With good care, a pet’s life expectancy typically ranges from 3-15 years — with some birds and reptiles surviving for more than 50 years. During that time, there will be lots of opportunities for your pet to get sick. However — just as an up-to-date shot record protects you — routine care and proper vaccinations can keep your pet healthy.
Required and Recommended Vaccinations
Vaccinations build pets’ immune systems to prevent infections and fight diseases. Depending on your pet’s lifestyle, your veterinarian can customize a care schedule that is most appropriate for your dog or cat. For example, a pet that spends a great deal of time outdoors or with other animals may require different vaccine treatments than those that are home-bound.
Below are diseases that can be prevented by a few core vaccinations that are recommended, and in some cases required, for your dog or cat. For other animals and additional care recommendations, please consult with your veterinarian:
- Rabies (dogs and cats) – Transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, rabies attacks the nervous system of mammals (including dogs, cats and humans). In Missouri, skunks and bats are the primary carriers of this disease. Symptoms include excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, animals that show unusual behaviors and seizures. If left untreated, the animal will die. St. Charles County Animal Ordinances requires an annual rabies vaccination and identification tag for all dogs and cats.
- Distemper (dogs) – This contagious disease, for which there is no cure, attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Symptoms include discharges from the eyes and nose, fever, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and often death. Animals can continue to spread the virus for months after infection. In addition to dogs, raccoons can transmit this disease.
- Parvovirus (dogs) – A highly contagious virus, for which there is no cure, parvo can kill a dog within a few days after infection. Attacking the gastrointestinal system, symptoms include dehydration, loss of appetite, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and fever.
- Canine hepatitis (dogs) – Affecting the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs and eyes, canine hepatitis is highly contagious. Symptoms include fever, congestion, vomiting, jaundice, swollen stomach and pain near the liver.
- Panleukopenia (feline distemper) (cats) – Most commonly attacking kittens, this virus infects growing cells in the bone marrow and lymph nodes to prevent growth of white and red blood cells. Symptoms can include lethargy, loss of appetite, high fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea, nasal discharge, dehydration and death.
- Feline herpes virus/Feline calci virus (cats) – These contagious respiratory illnesses are common in multi-cat homes, shelters and breeding facilities. Symptoms include loss of appetite, eye and nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, fever and lethargy.
Vaccination and Treatment Side Effects
Although vaccinations protect animals against infectious disease, pet owners should be aware that all procedures carry some risk. Check with your veterinarian about any potential side effects or adverse reactions associated with a prescribed treatment and monitor your pet in the hours and days after your visit.
Other health concerns may be discussed with your veterinarian to accommodate your pet’s lifestyle. In many cases, additional vaccinations may be encouraged if your dog or cat spends time outdoors, at a boarder or interacts with wildlife. These concerns include:
- Bordetella (Kennel Cough) – This bacterium causes symptoms that include severe coughing and whooping, and vomiting. In severe cases, death is a result.
- Leptospirosis – This bacterium is found in contaminated soil or water. Symptoms do not always show, but could include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal and muscle pain, loss of appetite and weakness.
- Feline Leukemia Virus (cats) – Spread from cat to cat through saliva, blood or urine, the disease is among the leading causes of death for felines. Symptoms include pale gums, enlarged lymph nodes, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, diarrhea and difficulty breathing.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (cats) - Spread through the bite from another infected cat, this virus attacks the immune system and leaves the animal vulnerable to many other infections. Symptoms include poor coat condition, fever, loss of appetite, inflammation of the gums or mouth, persistent diarrhea and chronic infections of the skin, eyes, bladder and respiratory tract.
- Canine Influenza (dogs) – A highly contagious respiratory disease spread dog-to-dog, canine influenza was brought to the attention of American pet owners after a 2015 outbreak in the Midwest. Symptoms include a persistent cough, lethargic behavior, fever and reduced appetite. The virus is commonly spread in areas where dogs congregate, including dog parks, boarding or grooming facilities and other common meeting places. The spread can be prevented through annual vaccination and routine cleaning.
- Harmful Algal Blooms - When an excessive growth of algae takes over a creek, pond, lake or other slow-moving waterways, it can reduce the oxygen level in the water, cause the death of large numbers of fish, shellfish and plants that live within the water system, and become harmful to people, pets, and livestock that enter or drink the water. Symptoms in animals typically begin soon after exposure and include: drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty standing or breathing, and convulsions. Heavy exposure can cause the death of the animal. If you suspect exposure to pets or livestock, contact your veterinarian.