Canine Illnesses-Why Prevention is Important

Vaccines help prevent many illnesses that affect dogs. Vaccinating your dog is considered one of the easiest ways to help him live a long, healthy life. These vaccines are often available in combinations that can be given in one dose. Combination vaccines are convenient and avoid extra injections for your dog, but sometimes separation of vaccines is advisable. Your veterinarian will advise you on the appropriate vaccines for your pet based on your dog’s relative risks and specific lifestyle.


Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Vaccination is one vital step needed to protect your pets and your family from the Zoonotic Risk of passing the disease between animals and humans. Rabies is caused by the rabies virus. Dogs are still the primary rabies reservoirs in developing countries. In North America, >90% of rabies cases in animals occur in wildlife and in the U.S., most cases of rabies in humans commonly result from infection with bat rabies variants. The raccoon rabies variant has become the predominant rabies. The rabies virus is secreted in saliva, and is usually transmitted by a bite from an infected animal.

Bordetella (Kennel Cough)

Bordetella, more commonly known as “kennel cough”, is an infectious bronchitis accompanied by a hacking cough. Because kennel cough is contagious and can spread rapidly, boarding facilities typically require dog owners to vaccinate against Bordetella every 6 months. Vaccine boosters should be administered 5-7 days prior to the start of boarding to be mostly effective. Once kennel cough is contracted, generally most cases will resolve and recovery can be boosted with antibiotics, but Bordetella can progress to more severe respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.

Canine Parvovirus

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can affect all dogs, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old are the most at risk. Dogs that are ill from canine parvovirus infection are often said to have “parvo.” The virus affects dogs’ gastrointestinal tracts and is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated stool, environments, or people. Some of the signs of parvovirus include lethargy; loss of appetite; fever; vomiting; and severe, often bloody, diarrhea.

While no specific drug is available that will kill the virus in infected dogs, treatment consists primarily of efforts to combat dehydration by replacing electrolyte and fluid losses, controlling vomiting and diarrhea, and preventing secondary infections until the dog’s immune system is able to fight the virus. Due to the highly contagious nature of parvovirus, infected dogs must be isolated in order to prevent the spread of the infection.

The best way to prevent parvovirus is through good hygiene and vaccination. Make sure to get your puppies vaccinated, and that your adult dogs are kept up to date on their parvovirus vaccination.

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs.

Puppies and dogs most often become infected through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) to the virus from an infected dog or wild animal.

Initially, infected dogs will develop watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes. They then develop fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. The virus attacks the nervous system,

There is no cure for canine distemper infection.  Treatment typically consists of supportive care and efforts to prevent secondary infections; control vomiting, diarrhea and neurologic symptoms; and combat dehydration through administration of fluids. Dogs infected with canine distemper are separated from other dogs to minimize the risk of further infection. Vaccination is crucial in preventing canine distemper.


Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with Leptospira bacteria. These bacteria can be found worldwide in soil and water. There are many strains of Leptospira bacteria that can cause disease. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animals to people. Leptospirosis is more common in areas with warm climates and high annual rainfall but it can occur anywhere. Dogs are most commonly affected. Leptospirosis in cats is rare and appears to be mild although very little is known about the disease in this species. Common risk factors for leptospirosis in dogs residing in the United States include exposure to or drinking from rivers, lakes or streams; roaming on rural properties (because of exposure to potentially infected wildlife, farm animals, or water sources); exposure to wild animal or farm animal species, even if in the backyard; and contact with rodents or other dogs.

Leptospirosis is generally treated with antibiotics and supportive care. When treated early and aggressively, the chances for recovery are good but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage. Annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs.

Canine Influenza

Canine influenza (CI, or dog flu) in the U.S. is caused by the canine influenza virus (CIV), CIV infection resembles canine infectious tracheobronchitis (“kennel cough”). The illness may be mild or severe, and infected dogs develop a persistent cough and may develop a thick nasal discharge and fever. Most dogs recover within 2-3 weeks. However, secondary bacterial infections can develop, and may cause more severe illness and pneumonia. The spread of CIV can be reduced by isolating ill dogs as well as those who are known to have been exposed to an infected dog and those showing signs of respiratory illness.

The vaccines may not completely prevent infection, but appear to reduce the severity and duration of the illness, as well as the length of time when an infected dog may shed the virus in its respiratory secretions. The CIV vaccination is a “lifestyle” vaccination, recommended for dogs at risk of exposure due to their increased exposure to other dogs.