Pet Health 101
Pet owner handbooks
These handbooks contain the basic information you need to successfully integrate a new pet into your family, and ensure that it lives a happy and healthy life. Read about nutrition, exercise, vaccinations, spaying and neutering, common parasites and preventing dental disease.
Read our Dog Owner's Handbook or Cat Owner's Handbook.
Vaccinating your pet
Are vaccinations really necessary?
Yes. Vaccinations help protect your pet from a number of potentially serious and even fatal diseases, like 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.
How do vaccinations work?
Vaccines contain viruses or bacteria that have been modified so they can’t cause disease. The vaccine stimulates the animal's immune system. If your animal is later exposed to that disease, the immune system will react quickly to destroy the disease-causing agent.
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.
Do I need to get my pet vaccinated every year?
This topic is currently under investigation within veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, the duration of immunity for each vaccine is not currently known.
Owners can have blood tests (titers) done to test their pet's antibody level, but this doesn't test the level of immunity. 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 what type of vaccines are necessary for your pet.
When considering what's best for you pet, remember that pets age faster than people. Pets can't talk, so we need to be their voices. Animals will try to hide any evidence of illness as long as possible. This means there may not be any outward signs that your pet is ill until a health problem is advanced.
That's why annual physical examinations are extremely important. By performing an annual exam, your veterinarian can detect early signs of organ dysfunction and illness. With early diagnosis comes early treatment, and improved chances for a long and healthy life.
What diseases are vaccines available for?
Core canine vaccines:
- Rabies (required by law)
Non-core canine vaccines:
- Lyme Disease
- Influenza (H3N8 and H3N2)
Core feline vaccines:
- Rabies (required by law)
- Feline panleukopenia (FPV)
- Feline calicivirus (FCV)
- Feline leukemia (FeLV)
- Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1)
Non-core feline vaccines:
Speak with your veterinarian about which of these vaccines are necessary for your pet.
Are vaccinations 100 per cent safe and effective?
Although your veterinarian can't guarantee a vaccine will fully protect an animal, vaccinations are the simplest, safest and most effective means of preventing a number of diseases in pets.
It's 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, before vaccinating your pet, your veterinarian will ask you about the animal'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 that 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 over six to 16 weeks to give your pet the best possible protection.
It's 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 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 aren't common. 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, immune reactions). If your pet has reacted to a vaccine in the past, tell your veterinarian.
Is it true that some vaccinations cause cancer in cats?
Vaccines can cause cancer in cats, but it’s rare. It occurs most commonly with rabies and feline leukemia vaccinations. It's 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 your cat develops a lump at the injection site, call your veterinarian.
Spaying or neutering your pet
Canada is currently facing a cat overpopulation crisis. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies estimates that 600,000 cats in shelters failed to find new homes in 2011. They also found that only 44 per cent of cats that enter the shelter system are adopted.
By having your pet spayed or neutered, you'll help prevent the birth of unwanted puppies and kittens, while giving your pet other benefits.
Spaying and neutering are safe surgical operations that prevent animals from reproducing. Generally, these procedures don't require an overnight stay and can eliminate or significantly reduce the risk of numerous health problems, including reproductive cancers and infections. Sterilizing you pet can also improve some behavioural problems, such as territorial marking, destructiveness and roaming in search of a mate.
The safety of both male and female animals is dramatically increases if they're spayed or neutered.
Will neutering my cat make him fat and lazy?
Neutering could reduce an animal's activity level, but this doesn't have to lead to weight gain. A healthy diet and sufficient exercise can help your pet maintain a healthy weight.
Don't spaying and neutering interfere with nature?
Domesticated dogs and cats are completely dependent on humans. It's our responsibility as their guardians to make sure the number of pets born doesn't exceed the number of available homes.
What about small animals?
For health and behavioural reasons, spaying and neutering are also recommended for rabbits. Female ferrets should also be spayed. If they go into heat and don't mate, they can become anemic and die. Veterinarians recommend spaying and neutering guinea pigs but consider surgery unsafe for small rodents such as hamsters. Separating males from females is the best way to prevent small rodents from reproducing.
Should my female dog be allowed to have one litter?
There's no reason for a female dog to have even one litter. It won't make her a better companion and it will increase the likelihood that she will develop mammary cancer. Spaying a dog before she goes into heat even once greatly reduces the risk of her developing mammary cancer.
For more information about the importance of spaying or neutering your pet, contact your veterinarian.
High-volume spay/neuter clinics
High-volume spay and neuter clinics are designed to help address pet overpopulation by providing these surgeries to clients who can't otherwise afford them. These clinics are run by not-for-profit agencies and their costs are offset by donations, government grants and tax exemptions.
These clinics may offer limited preoperative testing and post-operative care, encouraging pet owners to obtain these services from their veterinarian instead.
Regardless of where you have your pet spayed or neutered, do some research to make sure you're comfortable with the level of care provided. If possible, get a tour of the facility, including the surgery room.
This type of surgery requires general anesthesia, so ask how it's done, how your pet will be monitored and how pain will be controlled after surgery.
Always make sure you're comfortable with the facility and the people who will be caring for your pet.