Why it is Crucial to Vaccinate your Dog or Cat

Girl and Dog during travel

When you’re traveling with your pet, the last thing you want to think about is what happens if they get sick. But unfortunately, there are many pet diseases and illnesses that are incurable and can cause death if left untreated. This is why it is crucial to vaccinate your dog or cat, even if they are not traveling. The best thing you can do for your best friend is to vaccinate them and prevent these diseases in the first place.

If you are planning a trip with your dog or cat, then good health vaccinations are required to enter most all countries worldwide. All vaccinations must be administered in advance so planning is the key.

How will you know exactly what your destination state or country requires? And do those rules change when you’re traveling around? Here’s what you need to know about pet travel and vaccinations for your pet. 

Rabies

Rabies is the single most common vaccination required by all countries around the world. Why? Because rabies is a disease which kills over 59,000 humans in over 150 countries every year. Over forty percent of those bitten by a rabid animals are children under 15 years of age. And rabies is almost always contracted through a dog bite.

What is Rabies?

Put simply, rabies is a viral infection. It’s caused by a virus secreted in saliva. This virus gets into your dog’s or cat’s nervous system, including their spinal cord and brain, and causes them to lose control of themselves. Rabies is fatal once symptoms become evident.

This virus belongs to the order Mononegavirales. And while it’s preventable, thousands of people die each year from rabies, 99% of which come from the bite of an infected dog.

Rabies is a dangerous and unnecessary virus to catch. Early symptoms can include a fever, unusual tingling and pain, and a burning sensation at the wound site. From there, the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. These progress until death, about 1 week to 1 year later. And while humans can get a rabies vaccine, it’s also highly recommended that all domestic animals — including dogs and cats — be vaccinated as well. 

How did rabies prevention start?

Rabies vaccinations started with the intent to stop the virus from spreading to humans. Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, and microbiologist developed the earliest effective vaccine against rabies. It was first used to treat a human bite victim on July 6th, 1885. 

From there, rabies has been tested on many animals, including dogs, cats, and ferrets. But rabies vaccinations didn’t become common practice until well in the 1970s when states started passing laws against not vaccinating pets. 

In humans, if the vaccine is given immediately to someone who was bitten by a rabid animal, it is 100-percent effective. However, it works a little differently in pets. They should be vaccinated against rabies before they’re bit, as the vaccine is more powerful when it has a chance to be in their system longer. 

Now, all states in the United States have laws about rabies vaccinations and if they require them for your pet or not. The required frequency of rabies vaccinations varies from state to state, so it’s important to know your state’s law. And, if you move or travel, a kennel or hotel usually requires proof of vaccination before boarding or housing your pet. 

Why Your Pet Needs Their Rabies Vaccinations

Rabies vaccinations are a necessary part of a healthy and happy animal. Rabies is a fatal viral disease, and it’s easily transferrable. Since it can’t be cured, that’s why it is critically important it’s important to vaccinate your dog or cat to protect them from potentially getting it. 

If your pet isn’t vaccinated, and they get bit by a rabid animal, it will cause serious and dire symptoms. These will last anywhere from 10 to 42 days, and then your furry friend will die. It’s that serious. And this is why it is crucial to vaccinate your dog or cat. There’s no way to save their life if they become infected. 

It’s safer to vaccinate your dog ahead of time, and hope they never get bit than to try to vaccinate them after the fact. So don’t take the chance on your furry friend. 

Did you know that your dog or cat will also need to keep up with their rabies vaccinations? They’ll usually get their first one when they are about 3 months old, and then another one a year later. After that, they’ll need one every year or three years depending on what type of vaccine your veterinarian uses. 

SYMPTOMS:  fever, difficulty swallowing, foaming at the mouth, excessive drooling, staggering, seizures, and even paralysis.

Is A Rabies Vaccination Required? 

Yes, in most states, and even in all other countries, a rabies vaccination is required. Usually, your vet or adoption agency will give your dog or cat a rabies vaccination when they microchip them. But if not, it’s vital to ensure that your pet gets it as soon as possible, and every three years after that. 

Every pet traveling to a foreign country must be vaccinated for rabies between 21 days and 90 days prior to travel, depending on the country.

Related: Find vaccination requirements for over 220 countries worldwide.

Not sure what your city, county, state, or country requires? You can just search “rabies vaccinations + your state” and find the information you need. And, if you plan on traveling to a new state or country, and are taking your animal, check with them as well. 

For example, Hawaii has a unique set of requirements since they are a “rabies-free” state. You’ll need to prepare several months in advance if you want to take your pet with you. At a minimum, they require:

  • At least 2 rabies vaccines and the original rabies certificates (or signed carbon copies)
  • Rabies titer test
  • Microchip
  • 120-day waiting period after primary vaccinations 
  • A USDA-endorsed health certificate 
  • Tick treatments 
  • Submission of documents (at least 10 days prior to arrival)
  • Fee payments 

Of course, not all states and countries are this strict. But this is why it’s important to check in before you even plan on bringing your pet along with you. 

Many kennels also require that a vet administer your dog’s or cat’s vaccinations at least 24-48 hours before boarding. The most common requirements are a rabies vaccination, bordetella shot, and a distemper vaccine. But if you have a puppy, see if your veterinarian can space these out since too many at one time can be too much. 

However, if your pet has had their vaccinations within the year (or three for rabies vaccination), you usually don’t need to do this. Instead, you’ll just need to prove that they’ve completed the shots. 

One of the easiest ways to keep your pet’s information together, and to ensure that they are able to go where you go, is to get a pet passport and medical record. While not required, they do come in handy and can help keep all of your pet’s medical information in one place. 

Other vaccinations for your pet that may be required

Distemper Vaccination

First, distemper (also known as parainfluenza) is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus, just like rabies. It is fatal and incurable. Instead of neurological damage, it will attack the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems of your animal. They will need 3-4 shots during the first year of their life. From there, a booster every year is recommended. 

SYMPTOMS: lethargy, nasal discharge, vomiting, coughing, reduced appetite and vomiting.

Hepatitis Vaccination

Another vaccination that may be required is the hepatitis shot. Like in humans, hepatitis in dogs and cats affects the spleen, kidneys, lungs, liver, and lining of blood vessels. If left untreated, it can lead to death. The best thing to do is vaccinate your pet. They will get their first shot during the first 7 weeks of their life, with recommended boosters every year. 

SYMPTOMS: Watery discharge from eyes and/or nose, slight fever, blindness, loss of appetite, increased thirst, enlarged tonsils.

Leptospirosis Vaccination (Dogs and Cats)

The leptospirosis vaccine isn’t a core vaccine for dogs or cats, but some countries require it. This is because this bacterial disease can affect both humans and animals. In humans, it can cause many symptoms, including damage to the liver and kidneys. Your pet will get two doses, once at a month old and one two to four weeks later. After that, they will only need this vaccine when traveling extensively. 

SYMPTOMS: fever, vomiting, refusal to eat, abdominal pain, diarrhea, inability to have puppies.

Parvovirus Vaccination

Parvovirus vaccines are part of the “core” vaccines that many vets recommend that your dog or cat get. Canine parvovirus is a contagious virus. So, it can be spread from dog to dog by direct or indirect contact. And while this disease isn’t always deadly, mortality affects 91% in untreated cases

SYMPTOMS: lethargy, appetite loss, fever, vomiting and severe diarrhea (sometimes bloody).

Vaccines can prevent this infection and are usually recommended for pups between six and eight weeks. From there, they will get two more shots, and these function more as “boosters”. This should protect your pup or kitten from parvovirus, but they may need boosters throughout their life if recommended by their vet or entering a new country. 

Viral Rhinotracheitis Vaccination (Cats)

Rhinotracheitis only affects felines but is still a serious (and contagious) condition. It’s a major cause of upper respiratory infections. It’s caused by an infection from feline herpesvirus type-1 (FHV-1). Luckily, it doesn’t affect other species. But cats who contract it will have a lifelong infection. These cats are susceptible to respiratory problems, long-term eye problems, and pneumonia. 

SYMPTOMS: sneezing, nasal congestion, eye redness, discharge from eye, loss of appetite, fever and lethargy.

To protect your kitten, they should receive their first FVRCP vaccination between six and eight weeks old. Then they will need a booster shot every three or four weeks until they are about four months old. 

Calicivirus Vaccination (Cats)

Calicivirus is another feline-only virus. This virus is a main cause of upper respiratory infections and oral disease in kitties. Symptoms will usually include sneezing, nasal congestion, and even conjunctivitis. 

SYMPTOMS: sneezing, nasal congestion, fever and discharge from eye and nose.

Just like with the other vaccinations, vets recommend that you vaccinate your cat against Calicivirus while they’re a kitten. Their first shot should be between four and eight weeks. Then, they will need two boosters between the ages of eight and 16 weeks. Last, they’ll need at least one other booster a year later. From there, they can move the booster to once every three years. Talk to your vet about the best schedule for your kitten to ensure they are protected from this disease. 

Feline Leukemia Vaccination

Feline leukemia virus is another virus that only infects cats. It depresses the immune system and can lead to persistent infections. It’s also a main cause of anemia in cats and can cause multiple cancers. 

There is no treatment or cure for FeLV. And the disease is fatal. So, preventing infection via vaccination is always recommended. This vaccine is usually part of a set of core vaccines, so it makes it easier for your cat to handle potential side effects. 

SYMPTOMS: Loss of appetite, weight loss, poor coat, fever, pale gums and skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract infections.

Your kitten will get two doses of vaccines administered one month apart. From there, your veterinarian may recommend a booster once every two to five years, depending on your cat’s lifestyle and needs. 

CDC Requirements

The rules and regulations for pets entering the United States are administered by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

While every state and country is different, the United States has a pretty straightforward policy on traveling pets that are flying back into the country. While their rules for cats and dogs differ slightly, they do keep it as close as possible. Of course, it is strongly recommended that your cat be vaccinated for many viruses, including the feline-only diseases as well as rabies. Dogs must be vaccinated for rabies unless they are entering from a country that is classified by the United States as having a high risk of rabies.

According to their regulations, based on 2022 traveling, your pet will need to; 

  • Have a valid US-issued rabies vaccination certificate
  • Have proof of a microchip
  • Be at least 6 months old
  • Be healthy upon arrival
  • Arrive at an approved port of entry

Keep in mind that expired US-issued rabies vaccination certificates will not be accepted. If the US-issued rabies vaccination certificate has expired, you’ll need to apply for a CDC Pet Import Permit, if eligible.

Pet Travel Tips

Before you go on your trip, there are a few things to keep in mind. These tips can help keep you from being stressed about your pet’s vaccinations and travel plans. 

Before traveling with a pet, you should; 

  • Make sure your pet is fit to travel (visit to your veterinarian)
  • Consider switching to wet food temporarily (or add as a topper) to avoid dehydration during traveling. Just remember to make the switch a week or two before traveling to give your dog time to adjust!
  • Look up the state or country you’re visiting, and their vaccination requirements for your animal
  • Talk to your veterinarian about any vaccinations they will need
  • Get your pet vaccinated well in advance of flying to your destination
  • Pack their vaccine information, plus other records if needed, in a clear pouch in a place that you know you’ll have access to 
  • Microchip your pet (if not already done) to ensure their safety and to meet requirements in certain countries and states 

This may seem like a lot of things to do all at one time, but they’re fairly easy to manage as long as you plan ahead. And remember, travel is stressful for animals too. So try not to add extra stress with their dog food, schedule (if possible), or daily activity. 

As soon as you decide if your pet is coming or not on vacation, you can follow these tips step by step. 

It can seem confusing and difficult to keep up with your pet’s needed vaccinations, especially if you plan on traveling often. But it’s crucial to keep them on the right schedule and avoid potential problems; including them getting sick or you being forced to leave them behind or being turned away at the border. 

Luckily, you can find vaccination requirements for over 200 countries here. This makes it super easy to learn what your pet will need and schedule a vet appointment to vaccinate your dog or cat with confidence. That way, you can travel with your furry friend, worry-free, and know they are fully protected.

Mark has a background in web publishing. He loves dogs and has a lovely young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, named Steve. Mark’s wife is a dog trainer and so Steve is a good boy, most of the time. Steve likes to protect the house from the mailman, door-to-door salespeople, and anyone coming within visual range of the window.


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