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The Role of Vaccination in Public Health: Protecting Your Pet and Community

In today's world, vaccinations are crucial for public health. They protect individuals from diseases and are vital for community well-being. In this article, our veterinarians in New York discuss topics like herd immunity, the role of pet owners in keeping pets and people safe from deadly diseases, and the benefits of high vaccination rates.

Why Pet Vaccinations Are Important

Just like people receive vaccines to prevent certain illnesses, we can safeguard our four-legged friends by having our cats and dogs vaccinated.

Vaccines defend against numerous severe conditions that could jeopardize your pet's overall health and lifespan.

We understand the financial constraints some pet owners may face. While getting your cat or dog vaccinated might appear to be an unnecessary expense initially, pet vaccines are likely much more cost-effective than treating the illnesses they prevent.

How Pet Vaccines Work

Vaccines provide your pet with defensive antibodies, activating their body to develop immunity against serious, highly contagious diseases. Once your dog or cat receives a vaccination, an organism that enables the disease stimulates their immune system and instructs the body on how to combat these diseases in the future.

Although animal vaccines do not guarantee 100% effectiveness, they can assist your pet in warding off illnesses or recovering much faster if they become infected.

What is Herd Immunity?

Herd immunity safeguards unvaccinated or non-immune animals in the herd by halting the movement of a pathogen through the herd.

To achieve this, you must ensure many animals within the herd are immunized. While herd immunity is commonly associated with human vaccinations, pet vaccinations hold equal importance.

It describes a scenario where a substantial portion of the population gains immunity to a specific disease through vaccination or prior exposure. 

When a sufficient number of individuals possess immunity, the disease is less likely to propagate within the community. This protective shield benefits vaccinated individuals and extends its safeguard to vulnerable ones, such as puppies, kittens, and animals with compromised immune systems.

The Crucial Role of Pet Owners in Pet Vaccination

Pet owners play a crucial role in limiting the transmission of diseases among animals and humans alike. When pet owners prioritize their pets' vaccinations, they safeguard their beloved companions' health and well-being and significantly contribute to the community's overall welfare.

Some pet owners may wonder about the dangers of leaving their pets unvaccinated. Many dangerous diseases are highly contagious and can become fatal for unvaccinated pets. An unvaccinated animal can also inadvertently spread infection to other cats and dogs it may come in contact with.

You can protect your pet from many of these diseases and preserve health by proactively vaccinating them and keeping your four-legged family member up to date on booster shots.

Many vaccines, such as rabies vaccines for cats and dogs, are mandatory across the United States. In numerous areas, residents require vaccination records to obtain a pet license.

Vaccinations may be necessary if you stay in pet-friendly hotels, visit dog parks, groom your pet, or travel with them.  This requirement often applies to doggy daycares, pet-sitting services, and other businesses.


Even if your dog is always leashed outdoors, they are at significant risk of illness. Many viruses and bacteria can survive on surfaces for extended periods, potentially causing serious diseases without direct contact with other dogs.

Some conditions are airborne and can be easily contracted by dogs encountering infected pooches during walks.


While outdoor cats are clearly at a higher risk of contracting serious diseases, it might be tempting to overlook the need for vaccinations for indoor cats. However, pet owners should not be misled, as your indoor kitty only takes a moment to slip out through an open door or window.

Many cat viruses can linger on surfaces or the ground for extended periods. Even if your escaped cat is brought back inside promptly, there remains a risk of exposure. Additionally, wildlife can infiltrate your home, posing health risks for your cat.

Core Vaccines for Pets

Core vaccines are recommended for most dogs and cats living in the United States. They are designed to help protect your pet by preventing diseases commonly present in your area. These diseases spread easily between animals (and, in some cases, from animals to people) and have a high fatality rate. 

Puppy & Dog Shots

Here are core vaccines for puppies and dogs.

  • Canine Parvovirus

    Canine parvovirus is an extremely contagious viral disease that can be life-threatening. Parvovirus can be transmitted by any person, animal, or object in contact with an infected dog's feces. Dogs that are not vaccinated are at risk of contracting the virus. Vaccinating your puppy or dog against parvovirus could save their life.

  • Distemper

    Canine distemper is a virus that affects a dog's respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system, as well as conjunctival membranes of the eyes. Distemper is spread through contact with the fresh urine of an infected animal. This virus can travel to the brain, causing seizures, shaking, and trembling. Protect your dog against distemper by having them vaccinated.

  • Canine Hepatitis

    Dogs suffering from canine hepatitis experience swelling and cell damage in the liver, which may result in hemorrhage and death. This virus is spread through contact with the feces and urine of infected dogs. By vaccinating your dog, you can protect your dog against canine hepatitis.

  • Rabies

    Rabies is typically transmitted through a bite from the infected animal and is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted to people from their pets. The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and will gradually infect the entire nervous system of the animal or person, causing death.

    In many states, including New York, rabies shots are mandatory for dogs, cats, and ferrets, without exception.

Kitten & Cat Shots

Here are core vaccines for kittens and cats.

  • Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper or Feline Parvo)

    Panleukopenia is a highly contagious viral disease closely related to the canine parvovirus. Caused by the feline parvovirus, this disease is life-threatening to cats. This virus attacks the rapidly dividing blood cells in the body, including the cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, skin, or developing fetus. Panleukopenia is spread through infected cats' urine, stool, and nasal secretions, or from the fleas of an infected cat.

  • Feline Calicivirus

    Feline calicivirus is a common respiratory disease in cats and kittens. This illness attacks the cat's respiratory tract, including the nasal passages and lungs, as well as the mouth, intestines, and the cat's musculoskeletal system. This illness is highly contagious in unvaccinated cats and is often found in multi-cat homes or shelters. This respiratory illness can be complicated to get rid of once it has been contracted, and vaccinating your cat against feline calicivirus is strongly recommended.

  • Feline Herpesvirus Type I (Rhinotracheitis)

    Feline Herpesvirus (also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis -FVR) is a major cause of upper respiratory disease in cats and inflammation of the tissues surrounding the cat's eyes. Once a cat has been infected with FVR, it becomes a virus carrier. While most carriers will remain latent, stress and illness may cause the virus to become reactivated and infectious.

  • Rabies

    Rabies is typically transmitted through a bite from the infected animal and is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted to people from their pets. The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and will gradually infect the entire nervous system of the animal or person causing death. In many states, including New York, rabies shots are mandatory for dogs, cats and ferrets, without exception.

Lifestyle Vaccinations 

Lifestyle vaccines for cats and dogs protect pets against diseases they may be exposed to if they lead particular lifestyles, such as dogs that spend time with other dogs in doggie daycares or cats that spend a great deal of time outdoors. You may want to consider the following lifestyle vaccines for your four-legged friend.

Lifestyle Vaccines for Dogs:

  • Bordetella (Kennel Cough)

    Bordetella bronchiseptica is the bacteria that can lead to the respiratory disease known as kennel cough. This respiratory illness earned the name kennel cough because it is easily transmitted when dogs share indoor space, such as kennels. That said, dogs that attend dog parks or doggie daycares may also be at risk of contracting this disease. As with the human flu vaccine, the Bordetella vaccination will not prevent your dog from getting sick but will help decrease the severity and length of symptoms. Speak to your vet about the Bordetella vaccine if your dog spends time with other dogs.

  • Leptospirosis

    Leptospirosis is a bacteria spread in water contaminated with urine from infected wildlife. While most cases of leptospirosis are mild and easily treated with antibiotics, some dogs get very sick and may even suffer kidney failure. Leptospirosis can also be transmitted from animals to people in some cases. If your dog is fond of drinking from puddles, ponds, or rivers in your neighborhood, speak to your vet about vaccinating your canine companion against leptospirosis.

  • Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)

    Symptoms of the dog flu often begin as kennel cough, then become increasingly more severe. In some cases, an animal may require hospitalization. Two strains of dog flu are widely spread throughout the country. Speak to your vet to determine if this vaccination is right for your pup. If your dog spends time with other dogs in daycares, kennels, or parks, you may wish to vaccinate them against dog flu. Short-faced dogs with an increased risk of respiratory illness should also be vaccinated against this condition.

  • Lyme Disease (Borrelia burgdorferi)

    In some regions of the US, the Lyme vaccine is considered a core vaccine because of the high prevalence of the disease in that area. If you live in an area where the black-legged tick (deer tick) is present in large numbers, our vets may suggest tick preventive medications be given to your dog year-round. The Lyme disease vaccination is most often given to pets who spend time in wooded areas, parks, or farmlands. Speak to your vet to learn whether the Lyme disease vaccine is appropriate for your dog.

Lifestyle Vaccines for Cats:

  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

    Feline leukemia is spread by saliva and can be transmitted from cat to cat through mutual grooming, or bite wounds. Kittens may also contract this disease through their mother's milk to kittens or by sharing a little box with other cats.

    This disease is the leading viral killer of cats and kittens. While it can hide undetected for long periods, it weakens the cat's immune system, increases their susceptibility to other diseases, and is the most common cause of cancer in cats.

    Kittens are at high risk for contracting this disease and should be vaccinated against Feline leukemia starting at 9 to 12 weeks of age. This vaccine requires booster shots to maintain its effectiveness. Cats living in multi-cat households or outdoors should regularly be vaccinated against this disease.

Booster Shots

Depending on the vaccine, adult dogs and cats should receive booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will notify you when your pet should be brought back for booster shots. Booster shots are essential for maintaining your pet's immunity.

Vaccine Protection

Please note that your puppy or kitten will not achieve full vaccine protection until they receive all their vaccinations, typically between 12 to 16 weeks of age. Once your vet administers all the initial vaccinations, your young pet will become immune to the diseases covered by the vaccines.

If you intend to allow your puppy or kitten outdoors before they complete their vaccinations against these diseases, we recommend confining them to low-risk areas like your backyard.

Remember, pet owners play a crucial role in this effort by staying informed about pet vaccinations, ensuring their pets stay updated with their shots, and encouraging others in the community to do the same. Through this collective effort, we strengthen our pets' health and protect our communities' well-being, emphasizing our shared responsibility to preserve public health.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is it time to schedule your pet's vaccinations? Contact our vets New York to book an appointment. They can discuss your pet's preventive care requirements and how vaccines can contribute to your pet's long, happy, and healthy life, and benefit our community.

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Rivergate Veterinary Clinic is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of New York companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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