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Can a Puppy Live with Unvaccinated Cats?
By Emily Gantt
Published: 03/02/2021, edited: 08/10/2021
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More and more pet parents are choosing not to vaccinate their fur-babies. Experts say this is a risk that you shouldn't take. Many pet parents choose not to vaccinate due to a disproven study that suggests vaccines cause autism in humans. Before we dive in, it's important to reiterate that cats and dogs cannot develop autism.
But what if you take the chance not to vaccinate and decide to bring a new baby home? Can a puppy live with unvaccinated cats? We'll discuss this as well as the potential risks and legality of unvaccinated pets.
Why do some pet parents refuse vaccines for cats?
In recent years, fewer people are opting to vaccinate their pets. Some cite medical concerns, whereas others simply cannot afford them. Misinformation online can further complicate the decision of whether or not to vaccinate. Still, others create their own vaccination regimen to minimize perceived risks.
Some pet parents prefer to do a limited or spaced-out vaccination schedule rather than the schedule recommended by the CDC and the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Pet parents who take this avenue may have bloodwork done to see if the animal still has antibodies to a particular disease. If they don't, they will have the vet administer a weight-related dose to their fur-baby.
Vaccines aren’t usually calculated by weight. Every feline receives the same size dose no matter their size, and some veterinarians say vaccinating based on weight can render the vaccines less effective.
So what are the risks of not getting your cats vaccinated?
Risks of not getting your cats vaccinated
Not having your cat vaccinated can leave them at high risk for a slew of preventable illnesses. Having two or more unvaccinated cats in the same vicinity can be even more dangerous since cats can quickly pass contagions back and forth — especially if they're allowed outdoors.
Refusing the distemper shot could cause your cat to develop feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, or panleukopenia. These 3 viruses are highly contagious among cats, and they can be deadly if your cat catches them. Thankfully, none of these viruses can be transmitted from cats to dogs.
Panleukopenia is essentially the feline equivalent to parvo. Although dogs can't catch it, the side effects are similar: low electrolytes, low blood cell counts, and persistent diarrhea. The remaining two viruses the distemper shot protects against are severe respiratory illnesses — one of which, calicivirus, has a staggering 67% death rate.
Law enforcement can fine you for not having your cat vaccinated against rabies since it's mandatory in most states. Why is the law so harsh on cat parents who don’t vaccinate against rabies? Well, for good reason. Rabies is incurable, can be passed to humans, and means euthanasia or painful death by paralysis. What’s more, felines are the number-one domesticated animal affected by this deadly disease.
Can diseases and parasites be transmitted from cats to dogs?
There are many illnesses and parasites that cats can transmit to dogs, the scariest of which is rabies.
Cats who come and go outside are most susceptible to contracting rabies since wild animal bites are almost always the cause. Rabies progresses over several stages, beginning with cold-like symptoms and anorexia, then advancing to aggression, biting, foaming at the mouth, and finally, paralysis.
Vets can only test for rabies after death, so they rely on quarantine to diagnose it. Pets thought to have rabies must quarantine for 10 days to see if the illness progresses and if it actually is rabies. Contact your vet or animal control immediately if you think your pet may be rabid. Animal control can capture your animal and contain them safely so you're not at risk if they are indeed rabid.
Puppies can't get a rabies vaccine until 3 to 6 months of age, meaning there is a significant period of time where they are vulnerable to this deadly virus. It's unlikely a predominantly indoor cat will contract rabies, but it is still a risk when you refuse to vaccinate your pet.
Cats can also transmit bordetella, also known as kennel cough, to dogs. Dogs can catch this illness simply by breathing the same air or eating out of the same bowl as an infected cat. Symptoms of bordetella include a dry, hacking cough, fever, and discharge from the nostrils. While kennel cough itself is rarely deadly, it can turn into pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
If you suspect your cat or dog has kennel cough, it's crucial you quarantine the pets away from each other until the symptoms resolve. Call the vet if you suspect your pet has bordetella; they can give your pet antibiotics and cough suppressants to prevent worsening symptoms or pneumonia.
Intestinal parasites, mange, and fungal infections are all risks when housing untreated cats with dogs. One of the most common illnesses transmitted by cats to dogs is ringworm. Ringworm is a mild fungal infection that attacks the skin and can quickly be spread back and forth between animals in close contact. Ringworm can even be transmitted to people if proper sanitation measures (like hand washing) aren't taken.
Like ringworm, cats can transmit parasites to dogs, but there is no vaccine against either. Worms are particularly common in households with untreated animals; these can be passed by sharing food, eating feces, or grooming one another. Mange isn't usually transmitted from felines to dogs, though there is one type of mange-causing mite that can pass from cats to dogs.
While puppies can technically live with unvaccinated cats, there are substantial risks associated with this living arrangement. Weigh the risks and benefits of vaccinations for both your cats and your new puppy. Remember, our cats can't speak for themselves, and it's up to us to do what we can to protect them.