Vaccinations important for safety of pets

Dr. Kristen Pence, left, gives Ivy, a German shepherd, a vaccination while veterinary assistant Hannah Bement assists at the Warren County Veterinary Clinc in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Adopting a pet can bring joy to an animal lover’s heart, but the commitment to care for a living being comes at a cost.

To keep Boots or Buddy in tip-top shape, regular vet visits are a must, and there are certain vaccinations pet owners need to know about.

The big one is the rabies vaccine, said Kristen Pence, a veterinarian at the Warren County Veterinary Clinic, 4310 Rivermont Drive, Front Royal.

Virginia requires all pet owners to vaccinate their kittens and puppies against rabies by the age of 4 months. Requirements under the Virginia Guidelines for Rabies Prevention and Control’s December 2010 report are listed at the Virginia Department of Health’s website,

Other recommended vaccines can depend on the type of animal, Pence said.

Warren County Veterinary Clinic veterinary assistant Hannah Bement prepares a vaccination for a dog inside their clinic in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

For cats, the core “distemper” vaccine combines feline rhinotracheitis, calici and panleukopenia vaccines to prevent common respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases in cats.

A core distemper vaccine for dogs also prevents common respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases and comprises distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus.

Both vaccines are given as a series, usually starting when the animal is 8 weeks old. They need to be repeated the following year and then every three years.

Pet owners should have pets examined by a vet within the first few days after adoption, Pence said.

Optional feline vaccine:

Ivy, a German shepherd, gets petted Dr. Kristen Pence after a vaccination. Rich Cooley/Daily

Feline leukemia is a serious disease that kills 85 percent of infected cats by the age of 3. Recommended for indoor/outdoor cats and exclusively outdoor cats, it’s transmitted from a mother cat to kittens through mutual grooming, shared food bowls and other close day-to-day contact between cats. Before vaccinating, cats should be tested for feline leukemia.

Though there is currently no vaccine available to prevent bartonella, which can cause cat scratch disease, Pence explained it’s caused from an infection spread by bacteria from fleas or fights with other cats. A person scratched or bitten by an infected cat can acquire the disease.

Cat scratches should be washed well with soap and water immediately, and any signs of illness or infection should be reported to a doctor.

Newly adopted cats should be tested for toxoplasmosis, though Pence said the disease is more likely to be transmitted by undercooked and raw meats or garden soil where parasites live than by a litter box — particularly one maintained in a clean household. Cat owners should wash their hands thoroughly after cleaning a litter box.

Optional canine vaccines:

Dr. Kristen Pence holds onto Ivy, a German shepherd, after giving her a vaccination. Rich Cooley/Daily

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease that can cause kidney and liver disease, and is particularly recommended for dogs exposed to wildlife, hiking and water sports since the disease can be found in infected water, soil or vegetation.

Lyme is a disease prevalent in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and transmitted by deer ticks. Lyme can cause lameness, fever, anorexia and lethargy in dogs. Quality monthly flea and tick prevention and regular tick checks are key to preventing the disease.

Bordetella, though optional, is required for dogs staying at most kennels and boarding facilities to prevent against “kennel cough.”

Some vaccines include only certain variations of bacteria or viruses, called serotypes or serovars, so there have been cases of vaccinated dogs or cats still contracting diseases normally prevented in core vaccines.

However, Pence assured, vaccinated dogs and cats have a much greater chance than unvaccinated animals do of warding off disease.

Pet Insurance

Becoming more popular in recent years, pet insurance has become part of some regular health care policies, though with exceptions to the usual human insurance policy.

Pet insurance is paid on a reimbursement basis, Pence said.

“Most won’t cover pre-existing disease,” Pence said. “It’ll be specific to each pet you’re carrying a policy on, and they typically will ask for all records.”

However, she said it can be a lifesaver for owners of young pets that later could need emergency care.

“We have a lot of owners that have really found it helpful,” she said.

Vaccinations vary in cost depending on the veterinary office and are additional to the cost of an office visit. Call ahead for details and ask your area humane society about upcoming free or reduced cost vaccines and rabies clinics.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or