top of page

Vaccines - Everything you need to know!

Vaccines are products designed to trigger protective immune responses and prepare the immune system to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines stimulate the immune system's production of antibodies that identify and destroy disease-causing organisms that enter the body. They provide immunity against one or several diseases that can lessen the severity or prevent certain diseases altogether. Similar to humans, your pet's vaccines protect your pet from highly contagious and deadly diseases and improve your his/her overall quality of life.


  1. Vaccines prevent many pet illnesses

  2. Vaccinations can help avoid costly treatments for diseases that can be prevented.

  3. Vaccinations prevent diseases that can be passed between animals and also from animals to people.

  4. Diseases prevalent in wildlife, such as rabies and distemper, can infect unvaccinated pets.

  5. In many areas, local or state ordinances require certain vaccinations of household pets.


For most pets, vaccination is effective in preventing future disease or decreasing the severity clinical signs. It is important to follow the vaccination schedule provided by your veterinarian to reduce the possibility of a gap in protection.


Very young animals are highly susceptible to infectious disease because their immune system is not yet fully mature. They receive protection through antibodies in their mother's milk, but the protection is not long-lasting and there may be gaps in protection as the milk antibodies decrease and their immune system is still maturing. Maternal antibodies can also interfere with a puppy’s or kitten’s vaccine response, so a series of vaccines is typically recommended to ensure that the puppy or kitten receives a vaccine as early as possible after maternal antibodies subside.

In many instances, the first dose of a vaccine serves to prime the animal's immune system against the virus or bacteria while subsequent doses help further stimulate the immune system to produce the important antibodies needed for long-term protection.


An incomplete series of vaccinations may lead to incomplete protection, making puppies and kittens vulnerable to infection.

To provide optimal protection against disease in the first few months of life, a series of vaccinations are scheduled, usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most puppies and kittens, the final vaccination in the series is administered at about 4 months of age; however, a veterinarian may alter the schedule based on an individual animal's risk factors.


"Core" vaccines are recommended for most pets in a particular area or geographical location because they protect from diseases most common in that area. "Non-core" vaccinations are for individual pets with unique needs. Your veterinarian will consider your pet's risk of exposure to a variety of preventable diseases in order to customize a vaccination program for optimal protection throughout your pet's life.

Talk with your veterinarian about your pet's lifestyle, including any expected travel to other geographical locations and/or contact with other pets or wild animals, since these factors impact your pet's risk of exposure to certain diseases.


Many vaccinations provide adequate immunity when administered every few years, while others require more frequent schedules to maintain an acceptable level of immunity that will continually protect your pet. Your veterinarian will determine a vaccination schedule that's appropriate for your pet.


Antibody titers are blood tests that measure the amount of antibodies in the blood. While antibody titers do not replace vaccination programs, they may help your veterinarian determine if your pet has a reasonable expectation of protection against disease.

Many factors are taken into consideration when establishing a pet's vaccination plan. Your veterinarian will tailor a program of vaccinations and preventive health care that will help your pet maintain a lifetime of infectious disease protection.


Any type of medical treatment has associated risks, but the risk should be weighed against the benefits of protecting your pet, your family and your community from potentially fatal diseases. The majority of pets respond well to vaccines.

The most common adverse responses to vaccination are mild and short-term. Serious reactions are rare. An uncommon but serious adverse reaction that can occur in cats is tumor growth (sarcomas), which can develop weeks, months, or even years after a vaccination. Improvements in vaccination technology and technique have greatly reduced the occurrence of sarcomas.


It is common for pets to experience some or all of the following mild side effects after receiving a vaccine, usually starting within hours of the vaccination. If these side effects last for more than a day or two, or cause your pet significant discomfort, it is important for you to contact your veterinarian:

  • Discomfort and local swelling at the vaccination site

  • Mild fever

  • Decreased appetite and activity

  • Sneezing, mild coughing, "snotty nose" or other respiratory signs may occur 2-5 days after your pet receives an intranasal vaccine

More serious, but less common side effects, such as allergic reactions, may occur within minutes to hours after vaccination. These reactions can be life-threatening and are medical emergencies. Seek veterinary care immediately if any of these signs develop:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea

  • Itchy skin that may seem bumpy ("hives")

  • Swelling of the muzzle and around the face, neck, or eyes

  • Severe coughing or difficulty breathing

  • Collapse

  • A small, firm swelling under the skin may develop at the site of a recent vaccination. It should start to disappear within a couple weeks. If it persists more than three weeks, or seems to be getting larger, you should contact your veterinarian.

Always inform your veterinarian if your pet has had prior reactions to any vaccine or medication. If in doubt, wait for 30-60 minutes following vaccination before taking your pet home.


Canine Vaccines

Canine Distemper (DA2PP - distemper, adenovirus type 2 (hepatitis), parvovirus, parainfluenza) - (core vaccine)

A severe and contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal (GI), and nervous systems of dogs, raccoons, skunks, and other animals, distemper spreads through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) from an infected animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment. It causes discharges from the eyes and nose, fever, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, twitching, paralysis, and, often, death. This disease used to be known as “hard pad” because it causes the footpad to thicken and harden.

There is no cure for distemper. Treatment consists of supportive care and efforts to prevent secondary infections, control symptoms of vomiting, seizures and more. If the animal survives the symptoms, it is hoped that the dog’s immune system will have a chance to fight it off. Infected dogs can shed the virus for months.

The first puppy vaccination may begin as early as 8 weeks of age and be boostered anywhere from two to four weeks later, as long as the final booster is given no earlier than 16 weeks of age. It's important to note that 16-week-old dogs receiving their first CDV vaccine must be boostered again in two to four weeks to ensure immunity.

Rabies Vaccine (core vaccine)

Because of zoonotic potential, rabies vaccines are also considered core. Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that invades the central nervous system, causing headache, anxiety, hallucinations, excessive drooling, fear of water, paralysis, and death. It is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Treatment within hours of infection is essential, otherwise, death is highly likely. Most states require a rabies vaccination.

The first rabies vaccine ideally should be given at 16 weeks of age. The second dose must be administered within one year, regardless of the patient's age. If boostered on time, usually veterinarians will offer the three-year-labeled product.

Bordetella bronchiseptica monovalent (noncare vaccine)

The bordetella vaccine is given to both puppies and adult dogs. This vaccine helps to ward off a frequent known as kennel cough. Kennel cough is easily spread from one dog to another and is highly contagious. In healthy adult dogs, the condition is typically not life threatening.

Monovalent B. bronchiseptica is available in three options-a parenteral preparation administered subcutaneously, an IN vaccine that's an avirulent live product or an intraoral product administered in the buccal pouch of the mouth. Only the parenteral product is boostered, requiring two doses two to four weeks apart and then yearly. The other products are considered effective with a single dose that is repeated at yearly intervals if the dog is considered likely to be exposed. The oral and parenteral vaccines can be started at 8 weeks of age, but the IN vaccine may be given as early as 3 to 4 weeks of age in puppies thought to be at specific risk of exposure, like shelter or rescue animals housed in groups.

Leptospirosis - four-serovar Leptospira (noncore vaccine)

Lepstospirosis is a zoonotic disease, so protection can be especially important. It is a potentially serious disease caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans. It affects dogs but can also infect a wide variety of domestic and wild animals as well as humans.

The organism is usually spread through infected urine, but contaminated water or soil, reproductive secretions, and even consumption of infected tissues can also transmit the infection. Introduction of the organism through skin wounds can also occur. Common carriers of the organism include raccoons, opossums, rodents, skunks, and dogs.

The leptospirosis organisms rapidly advance through the bloodstream leading to fever, joint pain, and general malaise. Because the organism settles in the kidneys and actually reproduces there, inflammation and even kidney failure may develop. Unfortunately, liver failure is another common sequela to infection. Kidney and liver failure both have deadly consequences.

Initially, your dog will receive a series of two vaccines, but then boostered yearly thereafter.

Lyme Vaccine (Borrelia burgdorferi) - (noncore vaccine)

Lyme disease (or borreliosis) is an infectious, tick-borne disease caused by a type of bacteria called a spirochete. Transmitted via ticks, an infected dog often starts limping, his lymph nodes swell, his temperature rises, and he stops eating. The disease can affect his heart, kidney, and joints, among other things, or lead to neurological disorders if left untreated. If diagnosed quickly, a course of antibiotics is extremely helpful, though relapses can occur months or even years later.

The first vaccination may be given at 8 or 9 weeks of age (check the label for specific recommendations). Regardless of the dog's age at first vaccination, a second booster will be required in two to four weeks.

Canine influenza virus (CIV) H3N8 and H3N2 (noncore vaccine)

Canine influenza is a highly contagious viral infection affecting dogs. It is transmitted through droplets or aerosols containing respiratory secretions from coughing, barking and sneezing. Dogs in close contact with infected dogs in places such as kennels, groomers, day care facilities and shelters are at increased risk of infection. Canine influenza can be spread indirectly through objects (e.g., kennels, food and water bowls, collars and leashes) or people that have been in contact with infected dogs.

In dogs considered at risk, the first dose of the vaccine should be given four weeks prior to the challenge (e.g. boarding, daycare) to allow for the second dose to be given two weeks later and still allow for two more weeks so immunity can develop.

Feline Vaccines

Feline Distemper (FVRCP -Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia) - (core vaccine)

The FVRCP vaccine is a combination vaccine, meaning it includes protection against more than one disease (in this case, three common, but potentially serious, airborne viruses).

  • Rhinotracheitis is triggered by the common feline herpes virus. Symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose and drooling. Your cat's eyes may become crusted with mucous, and he or she may sleep much more and eat much less than normal. If left untreated this disease causes dehydration, starvation, and eventually, death.

  • Calicivirus has similar symptoms, affecting the respiratory system and also causing ulcers in the mouth. It can result in pneumonia if left untreated—kittens and senior cats are especially vulnerable.

  • Panleukopenia is also known as distemper and is easily spread from one cat to another. Distemper is so common that nearly all cats—regardless of breed or living conditions—will be exposed to it in their lifetime. It’s especially common in kittens who have not yet been vaccinated against it, and symptoms include fever, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. This disease progresses rapidly and requires immediate medical attention. Without intervention, a cat can die within 12 hours of contracting the disease.

These three viruses can be contracted by cats at any age. Kittens should receive their first FVRCP vaccination at 8 weeks of age, followed by three booster shots once a month. Adult cats should receive a booster once every year or two, according to your vet's recommendation.

Rabies Vaccine (core vaccine)

Because of zoonotic potential, rabies vaccines are also considered core. Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that invades the central nervous system, causing headache, anxiety, hallucinations, excessive drooling, fear of water, paralysis, and death. It is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Treatment within hours of infection is essential, otherwise, death is highly likely. Most states require a rabies vaccination.

The first rabies vaccine ideally should be given at 16 weeks of age. The second dose must be administered within one year, regardless of the patient's age. If boostered on time, usually veterinarians will offer the three-year-labeled product.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) - (noncore vaccine)

Feline leukemia is a viral disease that is spread through saliva by fighting, mutual grooming, and sharing of food/water bowls and litter boxes. Kittens may also acquire infections from their mother before birth. Feline leukemia causes a wide variety of problems in infected cats. These include immune suppression, anemia, and lymphoma (cancer of the white blood cells). Unfortunately, most persistently infected cats have a shortened life expectancy.

Vaccination against feline leukemia is recommended at 8 weeks of age. A booster must be given in 3-4 weeks. Another booster should be given in 1 year, then annually in cats with routine exposure - those who go outside or have contact with unvaccinated cats.


Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page