Vaccines Save Lives! Animal Health Week 2018

Animal Health Week September 30-October 6, 2018

An important aspect of health care for our cats and dogs is appropriate use of vaccinations to prevent potentially life threatening infectious disease. Tails of Help would like to remind pet owners about the importance of vaccinations. Available vaccines are highly effective against potentially lethal infections that can be acquired by our pets.

What are Vaccines?


Vaccines are substances designed to stimulate the immune system to provide immunity against disease. When pets are vaccinated appropriately most animals will be resistant to many of the diseases for which they are vaccinated. Some vaccinations do not result in complete resistance to the disease for which they were designed, but act to decrease the severity of the disease. Improper administration of vaccines can result in reduced effectiveness and can put pets at risk of developing disease.

Most of the currently available vaccinations are given under the skin. However some of the commonly used vaccinations designed for respiratory tract disease in dogs are given in the nose or mouth.

How does my veterinarian determine what my pet should be vaccinated against and how often?

Leading experts in the area of vaccination technology and infectious disease have developed vaccination guidelines for cats and dogs. These are updated every few years in response to changes in technology of the vaccinations available and ongoing research. The guidelines developed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association are both available online. These groups both provide recommendations for core vaccinations and non-core vaccinations. 

Core vaccinations are those diseases against which pets should be vaccinated, as the diseases are often widespread, cause serious illness, or are highly contagious. Other core vaccinations are for diseases such as rabies, which although not widespread, are considered “core” as these infections are fatal to the infected pet and can also cause fatal disease in exposed humans.


Non-core vaccines are those that a veterinarian may recommend depending on a pet’s individual risk of disease. For example, dogs that travel may be at risk for exposure to diseases that they may not have risk of acquiring locally. Therefore their vaccination program may differ from a pet that does not travel.

In developing a vaccination protocol with your veterinarian you should discuss your pet’s lifestyle i.e. kennelling, home environment, travel. This will help your veterinarian tailor a vaccination program for your pet. Recommendations may vary over the lifetime of your pet in response to lifestyle or health changes.

In general all cats and dogs should have an initial series of core vaccinations with boosters one year later. Depending on your pet’s lifestyle, additional vaccinations may initially be recommended. Frequency of administration of vaccinations will depend on the infectious agents that your pet is vaccinated against, local laws in the case of rabies, and the formulation of the vaccinations your veterinarian uses. Research is ongoing to more accurately determine the most appropriate frequency for vaccination of our pets.

Is it Safe to Vaccinate my Pet?

Extensive research has proven time and time again that the health benefits of vaccinations for serious diseases far outweigh the risks. Companies that have vaccines on the market are required by law to undergo rigorous safety trials to receive licensing before they can be used in pets.

Although they have undergone safety trials vaccines can still cause reactions in a small number of pets. These reactions are typically mild, resulting in mild fever, lethargy or a reduction in appetite. There is a risk of occasional more severe reactions like anaphylaxis. These more severe reactions typically happen shortly after vaccine administration. Cats have a very low chance of developing vaccine-associated tumours. As there is risk with any medical procedure, you and your veterinarian should have discussions to determine the best options for your pet.

As with any other medical decision, you and your veterinarian need to balance the risks versus the benefits of vaccination. These will include the risk that your pet will be exposed to and acquire the disease for which it is vaccinated, consequence of acquiring this disease, contagiousness of the disease, risk of disease to humans if contracted, versus any associated side effects of the vaccination itself.


Core Vaccines for Dogs


Vaccinations designed against this highly contagious virus are very effective. This virus causes disease in dogs of variable severity and can result in respiratory, digestive, and nervous system signs. In a significant number of dogs this disease is fatal. If dogs recover from this disease they may have permanent damage to their nervous systems and characteristic skin changes.


This disease is also highly contagious and the vaccination is very effective. The virus most commonly causes liver failure.  The core vaccination that is used is also effective against another strain of this virus that results in respiratory tract disease in dogs (“kennel cough)”.


Vaccination for this disease is also very effective. This virus causes severe diarrhea and vomiting in dogs leading to rapid dehydration. Another common complication is a decrease in white blood cells, predisposing the pet to life threatening bacterial infection.


This disease is almost invariably fatal. Both dogs and cats should be vaccinated because if infected this disease can also be transmitted to humans.  Vaccinations against this virus are very effective


Non-core Vaccines for Dogs

Non-core vaccines are available for infectious diseases to protect individual dogs deemed to be at risk. Discussions with your veterinarian will determine if and how often these vaccinations should be administered to your pet.

Some examples include:

Infectious components for respiratory disease complex aka “kennel cough”

The bacteria Bordatella, and Parainfluenza virus are some of the main targets. As noted above, vaccination against adenovirus will cross protect against the respiratory form of this virus.

Components of “kennel cough” are often delivered under the skin, in the mouth or nose. This vaccination does not always prevent disease but does decrease the severity and intensity of disease if acquired. Vaccinations typically are recommended prior to exposure to high-risk environments ie) kennelling, dog shows.


Pending where you live or travel vaccination for a bacterial organism Leptospira may be recommended. This disease can cause life threatening liver and/or kidney disease in dogs. This disease can also be transmitted to humans.

Lyme disease:

This disease is caused by a bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread by the bite of infected ticks. Discuss with your veterinarian if Lyme vaccination is recommended in your region and whether they feel there is benefit to administrating this vaccine to your pet. It must be noted that as ticks are the way in which this disease is spread, tick control is an important method to prevent infections.


Core Vaccines for Cats


Panleukopenia is similar to canine parvovirus and is potentially fatal, and similarly to parvovirus, the vaccination for feline panleukopenia is also very effective. Panleukopenia causes vomiting and diarrhea resulting in severe dehydration. Kittens are also predisposed to reduction in white blood cells making them vulnerable to bacterial infection.

Herpes virus

Herpes virus is widespread especially in environments with multiple cats. This disease is mainly spread by respiratory secretions. The most common signs are sneezing, nasal and ocular discharge. More severe eye disease such as ulcers or predisposition to pneumonia can result from this infection. Vaccines against this virus are not as effective in prevention of disease as some other vaccines, but do help increase resistance to infection and reduce severity of disease. Due to the fact this disease is so widespread it is considered a Core vaccine in cats.


Calicivirus is also widespread especially in environments with multiple cats. This disease is mainly spread by respiratory secretions. Like Herpes it can result in sneezing, nasal and ocular discharge, however these are typically not as severe as with Herpes. In addition to these signs, this infection can result in uncomfortable oral ulcers in affected cats. Less commonly it will result in joint pain in infected cats. Vaccines against this virus are not as effective in prevention of disease as some other vaccinations, but do help increase resistance to infection and reduce severity of disease. Due to the fact this disease is so widespread in cat environments it is considered a Core vaccine in cats.

This disease is almost invariably fatal. . Both dogs and cats should be vaccinated because if infected this disease can also be transmitted to humans.  Vaccinations against this virus are very effective

Non-core Vaccines for Cats

This vaccination is recommended as an initial component of the vaccination series in cats while owners may be unsure of the lifestyle their cat may live, i.e. time spent outdoors. After this initial vaccination it is recommended that owners consider administering booster vaccinations to cats that have increased risk of exposure to infected cats, i.e. they have an outdoor lifestyle in which they may be  exposed to cats of unknown viral status or if they live with an infected cat. This disease is fatal once infected; however cats may live with this disease for several years before succumbing to it. Infection can cause variable clinical signs as infection may result in development of tumours, immune suppression, and a myriad of blood disorders.