Pet Vaccinations

While nursing, pets receive antibodies and nutrients from their mother’s milk. When nursing stops, pets become more susceptible to illnesses because their immune systems do not have the same support they once did. As part of a preventative care routine, pet vaccinations can help protect your pet from life-threatening diseases.

For most pets, routine vaccinations start around the age of 6 to 8 weeks old and continue regularly throughout adulthood. Some vaccinations are even combined into a single syringe so a pet experiences fewer injections. After being vaccinated, most young pets take about 5 days to build protective antibodies with complete protection taking place after 14 days. Some vaccines require multiple dosages given over a short period of time, and most require booster shots every 6 months to 3 years. Pets who have been vaccinated have an advantage over those who have not. When a disease is detected, your vaccinated pet’s immune system quickly responds, decreasing severity of the illness or preventing it altogether. While it is rare, some pets do not develop immunity from their vaccinations and still become ill. If your pet has been vaccinated, is current on all of their booster shots, and has never shown signs of illness or disease, it has likely been successfully vaccinated.

Pet owners should note that vaccinations are preventative, not curative. A vaccination will prevent an illness, but if your pet is already suffering from a disease, a vaccine will not cure them.

Core and non-core pet vaccinations

There are several pet vaccinations that are necessary for all pets and others that are recommended only under special circumstances. Core vaccinations are those that are commonly recommended for all pets, and non-core vaccinations include those that are only administered to pets considered to be “at-risk.” Necessary vaccines depend on local regulations, geographic location, and your pet’s lifestyle. Your pet will be vaccinated according to their risk of exposure and your veterinarian will discuss the best options for your pet.

Canine vaccinations

Bordetella (kennel cough) – This is also a non-core vaccine, and your veterinarian might not consider your pet to be at risk. The vaccination is first given to puppies when they are 9 weeks old, and it is repeated a full 3 weeks later. Booster shots are then given every 6 to 12 months, depending on the dog’s exposure.

Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus (DHPP) – These vaccines are considered core vaccines. Your puppy will receive their first vaccination between 6 and 8 weeks old, and booster shots will be given once every 3 weeks until your puppy is 15 to 18 weeks old (depending on when vaccinations were started). A booster vaccination is administered after the first year and every third year following that.

Heartworm – Heartworm prevention is considered a non-core treatment and is given to a puppy/dog monthly for the extent of their life. Usually, a routine Heartworm test is performed at the 1 year exam. If Heartworm is detected, treatment is implemented.

Leptospirosis – This non-core vaccine can be given to a puppy aged 6 months or older and is an annual vaccination that is intended to prevent bacterial infections in the kidneys, liver, and other major organs. Depending on your dog’s risk of exposure, this vaccination could be unnecessary.

Lyme – The Lyme vaccination is a non-core vaccine that is first administered when the puppy reaches 12 weeks old. The first booster is given to the puppy at 15 weeks old, and annual boosters are recommended for dogs that reside in areas with increased exposure to ticks carrying Lyme disease.

Rabies – The rabies vaccine is considered a core vaccine, and many states require pets to have it by law, but there are a few exceptions. The initial vaccine is first given when the puppy reaches 16 weeks old. A booster shot is necessary after 1 year, then typically every 3rd year following that.

Feline vaccinations

Feline Herpesvirus, Calici Virus, Feline Distemper - These vaccines are considered core vaccines. Your kitten will receive their first vaccinations between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks, and they will need to be repeated once every 3 weeks until your kitten reaches 15 to 17 weeks old (depending on when vaccinations were started). A booster vaccination is administered annually for Feline Rhinotracheitis and Calici Virus. Feline Distemper boosters are given every 3 years.

Feline Leukemia (FeLV) – Feline Leukemia is a core vaccine and the disease is the number one cause of death in cats. The first vaccine is given when a kitten is 12 weeks old and the first booster is administered when the cat reaches 15 to 16 weeks old. Booster shots are recommended to be updated annually at pet wellness exams.

Rabies – This vaccine is also a core vaccination for kittens. The initial vaccine is first administered between 12 and 16 weeks of age. A booster shot is necessary after 1 year, then typically every 3 years following that.

Non-core vaccines for felines include Chlamydia, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, and Ringworm vaccines, but their use is only considered for pets with a high risk of exposure.

Preventable canine diseases and symptoms:

  • Adenovirus – a life-threatening disease that causes hepatitis. 
  • Distemper – also a life-threatening disease that causes diarrhea, pneumonia, seizures, and vomiting. 
  • Heartworm – a life-threatening parasite contracted through mosquito bites. These parasitic roundworms reside in the lungs and if left untreated, spread to the heart. Early symptoms include coughing and exhaustion, especially when exercising. Rarely, the roundworms get lost within the host and spread to other parts of the body, causing blindness, immobility, or seizures. Without treatment, roundworms build up in the lungs and heart, causing a pet to cough up blood, faint, and lose significant weight. It eventually results in congestive heart failure. 
  • Leptospirosis – a life-threatening disease that causes severe liver and kidney damage and hemorrhaging within the lungs. Symptoms include loss of appetite, yellowed eyes (jaundice), vomiting, lethargy, and urine that is dark brown in color. 
  • Lyme – a disease transferred through ticks. It is most common in the northern hemisphere which is why the vaccination remains “non-core”. Symptoms include circular skin rashes, depression, fatigue, fever, and headaches. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught in earlier stages.
  • Parainfluenza and Bordetella – both are illnesses that are highly contagious and cause kennel cough. While it is generally not life-threatening, symptoms include a non-stop runny nose and excessive coughing. 
  • Parvovirus – a potentially life-threatening disease that results in diarrhea, vomiting, and deterioration of the white blood cells. 
  • Rabies - a fatal disease attacking the central nervous system. Because there isn’t a cure for rabies, animals that contract the disease are euthanized. The greatest risk of keeping the pet alive is that the disease can be spread to humans.

Preventable feline diseases and symptoms: 

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) – a retroviral disease (one that duplicates itself and integrates with the host’s DNA) that causes immune suppression. Most cats that have the illness appear normal for years until the disease eventually depletes the immune system entirely, resulting in death. 
  • Feline Leukemia Virus – a potentially life threatening virus that causes chronic immune suppression, leading to frequent infection and illness. It often results in cancer. 
  • Herpesvirus and Calicivirus – highly contagious illnesses that cause fever, malaise, runny nose, and watery eyes. 
  • Panleukopenia (also known as Feline Distemper) - a life threatening disease that causes pets to suffer dehydration, diarrhea, low white blood cell count, and vomiting. 
  • Rabies - a fatal disease attacking the central nervous system. Because there isn’t a cure for rabies, animals that contract the disease are euthanized. The greatest risk of keeping the pet alive is that the disease can be spread to humans.

Pet vaccination concerns

Similar to human vaccinations, pet vaccinations do carry a risk of side-effects. While negative side-effects do exist, it is important to note that your pet is statistically more likely to develop a life-threatening illness when not vaccinated, than to suffer adverse results from a vaccination. None-the-less, it is important to remain informed so you can ask your veterinarian the appropriate questions at your pet’s appointment.

After being vaccinated, the injection site can be swollen or sore. Some pets also have a reduced appetite, fever, and experience lethargy. These side-effects should diminish over the next 24 to 48 hours. If you notice your pet’s side-effects are not subsiding, please contact our office. Very rarely, pets develop an allergy to a vaccine. Allergies can be detected within minutes of receiving a vaccination and if left untreated, can result in death. If you witness any of the following, contact our office immediately: collapse, non-stop diarrhea, continual vomiting, difficulty breathing, itching, or swelling of the legs or face.

Regulations regarding rabies vaccinations

While the federal government does not mandate pet vaccinations for rabies, most states implement their own laws regarding pet vaccination. Vaccination laws also vary from country to country, so if you plan on moving, be sure to check necessary requirements to ensure a smooth transition for your family.

States in which your pet can receive exemption from being vaccinated include: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey (dogs only), New York, Oregon (dogs only), Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. All other states require rabies vaccinations by law - for all pets.

If you have any questions about vaccinations or scheduling new pet vaccinations, you may contact our office at your convenience.

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