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Pet Vaccines 101: Why Vaccinate Your Pets?

Pet Vaccines 101: Why Vaccinate Your Pets?

Vaccinating your pet is essential to keeping them protected from deadly and contagious diseases. While our Brentwood vets recommend core vaccinations for all dogs and cats, lifestyle vaccines are only given if needed. Learn more here.

The Importance of Vaccinating Your Pet

As with the vaccinations that have been designed for people, pet vaccines protect your companion animal against a variety of serious conditions that could threaten the overall health or longevity of your pet.

While it might not seem overly important to keep your dog or cat's vaccinations up to date, especially if money is tight, we highly recommend keeping them up-to-date. Your pet's shots are likely to cost far less than treatment for the particular illnesses vaccines protect against.

How Pet Vaccines Work

Vaccines help your pet develop antibodies to build immunity against the contagious or deadly disease it is intended to protect against. Once your dog or cat has been vaccinated, the body gets a disease-enabling organism to stimulate the immune system and tell the body how it should fight those diseases in the future. 

Although pet vaccines aren't 100% effective, they can help your pet fight off illnesses or recover much more quickly if they do become infected.

Not All Pets Need All Vaccines

Just because a vaccination is available does not necessarily mean that it is required for your pet. Speak to your vet about your pet's lifestyle in order to find out which vaccines are best for your dog or cat. 

There are numerous factors that contribute to your pet's need for certain vaccinations including their lifestyle and the location you live in. The rabies vaccines for pets over 6 months of age are required by law in most places across the US and Canada. This vaccination must be kept up to date and a certificate will be provided to pet owners once their dog or cat has been vaccinated. 

Why Should I Vaccinate My Pet?

By proactively vaccinating your pet and keeping your pet up-to-date on their booster shots, you can preserve and protect your pet's health from dangerous, deadly diseases. 

Many vaccinations are mandated across the United States, such as rabies for both dogs and cats. Residents require vaccination records in many areas to obtain a pet license.

If you travel with your pet, stay in pet-friendly hotels, go to dog parks or have your pet groomed, vaccinations may be required and can prevent your furry friend from contracting contagious diseases from other animals, in addition to inadvertently spreading infection. This is also true for pet-sitting services, doggy daycares and other businesses. 


Even if your dog is always on a leash when they are outside of your home there is still a risk of contracting a disease or illness. Many bacteria and viruses can live for long periods of time on surfaces, so without even coming nose to nose with another dog, your pet could contract a serious disease. Other conditions are airborne and are easily contracted by pets who encounter infected dogs while out walking.


While it may seem obvious that outdoor cats face an increased risk of contracting serious diseases, it can be easy to dismiss your indoor cat's need for vaccines. It only takes a second for your feline friend to escape out of an open window or door. Many cat viruses can linger on the ground or on surfaces for long periods of time. Meaning that even if you get your escaped kitty back into the house quickly, there is still a risk of exposure. Not only could your cat escape, but it is also possible for a wild animal to sneak into your house and pose a risk to your cat's health and your own.

Core Vaccines for Pets

These types of vaccines are recommended for all cats and dogs living in the United States, core vaccines are designed to help protect your pet by preventing diseases that are commonly found in your area. These diseases are spread easily between animals (and in some cases, from animals to people) and have a high fatality rate. 

Core Vaccinations for Cats

  • Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper or Feline Parvo)

    Panleukopenia is an extremely contagious viral disease that is closely related to the canine parvovirus. Caused by the feline parvovirus this disease is life-threatening to cats. This virus attacks the rapidly dividing blood cells in the body, including the cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, skin or developing fetus. Panleukopenia is spread through the urine, stool, and nasal secretions of infected cats, or from the fleas of an infected cat.

  • Feline Calicivirus

    Feline calicivirus is a common respiratory disease in cats and kittens. This illness attacks the cat's respiratory tract including the nasal passages and lungs, as well as the mouth, intestines and the cat's musculoskeletal system. This illness is highly contagious in unvaccinated cats and is often found in multi-cat homes or shelters. This respiratory illness can be very difficult to get rid of once it has been contracted, and vaccinating your cat against feline calicivirus is strongly recommended.

  • Feline Herpesvirus Type I (Rhinotracheitis)

    Feline Herpesvirus (also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis -FVR) is a major cause of upper respiratory disease in cats, as well as inflammation of the tissues surrounding the cat's eyes. Once a cat has been infected with FVR it becomes a carrier of the virus. While most carriers will remain latent for long periods of time, stress and illness may cause the virus to become reactivated and infectious.

  • Rabies

    Rabies is typically transmitted through a bite from the infected animal and is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted to people from their pets. The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and will gradually infect the entire nervous system of the animal or person causing death. In many states, including New York, rabies shots are mandatory for dogs, cats and ferrets, without exception.

Core Vaccinations for Dogs

  • Canine Parvovirus

    Canine parvovirus is an extremely contagious viral disease that can be life-threatening. Parvovirus can be transmitted by any person, animal or object that comes in contact with an infected dog’s feces. Dogs that are not vaccinated are at risk of contracting the virus. Vaccinating your puppy or dog against parvovirus could save their life.

  • Distemper

    Canine distemper is a virus that affects a dog’s respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system, as well as the conjunctival membranes of the eyes. Distemper is spread through contact with the fresh urine of an infected animal. This virus can travel to the brain, causing seizures, shaking and trembling. Protect your dog against distemper by having them vaccinated.

  • Canine Hepatitis

    Dogs suffering from canine hepatitis experience swelling and cell damage in the liver, which may result in hemorrhage and death. This virus is spread through contact with the feces and urine of infected dogs. Simply by having your dog vaccinated, you can protect your dog against canine hepatitis.

  • Rabies

    Rabies is typically transmitted through a bite from the infected animal and is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted to people from their pets. The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and will gradually infect the entire nervous system of the animal or person causing death.

    In many states, including New York, rabies shots are mandatory for dogs, cats and ferrets, without exception.

Lifestyle Vaccinations 

Lifestyle vaccines can protect your dog or cat against diseases that they may be exposed to depending on their particular lifestyle. For example, dogs who spend time with other dogs in doggie daycares or cats that spend a great deal of time outdoors. The following are lifestyle vaccines that you may want to consider for your four-legged friend.

Lifestyle Vaccines for Cats:

  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

    Feline leukemia is spread by saliva and can be transmitted from cat to cat through mutual grooming, bite wounds, mother's milk to kittens or through shared litter box use.

    This disease is the leading viral killer of cats and kittens. While it can hide undetected for long periods of time it weakens the cat's immune system, increases their susceptibility to other diseases, and is the most common cause of cancer in cats.

    Kittens are at high risk for contracting this disease and should be vaccinated against Feline leukemia starting at 9 - 12 weeks of age. This vaccine requires booster shots to maintain its effectiveness. Cats that live in multi-cat households, or that spend time outdoors should be regularly vaccinated against this disease.

  • Chlamydia (Chlamydophila felis)

    Chlamydia can cause respiratory disease and conjunctivitis (eye infection) in cats and is easily spread between cats that are in close contact with each other. We recommend that all cats living in catteries, breeders and shelters be vaccinated against this illness. Speak to your vet to learn whether your cat is susceptible to this condition.

Lifestyle Vaccines for Dogs:

  • Bordetella (Kennel Cough)

    Bordetella bronchoseptica is the bacteria that can lead to the respiratory disease known as “kennel cough.” This respiratory illness earned the name kennel cough because it is easily transmitted when dogs share indoor space, such as kennels. That said, dogs that attend dog parks or doggie daycares may also be at risk of contracting this disease. As with the human flu vaccine, the bordetella vaccination will not prevent your dog from getting sick, but it will help to decrease the severity and length of symptoms. Speak to your vet about the Bordatella vaccine if your dog spends time with other dogs.

  • Leptospirosis

    Leptospirosis is a bacteria that is spread in water contaminated with urine from infected wildlife. While most cases of leptospirosis are mild and easily treated with antibiotics, some dogs get very sick and may even suffer kidney failure. Leptospirosis can also be transmitted from animals to people in some cases. If your dog is fond of drinking from puddles, ponds or rivers in your neighborhood, speak to your vet about vaccinating your canine companion against leptospirosis.

  • Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)

    Symptoms of the dog flu often begin as kennel cough then become increasingly more severe, and in some cases require hospitalization. There are two strains of dog flu that are widely spread throughout the country. Speak to your vet to find out if this vaccination is right for your pooch. If your dog spends time with other dogs in daycares, kennels or dog parks you may wish to vaccinate them against dog flu. Short-faced dogs with an increased risk of respiratory illness should also be vaccinated against this condition.

  • Lyme Disease (Borrelia burgdorferi)

    In some regions of the US, the Lyme vaccine is considered a core vaccine because of the high prevalence of the disease in that area. If you live in an area where the black-legged tick (deer tick) is present in large numbers, our vets may suggest tick preventive medications be given to your dog year-round, and the Lyme disease vaccination be given to pets who spend time in wooded areas, parks, or farmlands. Speak to your vet to learn whether the Lyme disease vaccine is right for your dog.

Booster Shots

Depending on which vaccine your adult dog or cat has received, their booster shots will be required either annually or every three years. Your vet will tell you when your pet should be brought back for booster shots. Booster shots are essential for maintaining your pet's immunity.

Vaccine Protection

It's important to note that your puppy or kitten will not be fully protected by their vaccines until they’ve received all of their vaccinations - when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old. After your vet has administered all of their initial vaccinations, your young pet will be protected against the conditions or diseases covered by the vaccines.

We recommend keeping your puppy or kitten in restricted to low-risk areas (such as your own backyard) if you plan to allow them outdoors before they have been fully vaccinated against the diseases listed above.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your pet due for vaccinations or booster shots? Contact our Brentwood vets today to book an appointment for your pet.

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Brentwood Veterinary Clinic is happily welcoming new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Brentwood pets. Get in touch today to book your cat or dog's first appointment.

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