Vaccines are one of the greatest medical discoveries – they fundamentally changed modern medicine. Starting with the smallpox vaccine in the 18th century, more than 20 vaccines have been developed for human health and more than 16 for companion animal health. Vaccines help protect pets (and people!) from the risk of serious and sometimes fatal diseases, such as rabies.
A vaccine is a preparation that helps the body’s immune system get ready to fight disease-causing organisms. If the immune system has “seen” an unfamiliar microbe (bacteria or virus) as part of a vaccine, it’s ready to produce antibodies if it “sees” or is exposed to the same microbe again. Antibodies are what help the body fight infection and protect it from getting the same illness again. Vaccinations are intended to reduce the severity of the illness, and/or prevent the disease entirely, by creating immunity.
Vaccines have improved the lives of dogs and cats around the world and played an important role in public safety. While veterinary vaccination programs have not yet eliminated diseases, vaccines for rabies, distemper, parvovirus, feline leukemia and panleukopenia have greatly reduced the incidence of disease, improving the lives of companion animals and reducing death caused by preventable disease.
The greatest achievement with the vaccination of companion animals is the reduction of canine distemper—a contagious, serious, and often fatal disease of dogs—in areas where vaccines are used. Another great achievement is the elimination rabies in people caused by dogs in Canada, the United States, western Europe, Japan, and 28 of the 35 Latin American countries.
Rabies, however, is still widespread in more than 150 countries around the world. Even though it’s preventable, it kills about 59,000 people each year. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths are caused by dog bites and about 40% of the victims are children younger than 15 years of age. United Against Rabies, a four-way partnership between the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, has set a goal to eliminate dog-mediated rabies by the year 2030.
The vaccines that are recommended for dogs and cats vary according to where they live and their lifestyle. Some vaccines are “core,” recommended for all dogs or cats, while others are recommended only in special circumstances.
Core vaccines for dogs:
- Canine distemper virus
- Canine adenovirus-2 (canine hepatitis)
- Canine parvovirus
- Rabies virus
Non-core vaccines for dogs in special circumstances:
- Bordetella bronchiseptica + canine parainfluenza virus (kennel cough)
- Borrelia burgdorferi or Lyme disease
- Canine influenza (H3N8 and H3N2)
Core vaccines for cats:
- Feline panleukopenia virus (FPL) (also known as feline infectious enteritis or feline distemper)
- Feline viral rhinotracheitis (also known as herpes virus-1 or FHV-1)
- Feline calicivirus
- Rabies virus (required by law in certain areas)
Non-core vaccines for cats in special circumstances:
- Chlamydophila felis
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
- Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) caused by FIP virus or feline coronavirus
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
While COVID-19 may have kept you and your pets cooped up for a few months, we are entering a “new norm” and it’s important that your pet’s immunizations are up to date to protect him/her against serious preventable diseases. Check your pet’s immunization records to see when he/she is due for vaccines and speak with your veterinarian about which vaccines your pet should receive. This month check to make sure that your pet is up to date with all his or her vaccines and book an appointment to protect your pets!