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Health eTips is produced by the staff of the St. Charles County Department of Public Health. The department consists of three divisions - Environmental Health and Protection, Health Services and Humane Services - that provide a wide range of services focused on enhancing the well-being of this community.

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Oct 11

Pet Vaccinations

Posted on October 11, 2017 at 11:25 AM by Doug Bolnick


Photo of a female veterinarian giving a shot to a small dog, with its owners helping hold the animal

Just as an up-to-date shot record protects you and your family from illness, regular vaccinations keep your pet healthy as well. Vaccines help build a pet’s immune system to prevent infections and fight diseases. Follow the recommendations of your veterinarian, but most pets begin their vaccination schedule as puppies or kittens around six weeks of age. Annual boosters to those shots will extend the protection as the animal grows.

Reasons to Vaccinate Your Pet
  • Prevent common and contagious illnesses.
  • Proactive care is more effective and less costly than treating preventable illnesses.
  • Protect your pet against illnesses that are spread from other animals.
  • Protect you and your family against illnesses that are spread from animals to humans.
  • It's required by ordinance in many areas (including St. Charles County)

Recommended Vaccinations
Depending upon your pet’s lifestyle, your veterinarian will customize a care schedule that is most appropriate for your dog or cat. For example, a pet that spends more time outside or with other animals will require different vaccine treatments than those that are home-bound. However, there are a few “core” vaccinations recommended, and in some cases required, including:
  • Rabies (affects dogs and cats) – Transmitted through a bite from an infected animal, rabies attacks the nervous system of mammals (including dogs, cats and humans). In Missouri, skunks and bats are 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 Ordinance requires an annual rabies vaccination and identification tag for all dogs and cats.
  • Distemper (affects 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 (affects 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 (affects 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 aka feline distemper (affects 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 (affects 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.

Other vaccinations are considered “non-core,” and may be recommended by your veterinarian to accommodate your pet’s lifestyle. These may be encouraged if your dog or cat spends time outdoors, at a boarder or interacts with wildlife. These non-core vaccinations include:
  • Bordetella (affects dogs and cats) – This bacterium causes kennel cough, with symptoms that include severe coughing and whooping, and vomiting. In severe cases, death is a result.
  • Leptospirosis (affects dogs) – 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 (affects 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 (affects 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.
In addition to preventative vaccinations, owners should consult with their veterinarian regarding other medications and care suggestions to maintain their pet's health.

Although vaccinations do protect animals against infectious diseases, pet owners should be aware that all procedures carry some risk. Check with your veterinarian about any potential side effects or adverse reactions that may occur. One concern is an allergic reaction to the shot, so owners should monitor their pets in the hours and days following the visit. Milder reactions can include discomfort at the vaccination site, fever and decreased appetite; while more serious concerns that warrant veterinary care can be vomiting or diarrhea, itchy bumps on the skin, swelling around the face, severe coughing, difficulty breathing and collapsing.

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