.

    Despite your veterinarian's efforts to design a safe vaccination protocol for every pet, vaccine reactions can and do occur. Thankfully, they are not common. Like a drug, a vaccine is capable of causing an adverse reaction. Some of these reactions are mild (some discomfort at the injection site, lethargy or loss of appetite for a day or so). Some of these reactions are more severe (allergic reaction, immunologic reactions). If your pet has reacted to a vaccine in the past, inform your veterinarian.

  7. I've heard that some vaccinations cause cancer in cats. Is this true?
    Vaccination-induced sarcomas (a form of cancer) in cats are rare. They occur most commonly with Rabies and Feline Leukemia vaccinations. It is important for you and your veterinarian to decide if the risk of your cat being exposed to these diseases is greater than the potential risk of developing a vaccine-induced sarcoma. If the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risk of vaccination, then the vaccination should be given. If your cat develops a lump at the injection site, call your veterinarian.

Vaccinations for Dogs

Canine Distemper

Distemper is a serious viral disease affecting primarily young, unvaccinated dogs. Clinical signs may include a yellowish or greenish discharge from the eyes or nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, increased body temperature, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nervous system disorder (twitching of a limb, seizures, etc.), and hardening of the foot pads.

Distemper is a highly contagious disease. All body excretions and secretions (discharges from the eyes or nose, vomitus, diarrhea, urine) may carry the infection. The virus can also be carried by air currents, and on inanimate objects such as food bowls.

Prevention of this disease is extremely important, as distemper is often fatal. Even if a dog survives the disease, distemper can permanently damage the dog's nervous system, sense of smell, sight and sound. Vaccination has been shown to prevent the disease.

Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a serious disease affecting primarily young dogs (6 weeks to 6 months of age) although any age can be affected. The breeds at highest risk include the Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, and German Shepherd.

Parvovirus is a hardy virus, able to withstand extreme temperature changes, and exposure to most disinfectants. Dogs contract Parvovirus through exposure to infected dogs or infected stools.

Parvovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing affected dogs to lose their appetite, become lethargic and show evidence of vomiting, diarrhea or both. The diarrhea is often bloody and has a foul odour (that of digested blood). Some dogs develop fevers. Left untreated, Parvovirus can be fatal.

This disease is very serious and can be very expensive to treat. Vaccination against this highly contagious viral disease has proven to be very successful in preventing this disease (or lessening its severity).

Canine Kennel Cough

Clinical signs of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough and, in some dogs, nasal discharge, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing.

Kennel cough is highly contagious and is spread through sneezing, coughing and contact with infected nasal secretions. Kennel cough is most commonly transmitted when dogs are put in close proximity to one another, for example, at dog shows, in kennels, etc. In most cases, kennel cough lasts 7 to 10 days and dogs recover fully from it. In some cases, antibiotics are necessary.

If your dog is on the show circuit or spends time in a boarding facility, vaccination may be recommended. Speak to your veterinarian about your dog's risk of exposure and need for this vaccine.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a viral disease that is most common in young, unvaccinated dogs (9-12 weeks). Clinical signs may include respiratory tract abnormalities (discharge from the nose or eyes, coughing) or evidence of liver and/or kidney disease (jaundice, loss of appetite, vomiting, change in drinking and urinating behaviour). Occasionally, an affected dog develops a "blue eye" (corneal edema).

Hepatitis is spread by contact with urine from an infected dog. Prevention by vaccination is the key as canine hepatitis is often fatal. Infectious canine hepatitis is not contagious to people.

Giardia

Vaccination is considered optional by most veterinarians. Giardia is a parasite that can cause chronic gastrointestinal upset (primarily diarrhea) in dogs and cats. This parasite can spread to humans. The vaccine for Giardia is new. Ask your veterinarian about the incidence of this disease in your area, and whether you need to have your pet vaccinated against this disease.

Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of all warm blooded animals, including humans. Rabies is transmitted by saliva, which is usually transferred by a bite from an infected animal. The disease is frequently found in wild animals such as skunks, foxes, raccoons and bats.

Once infected, the disease is fatal. Prior to death, clinical signs may include a change in behaviour (e.g. increased aggressiveness or increased shyness), dilation of the pupils, excess salivation, snapping at the air, a shifting gait, and facial twitching.

As the virus can be transmitted to humans, no stray dog, cat or wild animal should ever be approached. Wild animals should never be kept as pets. Your pet should be kept on its own property or leashed when off its property. To help prevent raccoon rabies, it is recommended that you cap chimneys, close up any holes in attics or outbuildings, and make sure that stored garbage does not act as a food source.

Vaccination is important to safeguard your dog from rabies. Some veterinarians recommend vaccinating every year, while others recommend a three-year vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian about the degree of risk for Rabies in your area, and about which vaccine will provide your pet with the protection it requires.

Canine Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease that impairs kidney function and may cause kidney failure. Liver disease is also common. Clinical signs may include loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

There are a number of different types of leptospira that may cause the disease. Wild and domestic animals (cattle, pigs, dogs) may act as reservoirs for infection. The disease is transmitted by contact with the urine of infected animals. Stagnant or slow-moving water may provide a suitable habitat for the organism to thrive.

Canine Corona Virus

Canine corona virus infects one of the layers of the intestinal tract and may lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Infected dogs can shed the virus to other dogs. The overall prevalence of corona virus is thought to be low, and most infections are mild and self-limiting. Vaccination against this virus is available, but not all veterinarians recommend it. Speak to your veterinarian about your dog's risk for developing this viral disease.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) and spread by ticks. It is a serious disease in people. Clinical signs in dogs, if they occur, are thought to include lameness, joint swelling, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. The heart, brain and kidney may also be affected. Dogs do not generally show the classic red lesion that a human exhibits at the site of a tick bite.

The diagnosis of Lyme disease is not black and white. If the disease is suspected, your veterinarian may request a blood test to detect antibodies to Borrelia. If this test is positive and your dog has clinical signs suggestive of Lyme disease and a history of travel to a high risk area, antibiotics may be recommended.

Depending on your geographical location, your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease.  To assist in the prevention of Lyme disease, use flea and tick sprays, and remove any ticks from the animal promptly, if found. The risk of tick exposure can be reduced by keeping your dog on a leash, on trails, and out of woodlands and fields. Brushing the pet's coat as soon as the walk is complete is important.

Vaccinations for Cats

Feline Respiratory Disease (Feline rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, chlamydia and bordetella)

Feline rhinotracheitis (FVR) and feline calicivirus (FCV) are the two main causes of upper respiratory tract infections in cats. Although cats of any age can be infected, the young appear to be at greater risk. Clinical signs of infection include sneezing, nasal discharge and discharge from the eyes. Some cats with FVR cough, and some develop a severe eye condition called ulcerative keratitis. Cats with FCV can develop ulcers in the mouth, pneumonia, diarrhea and joint disease. Although most cats recover within 2 to 4 weeks, it is quite common for cats to become chronic carriers of these viruses, putting other cats at risk. Because these viruses are common in many areas, vaccination is highly recommended.

Chlamydia psittici is a parasite that is thought to be responsible for some upper respiratory tract infections in cats. It can lead to a severe form of lung disease if left untreated. Chlamydia more commonly causes a chronic conjunctivitis in cats. Outbreaks of Chlamydia are common when cats are housed together. Most veterinarians consider this an optional vaccination depending on your cat's risk of exposure.

Feline bordetella is similar to canine bordetella and can result in signs of upper respiratory tract disease in cats.  It can also cause a cat to cough.  Vaccination is considered optional.

Feline Panleukopenia

Feline panleukopenia is a hardy virus, able to survive up to a year in the environment. Clinical signs include fever, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. It most often occurs in unvaccinated 3 to 5 month old kittens. If the virus attacks an unborn fetus, it may cause early death or cerebellar hypoplasia ("spastic kitten"). Most older cats exposed to this virus do not show clinical signs. An infected cat may be infertile. A cat may also abort her litter if infected during pregnancy.

This virus is spread via contact with an infected kitten or by contaminated premises, food or water bowls. Most veterinarians consider vaccination for panleukopenia mandatory. Thanks to vaccination, this disease is now uncommon.

Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of all warm blooded animals, including humans. Rabies is transmitted by saliva, which is usually transferred by a bite from an infected animal. The virus can also be transmitted via air (bat caves) and tissue (corneal transplants). The disease is frequently found in wild animals such as skunks, foxes, raccoons and bats.

Once infected, the disease is fatal. Prior to death, clinical signs may include a change in behaviour (e.g. increased aggressiveness or increased shyness), dilation of the pupils, excess salivation, snapping at the air, a shifting gait, and facial twitching.

As the virus can be transmitted to humans, no stray dog, cat or any wild animal should ever be approached. Wild animals, including raccoons, should never be kept as pets. The family pet should be kept on its own property or be leashed when off its property. To help prevent raccoon rabies, it is recommended that you cap chimneys, close up any holes in attics or outbuildings, and make sure that stored garbage does not act as a food source.

Vaccination is important in safeguarding your cat from infection with this virus. Some veterinarians recommend vaccinating every year, while others recommend a three-year vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian about the degree of risk for Rabies in your area, and about which vaccination protocol will provide your pet with the protection it requires.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia virus is capable of causing a number of diseases in cats. Lymphoma (lymphosarcoma) is the most common form of cancer caused by this virus. Although a number of forms of this cancer are possible, the most common ones involve the intestines or the chest. Clinical signs may include vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss (if the intestines are involved) or breathing difficulties (if the chest is involved). Any organ in the body can be affected.

Feline leukemia virus can also cause anemia, and can make a cat more susceptible to other viral and bacterial diseases. Any cat with a history of fever of undetermined origin, or an illness that comes and goes, should be tested for this virus.

The incidence of FeLV is highest in multi-cat households (lots of contact between cats) as the virus is spread via saliva and other body secretions (tears, blood, urine). Cats that mutually groom, share food and water bowls, litter pans, etc. are at higher risk. "Social" outdoor cats that meet and greet other cats, mutually groom or fight are also at risk.

A blood test is available to test for infection with this virus. Not all "positive" cats will become sick with the disease. Some cats are able to mount a good immune response and overcome the virus. Others are not and will develop FeLV associated disease or cancer, usually within 3 years.

If your cat tests positive for FeLV, it is important that your cat not roam free, as the virus is highly contagious. Such a cat is prone to developing serious complications from other viral or bacterial diseases, so any time the cat does not appear well (has a fever, doesn't eat), you should see your veterinarian.

If a cat in your household dies of Feline Leukemia, the household should be thoroughly disinfected (especially the litter boxes, food and water bowls, bedding, toys). It is best to wait at least one month before introducing another cat to the household.

Many cats are at high risk for exposure to this virus. If you own more than one cat, if you have a cat that roams outdoors or is very sociable and likely to contact other cats, or if the background of your cat is unknown (adopted from the shelter, etc.) speak to your veterinarian about testing your cat's blood for this virus. Your veterinarian can help you assess the need for vaccinating your cat(s) against FeLV.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Feline infectious peritonitis is a Coronavirus. The disease is not common. It occurs most often in cats that are:

  • 6 months to 2 years of age and in those that are older than 11 years of age
  • in multi-cat households (especially catteries)
  • in cats that are infected with Feline Leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Viruses
  • in cats whose immune system is compromised

The virus is spread by contact with an infected cat (feces, saliva, blood, urine). Prolonged exposure to an infected cat is usually necessary for transmittal of the disease.

Clinical signs of FIP take time to develop. There are two forms of the disease. One, the wet form, results in fluid build-up in the abdomen or chest. The other, the dry form, results in granulomas (lumps of inflammatory tissue) in multiple organs of the body. Infected cats will often exhibit weight loss, fever and loss of appetite.

Although treatment is available to make infected cats more comfortable, the disease is inevitably fatal. An intranasal vaccine is available. Please speak to your veterinarian about your cat's risk of exposure and the need for a vaccination.

FIV

FIV is capable of causing a number of diseases in cats in a similar manner to FeLeuk virus.  It is most common in male and free-raoming cats.  Transmission is usually by a bite wound. 

Giardia

Vaccination is considered optional by most veterinarians. Giardia is a parasite that can cause chronic gastrointestinal upset (primarily diarrhea) in dogs and cats. This parasite can spread to humans. The vaccine for Giardia is new. Ask your veterinarian about the incidence of this disease in your area, and whether you need to have your pet vaccinated against this disease.

To learn more about pet vaccinations, talk to your veterinarian.