A vaccination, also known as an immunization, is a medication which stimulates an immune response to provide protection against a particular disease, or group of diseases. Vaccinations are commonly given to pets to protect them from specific diseases. Unless properly vaccinated, a pet may be at risk of contracting one of several, possibly fatal, infectious diseases. Vaccines are typically given to pets for the most serious and common of these diseases, and are usually extremely effective in fighting disease.

Most vaccines in animals are given annually, unless indicated differently by the veterinarian. Puppies and kittens require more frequent vaccinations to protect their immune system. Vaccinations also help to reduce virus transmission within the pet population. Routinely vaccinating a pet helps to protect a pet's immune system so it can lead a healthy life.

What Vaccines does my Dog Need?

The recommended core vaccines that every dog should receive are considered necessary based on risk of exposure, severity and the ability of these illnesses to be transmitted to humans. The core/routine vaccines are:

  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Parvovirus
  • Hepatitis

Vaccinations for Lyme disease or Leptospirosis may also be recommended depending on the dog's environment.

Typically, puppies receive a combination vaccine that protects against distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus. The rabies vaccination, administered as a separate injection, in addition to being part of the core group, is also required by law. The rabies vaccine must be administered periodically, in some regions annually and in others only once every 3 years.

The non-core vaccines are administered by veterinarians according to their evaluation of the dog's risk of contracting the disease. This assessment is based on the dog's home environment and lifestyle. The vet must also weigh any possible side effects in terms of the individual dog's age and overall medical condition. The non-core vaccines include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • Leptospira bacteria

What Vaccines does my Cat Need?

Certain feline vaccinations, considered essential for all cats, are known as core vaccines, so designated by The American Association of Feline Practitioners. Core vaccines provide protection against the following diseases:

  • Rabies
  • Feline Distemper
  • Feline rhinotracheitis
  • Feline calicivirus

The only feline vaccination required by law is a rabies vaccination which is mandated in almost all states. In some states, the vaccination is required annually; in others, the pet may only be required to receive it every three years.

Non-core vaccinations are administered to cats when the veterinarian considers them necessary because of the individual cat's lifestyle, environment or medical condition. The vaccination needs of an outdoor cat, for example, may differ from those of an indoor cat. Similarly, a cat who comes into contact with many other animals may require more vaccinations than a cat that lives alone with its owners.

Non-core feline vaccinations may include those for:

  • Feline leukemia virus
  • Bordetella (kennel cough)
  • Chlamydophila felis
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Lyme disease, though rare in cats

The veterinarian is in a position to decide on which vaccinations are necessary for a particular cat, taking into consideration its health history and genetic background, as well as its lifestyle.

Side Effects of Vaccinations

Side effects of vaccinations are rare, but may include:

  • Swelling at the injection site
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

There is an extremely slight chance of the animals contracting the disease that they are being vaccinated against, however, the overall benefits of vaccinations greatly outweigh the risks.

Vaccinations are an important part of protecting a pet's health.

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American Veterinary Medical Association World Small Animal Veterinary Association AAVMC