No medical procedure or treatment is without risk, which includes vaccinations. The goal of determining which vaccines to use when is to ensure that the benefits of immunization far outweigh the risks. Thankfully, new vaccination guidelines for both dogs and cats simplify these decisions for pet owners.
Potentially beneficial pet vaccines are divided into two categories: core and noncore. Core vaccines are those that, except in rare circumstances, should be given to every pet on a standard schedule. Veterinarians have made this determination because these vaccines are very safe and effectively protect pets (and in some cases the people around them) against diseases that are prevalent and/or catastrophic in nature.
Core Vaccines for Dogs
- canine distemper virus
- canine parvovirus type 2
- canine adenovirus type 2
Core Vaccines for Cats
- feline viral rhinotracheitis (herpes virus)
- panleukopenia (feline distemper)
Noncore vaccines are beneficial for some pets but may not be warranted for others depending on an individual’s age, lifestyle, geographic location, and underlying health concerns.
Commonly recommended noncore vaccines for dogs include:
- parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and sometimes canine influenza virus (if prevalent in the area) for pets with significant contact with other dogs
- Borrelia burgdorferi vaccination in parts of the country where Lyme disease is commonly diagnosed
- four way Leptospira interrogans for dogs that may come in contact with the urine of infected dogs or wildlife or bodies of water that are potentially contaminated with urine
Commonly recommended noncore vaccines for cats include:
- feline leukemia virus (FELV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) when cats have access to the outdoors or live with an infected housemate
Puppies and kittens require a series of vaccinations given approximately every three weeks between the ages of eight and sixteen weeks to develop complete, protective immunity. Older pets with an unknown vaccination history should receive two sets of vaccines given three weeks apart. In either case, a pet’s immunizations should be boosted one year later and then every three years, annually, or potentially every six months depending on the vaccine and the pet’s risk factors. Vaccination titers (i.e., checking the level of protective antibodies in a pet’s blood) can sometimes be used in lieu of boosters.
A pet’s vaccine needs change with age, variations in lifestyle, and their health status. If you are unsure of what your dog or cat should receive, talk to your veterinarian.