August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), observed annually to highlight the importance of routine vaccinations for people and their pets. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals and the humans who care for them. Routine vaccinations and regularly scheduled immunization boosters not only protect your pet from highly contagious and deadly diseases but also protect you, your family, and your community’s health and well-being.

Here are five fundamental reasons to keep your pets up-to-date on their vaccinations.

  1. Vaccination prevents or lessens the severity of many illnesses in pets. Vaccines stimulate the immune system to recognize and fight a particular pathogen or disease-causing microorganism, such as a virus or bacteria. Vaccines contain antigens. These antigens do not cause the disease but trick the immune system into responding as if they could. The rehearsal of the immune response primes the immune system, preparing it to fight off entirely or reduce the severity of illness in the case of a possible future infection. In an interview with WebMD, Kate Creevy, DMV, a specialist in small animal internal medicine at the University of Georgia, noted a myriad of major diseases for dogs and cats that can be avoided or diminished through vaccination. According to Dr. Creevy, dogs most commonly benefit from vaccinations for parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, Bordetella, and rabies. Vaccines for panleukopenia (aka feline distemper), feline leukemia virus, herpes virus, calicivirus, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and rabies provide similar protections for cats. While not all these illnesses are fatal or transmissible to humans, they are widely considered some of the most common and dangerous for our pets. Working with your veterinarian to determine which vaccines are appropriate for your pet and an effective immunization schedule will help keep your dog or cat healthy, happy, and by your side.
  2. Vaccinations can help avoid or lessen costly veterinary treatment for preventable diseases. Veterinary care can be one of the most expensive facets of animal ownership. Vaccination is a prime example of the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The monetary cost of routinely vaccinating your pet is small compared to the price tag for treatment should your four-legged friend contract the actual illness. Beyond the financial burden, vaccination can help you avoid or lessen the physical and emotional toll of illness and treatment on you and your pet. And, at the extreme, it can help you avoid the possible loss of your pet, a devastating price to pay for a preventable illness.
  3. Unvaccinated pets are at greater risk of contracting diseases prevalent in wildlife. Even if you and your pup are not avid hikers, or you have an indoor cat, there is always a possibility that your animal will encounter wildlife during their daily bathroom breaks or if they happen to slip out of the house. Some of the most common diseases carried by wildlife and passed to our pets include rabies, distemper, and a wide array of tickborne illnesses. Diseases vary and can be passed through scratches, bites, the ingestion of feces, or simple skin to skin contact with a living or deceased infected animal. Any contact with an infected animal or insect could mean serious trouble for your pet and any other animal or human members of your household. Your best method of protection is vaccination.
  4. Vaccinations prevent disease from passing between animals and from animals to people. Perhaps one of the greatest reasons to vaccinate your pet is that vaccination doesn’t just protect your cat or dog but anyone (animal or human) with whom your pet may come in contact. Up until the 1960s, the majority of animal rabies cases in the US were found in domestic dogs, and more than 100 people died annually from the disease. In the years since, cases of human rabies have become relatively rare here in the US, only 1-3 reported annually, and the vast majority of those cases are contracted from wildlife here in the US or domesticated animals during visits to other countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) credits much of the decline in human rabies cases and deaths to animal control and vaccination programs. Rabies is just one example of the successful mitigation of a dangerous disease through vaccination. Recent surges in canine parvovirus and Bordetella throughout many states, as well as a mild uptick in rabies cases during the pandemic, indicate the continued need for routine vaccinations to protect our pets and any animals or people they encounter.
  5. Many local or state ordinances require certain vaccinations for household pets. For many of the reasons listed above, a number of states and towns throughout the US have laws in place requiring certain vaccinations for companion animals. Massachusetts state law requires all dogs, cats, and ferrets to stay up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations; failure to do so could result in a monetary fine. Further, Massachusetts state ordinances prohibit unvaccinated pets from admission to animal hospitals, veterinary offices, and boarding facilities unless or until the owner can show proof of current rabies vaccination. Local dog parks and outdoor dining facilities that allow dogs also often require all canine visitors to be fully vaccinated.

Advances in veterinary medical science have increased the number of vaccines available for household pets. There are two general categories of vaccines for companion animals — core vaccines and non-core or lifestyle vaccines. Core vaccines are universally recommended and considered essential for all pets based on risk of exposure, severity of disease, or transmissibility to humans. Non-core vaccines are administered more selectively and in consideration of the animal’s environment and lifestyle. Talk to your vet today about what vaccines are appropriate for your four-legged family member and how best to protect them, yourselves, and your community from the spread of disease.