Adding a new pet to your family is an exciting process. A new puppy or kitten, or an adult pet addition, can fill your days with joy and love. But along with the fun comes the responsibility to provide for the care and well-being of your new pet.

One of the most important responsibilities for pet owners is ensuring their pets are properly vaccinated. Just as with vaccinations for humans, vaccinations for our pets protect them against an array of dangerous, and even life threatening, diseases. Vaccines also keep population immunity high which decreases the incidence of the diseases in the larger popularion. But understanding which vaccinations to choose, and when to get them, can be intimidating.

The most well-known vaccination, and the only one legally required in Rutherford County, is for rabies. Rabies is a deadly virus carried by mammals and is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. In Tennessee, the disease is most frequently found in skunks, bats and raccoons. And because wildlife is found throughout our area, including every neighborhood of every city and every town in Rutherford County, our pets are at risk of coming into contact with potential carriers.

Tennessee law requires every dog and cat to be vaccinated against rabies and that their records be kept up-to-date. Rabies vaccinations are available as either a yearly injection or as an injection good for three years. Puppies and kittens can receive their first rabies vaccinations at 12 weeks of age. From there, your veterinarian can recommend either the annual or every-three-years vaccination plan.

For dog owners, the other core vaccination is the canine distemper/parvo vaccination. Distemper is a virus spread through most bodily fluids such as saliva, urine and blood. It is highly contagious and often deadly. Even for dogs who recover from the disease, persistent neurological effects such as seizures and paralysis are common. Parvo is also highly contagious and often deadly. It is spread through direct contact with infected dogs and feces and can last in the environment for up to six months. With both diseases, treatment for infected dogs requires extensive and costly supportive care.

Several other vaccines are commonly combined with the canine distemper/parvo vaccination. The other combinations vary from clinic to clinic, but most commonly include vaccinations against hepatitis and parainfluenza. Some clinics, including Family Pet Health, will also include the leptospirosis vaccine with the DHPP combination. You should consult with your veterinarian on the exact combination of vaccines recommended for your dog as well as the schedule for the boosters.

Just as with dogs, cats also have a core vaccination besides rabies. The FVRCP vaccine protects against three potentially deadly airborne viruses: rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia (try saying that three times quickly.) Due to the infectious nature of the viruses, kittens should be vaccinated at six to eight weeks of age with regular boosters to follow.

As you can see, vaccinations are a critical component of caring for your pet. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure certainly is never more true than in taking the simple steps of vaccinating your family pet against deadly and debilitating diseases. Talk to your veterinarian about these core vaccinations detailed above, as well as numerous other vaccines available against a myriad of other canine and feline diseases. Based upon your pet’s lifestyle and health, your veterinarian can recommend the best course of vaccinations to protect your pet.

Pet owners who would like to discuss vaccination options with one of the doctors here at Family Pet Health can schedule an appointment by calling 615-907-8387.