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Healthy Pets

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Pet Vaccinations: Understanding Vaccinations for Your Cat or Dog

WebMD discusses pet vaccinations, including why pets need them, vaccination reactions, and more.

Is there consensus about the major diseases pets face?

Yes, Creevy says. For dogs, they are:

  • parvovirus, a life-threatening illness that causes vomiting, diarrhea, and white blood cell destruction
  • distemper, also a life-threatening illness that causes vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, and seizures
  • adenovirus, a life-threatening illness that causes hepatitis
  • eptospirosis, which causes kidney and liver failure
  • parainfluenza and Bordetella, which cause kennel cough and are highly contagious, with generally non-life-threatening symptoms that include coughing and runny nose
  • rabies, a fatal central nervous system disease that can spread to owners. There is no cure for rabies and pets diagnosed with it are euthanized.

Major diseases for cats include:

  • panleukopenia (also known as feline distemper), which is life threatening, causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and low white blood cell count
  • feline leukemia virus, causing chronic immune suppression that can lead to cancer
  • herpesvirus and calicivirus which are both highly contagious but rarely life threatening, causing runny eyes, runny nose, fever, and malaise
  • eline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a retroviral disease that causes chronic immune suppression

Cats infected with FIV may appear normal for years. But eventually FIV will hinder their ability to fight off other infectious diseases.

But does the fact pets might be susceptible mean they need vaccination?

No, says Schultz. “Lifestyle and location play important roles. If your dog lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building, it wouldn’t have to worry about kennel cough, unless it is kenneled or taken out to be around other dogs. And your dog won’t get Lyme disease in many areas of the country. Ask your vet.”

Leptospira is a life-threatening bacterial infection. Disease outbreaks are usually caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of infected animals, including rats, cattle, pigs, horses, and deer. “If your dog doesn’t go hunting, or if it’s not around other animals, there’s no need [for it to be vaccinated," Schultz says. Also, this vaccine causes more adverse reactions than many others, so it's important to weigh the risk versus benefit when deciding if you pet needs it.

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