The Value of Vaccinations

I recently went on the hunt for evidence of the value of animal vaccinations. There is a lot of attention paid to human vaccinations, with both sides of the table arguing adamantly about the pros and the cons - and it made me curious if the same environment surrounded animal vaccinations. It turns out that the topic of animal vaccinations creates much less debate.  The majority of the animal health community supports the high value of vaccinating animals against the many deadly viruses and diseases that spread quickly and claim numerous lives.  The ASPCA perfectly summarizes the explanation of the risks associated with animal vaccines:

“Immunizations mildly stimulate an animal’s immune system in order to create protection from specific infectious diseases.  This stimulation can create mild symptoms, ranging from soreness at the injection site to fever and allergic reactions. Another less common side effect is the development of immune mediated disease following vaccination.

That said, it is important to realize that vaccines have saved countless lives, and play a vital role in the battle against canine infectious disease. Additionally, rabies vaccinations have saved the lives of countless dogs—and many humans as well.

As with any medical procedure, there is a small chance of side effects. In most cases, the risks are much smaller than the risks of disease itself.  But it is important to talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s medical history before he is vaccinated.” (16)

When a vaccination begins to show negative side-effects, the result is investigation and newer methods of administration (15).  The animal healthcare community has the agreed intention of helping animals avoid unnecessary suffering, and the risks shown to be associated with specific vaccinations certainly outweigh the risks associated with an un-vaccinated animal.

Discussing the necessary vaccinations for your animal with your veterinarian is a critical element to ensuring that your animal stays protected against avoidable pain and stress, and possibly death. However, a better understanding of what the available vaccinations are, and what they prevent, is also an important factor. I have gathered a brief overview of each of the viruses and diseases that are most common, or the most deadly. If you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of any of the topics, I encourage you to follow the links provided within my citations.


According to the Global Alliance for Rabies Control:
“Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted through the saliva or tissues from the nervous system from an infected mammal to another mammal. Rabies is a “zoonotic disease”, [meaning that it] can pass between species. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system causing severely distressing neurological symptoms before causing the victim to die. Rabies is the deadliest disease on earth with a 99.9% fatality rate.” (16)

In many states, animal licensing is contingent on the animal having received a Rabies vaccination.  For canines this means that, on the off-chance that they bite a human, they have the opportunity for a home quarantine, instead of quarantine in an animal control or veterinary facility. In Maricopa County, having a licensed animal can mean a reduced fee for the owner if the animal is ever picked up by Animal Control. Most importantly, having your animal vaccinated for Rabies can save their life since there is no cure for the virus once the symptoms appear. Any animal that may come into contact with a wild-animal, like an outdoor cat, or a dog that commonly spends unsupervised time outside, OR any animal that spends time with an animal that has come into contact with a wild-animal, is at risk for contracting Rabies.



“Canine Parainfluenza Virus (CPIV) is a highly contagious respiratory virus and is one of the most common pathogens of infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as canine cough.” (4)  Symptoms can include: dry or wet cough, fever, runny nose, etc.; however, some dogs will quickly develop a high fever and hemorrhagic pneumonia as a result of severe coughing and increased mucus production. Parainfluenza, Bordetella, Coronavirus and Adenovirus are all known as “causative” bacterial agents for “Kennel Cough”, so exposure to any of these agents can cause infection and symptoms that resemble a human cold or flu. Since the virus is airborne, unvaccinated dogs can easily catch it from spending time in closed environments with other animals, like boarding, the groomer, or a training class (14).

A combo vaccine, sometimes referred to as a “5-in-1”, includes the vaccine for Canine Parainfluenza, so the prevention of the virus is easy. This vaccination can protect your animal from the majority of those bacterial agents that lead to Kennel Cough and “create a localized immunity that greatly reduces the incidence of clinical signs and illness.” (12)  This vaccination can be received by puppies as early as three weeks by intranasal application (2).


BORDETELLA, aka “Kennel Cough”

Kennel Cough is the name given to any of the highly contagious upper respiratory infection that can occur in both cats and dogs.  Bordetella Bronchiseptica is a common bacteria that causes Kennel Cough.  These most common virus causing bacteria are vaccinated against with the “5-in-1” Combo vaccine.  Diagnosis of Kennel Cough, whether it is caused by Bordetella or Parainfluenza, isn’t necessarily deadly if treated early on; however, anyone who has experienced the symptoms of a cold or flu can attest to the misery that they bring, and if Bordetella is left completely untreated, the symptom of a suppressed immunity could lead to more severe secondary infections.


According to the American Veterinary Medical Association:
“Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can affect all dogs, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old are the most at risk.  The virus affects dogs' gastrointestinal tracts and is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated stool, environments, or people. The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can survive in the environment for long periods of time. Even trace amounts of stool containing parvovirus may infect other dogs that come into the infected environment.  It can be transmitted from place to place on the hair or feet of dogs or via contaminated cages, shoes, or other objects.” (5)

The bacteria that causes Parvovirus has proved to be nearly impossible to eliminate and likelihood of death after infection is high.  There is no treatment that eliminates the infection, only treatment of the symptoms, which include fever, lethargy, and severe vomiting and diarrhea often to the point of creating ulcers within the digestive tract (5).  If a dog is suspected of having Parvo, the best course is to get them to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible so that they can receive fluids and antibiotics, which will prevent any secondary bacterial infections.  Since the Parvovirus is so contagious and difficult to eliminate, the best prevention is vaccination, which can, and should, be administered starting at 6 weeks, with a booster every 3-4 weeks, until the recommended doses are reached (5).

Feline Parvovirus is an area that gets slightly confusing, as it is also commonly referred to as ‘Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE)’, ‘Feline Distemper’, and ‘Feline Panleukopenia’.  Feline Parvovirus possesses many of the same symptoms as Canine Parvovirus: vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy - and requires some of the same treatments: fluids and antibiotics. However, Parvo can not be transmitted across species, meaning that a dog cannot get Parvo from a cat, and vice versa.  Feline Parvo should be thought of as more of a cousin to Canine Parvo, rather than the same exact virus (there is even a Human Parvovirus that causes a rash in young children).

Since the different Parvoviruses are somewhat related, the diagnosis for infected Felines is tragically the same.  There is no cure, only treatment, and if medical attention is not paid immediately, the result is typically death. The best preventative against Feline Parvovirus is vaccination, ideally between two and six months of age (6).



The American Veterinary Medical Association explains Canine Distemper as:
“a highly contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. It is usually spread by the secretions from an infected animal’s cough or sneeze. The virus also infects wild canids (e.g. foxes, wolves, coyotes), raccoons, skunks, and ferrets, and these animals can be sources of infection for pet dogs.” (3)

Canine Distemper is another disease that currently has no cure. Animal healthcare providers can only treat the symptoms with fluids, which help to avoid dehydration, and antibiotics, which assist in avoiding any secondary infections.  The symptoms of Distemper start out similar to Kennel Cough, where the dog exhibits a high fever, lethargy, coughing and nasal discharge - at the same time, the virus is suppressing immunity and opening up the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract to secondary bacterial infections - while creating inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, which creates twitching of muscles, seizures, and a unique jaw movement that is referred to as “chewing gum fits” (1).

As with most viruses, puppies are the most susceptible to Distemper since their immunity has not yet fully developed. With the virus spreading via body fluid, any dog that shares a space or water dish with an infected animal is at risk for infection.  Again, the best prevention for Distemper is vaccination, with appropriately spaced boosters.  Vaccinations for both Parvo and Distemper often come in one vaccine, referred to as ‘Puppy DPV’ or Distemper/Parvo Combo’.


Feline Leukemia Virus is a retrovirus, which means that it can insert copies of its own genetic material into the genetic material that makes up the cell that it has infected.  The initial stage of infection provides an opportunity for the infected cat to build an effective immune response, causing the elimination of the virus from the bloodstream; however, in most cases, the infection reaches the second stage, in which it inserts itself into the bone marrow and other tissue via bloodstream, and remains present in the cat for the entirety of their life (11). Early on, the infected cat may not show any signs of illness, yet at some point they will begin to show symptoms related to a suppressed immunity: loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, persistent diarrhea, and most commonly, a resulting form of sarcoma.

Kittens are susceptible to FLV because of their young immune system, so it is important to prevent the virus with vaccination as soon as your veterinarian will allow it. Additionally, keeping your cat indoors, and away from potentially infected cats (like feral neighborhood cats) can keep them from coming into contact with the virus via bites or exchange of body fluids (11).


PetMd describes FIV as:
“a complex retrovirus that causes immunodeficiency disease in domestic cats.  Immunodeficiency is the medical term used to describe the body’s inability to develop a normal immune response.  FIV is slow moving, capable of lying dormant in the body before causing symptoms (lentivirus).” (10)

FIV is commonly transmitted through deep bite wounds inflicted during aggressive fighting, and kittens can become infected while in the uterus of their FIV infected mother, or by ingesting her milk. However, kittens may test positive for FIV simply because they carry the FIV antibodies that their mother passed to them, and end up testing negative for FIV after six months of age because the antibodies have left their blood.  If a cat over six-months-old has tested positive, then FIV infection has occurred, and the cat is capable of passing FIV to other cats (9).  Fortunately, the infection isn’t likely to show symptoms for several years after the initial infection. However, at some point the cat’s immunity will deteriorate, and they will begin to show signs of secondary respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, at which time, immediate medical attention is recommended (8).

There is no cure for FIV, only preventative measures, which include early vaccination and preventing your cat from mixing with feral neighborhood cats. Cats that have tested positive for FIV can very easily pass the virus during fighting, and sometimes, sexual intercourse - and are very likely to pick up a secondary infections while roaming.  Since the virus suppresses immunity, infected cats will have an extremely difficult time recovering from secondary infections and parasites, thus, significantly shortening their life. “FIV-positive cats can live normal lives both in quality and duration. They do take special care in terms of monitoring them for signs of infections and they do have a tendency to have bad dental disease.” (7)  FIV-positive cats can live a long life if they are provided with a nutritious diet, kept indoors, and given adequate veterinary attention.

These are just some of the common viruses and bacteria that most veterinarians insist on vaccinating against in order to maintain a healthy pet.  Depending on what type of environment your pet originally came from, what type of environment they have spent a significant amount of time in since birth, or what environment you have planned for them to visit in the future, your veterinarian might recommend additional vaccinations for

There are many animal-health programs and veterinarians in the valley that provide vaccinations at a discount. Additionally, vaccination packages are often available for puppies or kittens that are experiencing vaccination for the first time.  These early vaccinations can save your pet from experiencing the unnecessary pain and suffering that result from the viruses listed in this article, and save you from a future of expensive medical bills.  The negative side-effects, or risks, of vaccination have proven to be minimal when compared to the benefits of saving your pet from illness. The resounding opinion appears to be that the pros of animal vaccination have a clear win over the cons.

If your pet has not received vaccinations, I encourage you to speak with your veterinarian about your pet’s health and possible vaccine options. Veterinarian Brenda Griffin recommends, “Pet owners should consult their veterinarian regarding a tailored approach to vaccination that meets the needs of their pets given their lifestyle and individual risk assessment.“ (13)  Also, please check out my citations page to find additional information regarding what viruses and diseases are out there preying on unvaccinated animals. Your pet’s health matters, and it is your responsibility to help them live long and happy lives!



(1) “An Overview of Canine Distemper”. (2007). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Baker Institute for Animal Health. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(2) “Bordetella Vaccine For Dogs And Cats”. (26 March 2014) VetStreet. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(3) “Canine Distemper”. (2015). American Veterinary Medical Association. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(4) “Canine Parainfluenza”. (2015) Merck Animal Health. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(5) “Canine Parvovirus”. (2015). American Veterinary Medical Association. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(6) “Distemper in Cats’. (2015). PetMD. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(7) “FAQ’s About Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)”. (2015). Best Friends Animal Society. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(8) “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.” (2015). Cornell Feline Health Center. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(9) “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). (2015). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(10) “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (FIV) In Cats”. (2015). PetMD. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(11) “Feline Leukemia Virus”. (2014). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(12) Foster & Smith. “Kennel Cough (Infectious Tracheobronchitis) in Dogs”. (2015). (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(13) Griffin, DVM, Brenda,. “A Vaccination Education”. (2014). Animal Sheltering, May/June 2014. (Accessed 19 May 2015).
(14) “Kennel Cough”. (2015). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(15) Ramey, D..”Animal Vaccinations”. 11 Jan 2009. Science-Based Medicine. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(16) “Vaccinations”. (2015). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(17) “What is Rabies?” (2015). The Global Alliance for Rabies Control. (Accessed 20 May 2015).