Warmer Weather and the Need for Vaccines

Spring is upon us. While vaccines can be given any time of year, the exposure risks for many of the diseases we vaccinate against increases with the warmer weather when we spend more time outside with our pets.

Vaccination against rabies is required by law because of its zoonotic potential (meaning people can get it, too) and the fact that there is no cure the disease. Most people know rabies is spread through bite wounds (and specifically saliva) from (usually) wild animals. In our area, raccoons and skunks are the most common source of rabies. However, many cases of rabies have been identified in bats and feral cats. Rabid cats rarely show the same aggressive, salivating from the mouth symptoms that many are familiar as symptoms in dogs (remember Cujo?). On the contrary, rabid cats usually become listless, stop eating and can look like any other sick cat.

Many owners mistakenly think that since their pet is indoors only, vaccination against rabies is unnecessary. Unfortunately, in addition to the law requiring rabies vaccines for all dogs and cats in every state, rabies has been identified in many bats who were caught inside people’s homes. Should you ever have a bat accidentally get caught in your home; your pets will be excited to see these animals flying in the house and be quick to take chase. Hence we recommend rabies vaccines for all cats and dogs.

Canine distemper virus has become relatively uncommon since vaccines against this disease became widely available in the sixties. Aside from dogs, this virus can be spread among other wild carnivores such as raccoons. Distemper got its name from the encephalitis and seizures it causes in our canine friends. However, the disease more commonly presents as pneumonia with thick mucus nasal discharge, coughing and trouble breathing. Distemper has a high mortality rate which can be totally avoided with proper vaccination. It seems silly not to vaccinate.

Another virus with a similar high mortality rate is Parvovirus. Canine Parvovirus usually affects younger unvaccinated puppies with profuse watery diarrhea and repetitive vomiting. Occasionally, older dogs with suppressed immune systems whose vaccinations have not been kept current will also fall victim to this nasty virus. While vaccines have made this virus relatively rare, we still see cases every year usually from shelter dogs. Everyone loves to do a good deed and adopt from shelters, yet shelter dogs are a good reservoir for viruses such as distemper and Parvo virus because they were often not vaccinated before arriving at the shelter. Making sure your pet is up to date on his or her vaccines will ensure that you should never have to worry about this horrible virus.

The warmer weather brings out more ticks and more ticks means more diseases like Lyme, Anaplasmosis and Erhlichia. While we have effective vaccines against Lyme disease, there are no vaccines developed yet for Anaplasmosis or Ehrlichiosis in the dog. Lyme most commonly causes malaise, fever, swollen joints and lameness. The best protection against all the tick born diseases is a combination of a good flea and tick preventative such as Vectra and the Lyme vaccine.

Leptospirosis is the last preventable disease that we see an increased risk during the warmer months. This disease is caused by Rickettsial organisms spread through raccoon and skunk urine (and occasionally through farmyard animals like goats) Most of our patients who have contracted leptospirosis have done so by drinking from outside water sources contaminated with wildlife urine. If you hike or hunt a lot with your dog or have a water feature in your yard that your dog has access to, please vaccinate your dog. This preventable disease can cause liver or kidney failure….and sometimes both.

Not every vaccine is appropriate for every dog. Discuss with your veterinarian about your dog’s potential exposure risks. Do they spend a lot of time outside? Do they hike or hunt with you? Do they board at a kennel or go to doggie daycare or the dog park frequently? Do they go to the groomer regularly? Together with your veterinarian, a vaccination plan can be tailored to your dog’s lifestyle. As we approach the warmer weather, take a moment to examine which vaccines your pet is current on and if he could benefit from any of the others.