5 min read

Do Unvaccinated Pets Have Higher Vet Care Costs?


By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 02/03/2022, edited: 02/03/2022

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There’s a lot of discussion these days among people who believe that vaccinations prevent illness, and those who are ”anti-vaxx.” Anti-vaxxers think that vaccinations don’t really protect us from disease and come with a long list of side effects that can endanger our health. 

Recently, veterinarians have been reporting that the anti-vaxx movement is now affecting our pets, as not all pet parents believe in vaccinating them. The reasons behind the decision may be medical, ethical, philosophical, or financial, but whatever the rationale, not vaccinating a pet may actually result in higher vet costs.

Do all dogs and cats need to be vaccinated? And do unvaccinated pets incur higher vet expenses? Let’s look at the vaccines, diseases they prevent and what the costs might be for veterinary care if your pet is at risk.

Dog Vaccines

During a puppy’s first year, they'll typically receive vaccinations against:

Non-core vaccines may also be recommended based on the dog’s environment, age, and lifestyle. Some diseases are more prevalent in specific areas of the country where fleas, ticks, and other disease carriers live in abundance. Dogs who camp and hike with their pet parents may be at more risk than those who don't go outside into the woods much. And while many dogs stay at home, others are regularly exposed to communicable diseases at doggy daycare or dog parks. 

These non-core vaccines can include:

How much do all these vaccines cost? Vaccination costs vary depending on where you and Fido live. The average cost for core vaccines is about $88 in the U.S. but can be up to $100. Rabies vaccination adds on another $15 - $20, and non-core immunizations average $33 per shot. Some shelters and associations offer immunizations at discounted or no cost.

brown and white dog looking at vaccine needle

The Cost of Not Vaccinating Your Dog

When a dog is not vaccinated completely, they’re subject to diseases that may make them very ill, and that may even be fatal. They can also carry bacteria and viruses that can be transferred to other pets or, in a few cases, their pet parents. Let’s look at a few of these illnesses and their treatment costs.

  • Parvovirus is a serious illness that primarily causes gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, fever, and dehydration. It may require hospitalization for intravenous and other supportive care. The cost to treat parvo can average from $500 to $2,000. 
  • Rabies attacks the neurological system, particularly the brain, and is almost always fatal. Symptoms can include aggression, paralysis, disorientation, and trouble walking. Human exposure to rabies through a bite or scratch will require a series of painful injections. The cost of veterinary treatment of rabies in a dog ranges from $950 - $2,000. 
  • Lyme disease is transmitted by fleas and ticks, and causes chronic pain and difficulty walking. Once contracted, it must be treated with antibiotics. Pups often need pain medication and IV support, and the effects of the disease can persist and require treatment throughout a dog’s life. The cost of treatment for Lyme disease in a dog ranges from $500 - $6,000.
  • Adenovirus-1 causes a liver infection in dogs that can result in bleeding, fever, paralysis, and cardiovascular disease, and can be life-threatening. A dog can catch it by coming into contact with infected dogs, such as in kennels and crowded dog parks. The cost of veterinary treatment of adenovirus infectious hepatitis ranges from $2,000 - $6,000.

These are just four of the canine diseases that can be prevented with timely vaccination against them. The cost of treating them clearly outpaces the cost of the vaccines against them.

Cat vaccines

Some pet parents may believe their feline fluffers will have no problem living without vaccines, especially if they’re indoor cats. And while having no contact with wild animals or outdoor cats may protect them from some serious diseases, they lose that protection if they escape from the house, have to be housed with other cats in a kennel, or come into contact with another infected pet in their own home. Cat vaccines are necessary to ensure that, no matter where they are, they are still protected.

Core immunizations for cats include:

  • Rabies
  • Feline distemper (panleukopenia)
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpes virus I

Non-core immunizations are available for:

What's the average cost for cat vaccines? The cost of fully vaccinating your cat will range from $10 - $100, depending on where you live and the number of non-core vaccinations recommended by your vet. As in dogs, incidental add-on costs can raise that figure and non-core vaccinations may cost an average of $18 per shot. A rabies vaccination will cost an additional $10 - $20. What might the cost be if your furball catches one of the diseases vaccines protect against?

white cat laying down about to get a vaccine

The cost of not vaccinating your cat

There are feline diseases that will put your kitty at risk for severe illness and even death. Let’s look at a few:

  • Feline distemper (panleukopenia) causes damage to white and red blood cells, resulting in a severe deficit in both types of cells. Symptoms that may arise from feline distemper include anemia, diarrhea, weight loss, and fever. Because of the loss of white blood cells, which fight infection, the cat is also subject to other infections. The average cost of treating a cat with feline distemper ranges from $500 - $2,000.
  • Feline herpesvirus 1 causes severe upper respiratory infections in cats, with symptoms like eye pain and infection, wheezing, fever, and difficulty breathing. Short- and long-term treatment may include nebulizer treatment, IV fluids, ointments to treat eye infections and spasms, and antibiotics/antiviral medication. Symptoms may reappear at any time. The average cost of treating feline herpesvirus ranges from $200 - $1,000.
  • Feline calicivirus infection is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection that can cause mouth ulcers, fever, difficulty breathing, or a system-wide infection that attacks the cat’s internal organs. Supportive treatment and medication typically result in recovery, but cats with the disease are vulnerable to secondary infections that can make full recovery more difficult. The average cost of treating feline calicivirus infection ranges from $200 - $500.

Can you get pet insurance without vaccinations?

Most pet insurance companies will ask for proof of core vaccinations before they’ll issue a pet health insurance policy for your pet. For them, the cost of high-priced treatment is not a reasonable risk. They may also reject a claim because they consider the illness pre-existing if the pet is not vaccinated. Some policies in effect may be voided if vaccinations are not kept up to date.

Do I need to vaccinate my pet every year?

Most vaccinations will require boosters to reinforce their effectiveness once a year or every three years. The full series of vaccines doesn’t have to be administered every year. Most pet parents take their cat or dog to the veterinary clinic annually, and this is the most common and convenient time to administer boosters.

However, the cost of these boosters throughout a pet's lifetime still outweighs the cost of contracting a disease if not protected. 

Are you concerned about the cost of vaccinations? Check out our wellness plans at Wag! Wellness and get reimbursed for 100% of the cost of your pet's vaccinations!

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