Be wise — immunize

The month of August is National Immunization Awareness month. Now is the time more than ever for owners to be aware of the importance of vaccinating their pets. This year I have seen more outbreaks of preventable diseases than I have seen in any other year I have been in practice.

One of the hardest and most heartbreaking parts of my job as a veterinarian is to lose a young puppy or kitten to a disease that could possibly have been prevented. Below I am going to discuss some of these diseases in cats and dogs, what signs to look for in your pets, and how these diseases can be prevented.


Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease seen most commonly in young puppies. This virus attacks and destroys the intestinal wall lining leading to severe bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and secondary bacterial infections. If not treated, the disease is fatal. Treatment is very costly and may require days to weeks in the hospital on intravenous fluids and injectable antibiotics. Parvovirus is very stable in the environment; therefore it is difficult to eradicate. It is transmitted through a fecal – oral route. A puppy can pick up the virus by just sniffing another dog’s stool. Parvovirus can be easily prevented by having a puppy vaccinated with the distemper/parvovirus combination immunization starting at 6 weeks of age and boostered monthly until it turns 4 months old. I recommend not exposing a puppy to other dogs until it is fully vaccinated and kept up-to-date on its vaccines. I have seen three puppies this year succumb to this horrible disease because they hadn’t received their vaccines. I have also seen parvovirus in puppies that never finished the puppy shot series.

Kennel Cough or Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by any of the respiratory viruses that are vaccinated against in the distemper vaccine or by bacterial agents that are vaccinated against in the kennel cough vaccine like Bordetella bronchiseptica. Disease can range from uncomplicated (a cough) to severe (fever, pneumonia, bronchitis.) The disease is spread by contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected dog. This may happen by direct contact, through aerosolized viral or bacterial particles, or through transfer of secretions through a fomite – an object such as a dish or an article of clothing that is contaminated. Yes, a person can it home to a dog through contact with any dog with the infection. Treatment for uncomplicated disease is antibiotics, cough suppressants, and isolation from other dogs. Prevention is an oral or nasal modified live vaccine that provides local immunity. If a dog is groomed or kenneled on a regular basis I recommend administering a booster every 6 months. While this disease is not always fatal, it is a huge cause of concern because it can spread rapidly through dogs and can take weeks before a pet is back to normal.


Feline leukemia virus and feline AIDS (FIV) are viruses that are prevalent in the stray cat population in our area. When adopting a stray cat it is very important to have the animal tested for these two diseases. Both viruses can be transmitted from a mother cat to its kittens. FIV is most commonly transmitted through bite wounds from other cats and feline leukemia is transmitted mostly through saliva. Both viruses are untreatable and cause significant immunosuppression. There is no vaccine for FIV but there is a vaccine for feline leukemia. I highly recommend this yearly vaccine against feline leukemia to help prevent this disease. When a cat is diagnosed with one of these viruses, it is a difficult prognosis to give an owner because I know that in most cases the cat will always have the disease and will eventually succumb to the effects of the virus.

Feline respiratory viruses include feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. Signs include sneezing, runny eyes, congestion and fever. If left untreated, further complications can occur such as eye ulcerations and pneumonia. A highly virulent form of calicivirus has been discovered more recently that can lead to systemic disease and secondary pneumonia. Many kittens that acquire the virulent calicivirus do not survive. I have seen some heartbreaking cases lately in kittens brought in from the stray cat population in the local area. It is very important to start a feline combo vaccination against the respiratory diseases at 6 weeks of age and booster monthly until the kitten is 16 weeks. This vaccine should be boostered yearly thereafter.

Feline gastrointestinal viruses include coronavirus and panleukopenia. Panleukopenia is a very severe virus that can lead to immunosuppression and death in young kittens. It is the feline form of parvovirus and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Although a kitten can overcome this disease, in many cases they are so immunosuppressed that they cannot fight off the secondary infections. Prevention is with the routine feline combo vaccine that includes the respiratory viruses starting at 6 weeks of age and boostered monthly until the kitten reaches 16 weeks of age.

Feline coronavirus is usually a self limiting gastrointestinal virus that causes diarrhea in kittens for a short period of time. In some kittens, however, it can remain in the body and mutate into a more virulent form called FIP or feline infectious peritonitis. This disease cannot be treated and is always fatal. The only prevention is keeping a clean and sterile environment to prevent the spread of this disease. Signs include waxing and waning fever, inappetance, and an enlarged abdomen most commonly in kittens over 3 months of age.

Please consider keeping pets up-to-date on their vaccinations. These viruses can spread rapidly and cause severe disease. The goal at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic is to keep pets healthy and prevent disease. Staff want to do what is best for pets; this is why we recommend boostering vaccinations on a regular basis! It is time to put a stop to these infectious diseases. Call today for an appointment if your dog or cat is due for a booster! 366-7440