Pet vaccinations are crucial to dog and cat health, because they provide protection from viral and bacterial diseases that circulate among pets and wildlife. Some vaccinations, including rabies and leptospirosis, can also protect your human family by preventing pets from becoming infected and transmitting the disease to you. 

Over the years, pet vaccine recommendations have changed dramatically, and your pet no longer requires them every year. The Neighborhood Vet team uses your pet’s age, health, and lifestyle to determine their appropriate vaccines. Our vaccine protocols follow American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommendations, which are backed by the most up-to-date research and science.

How pet vaccines work

A vaccine contains viral or bacterial particles (i.e., antigens) that have been deactivated so they cannot make your pet sick, but the immune system can recognize the antigens as foreign. After the first exposure, the body begins to make antibodies that can help fight the antigens if your pet becomes infected with the real thing. After the second, or booster, exposure, antibody production ramps up greatly, and most pets are fully protected from the disease a few weeks later. Puppies and kittens may require more than one booster for each vaccine, because antibodies acquired from their mother’s milk can interfere with new antibody production.

Core pet vaccines

AAHA divides pet vaccines into two categories—core vaccines, which are recommended for all pets, and non-core vaccines, which are recommended only for certain pets based on lifestyle. 

Core vaccines for dogs include:

Distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus are usually combined into a single vaccination dose, which may also include leptospirosis—a non-core vaccine. This is commonly known as the canine distemper combination, DA2PP, DAP, or DAPP + L.

Core vaccines for cats include:

Panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus are most often combined into one product known as the feline distemper combination (FVRCP).

Non-core pet vaccines

Non-core vaccines are those given only to pets who are at higher risk for contracting those diseases. Non-core vaccines for dogs include:

  • Bordetella +/- parainfluenza — Recommended for social dogs
  • Leptospirosis — This vaccine should be considered for all dogs because of rising disease prevalence, and because of disease transmission by urine of infected rodents or wildlife.
  • Lyme disease — Recommended for dogs with high tick exposure
  • Canine influenza — Recommended for social dogs

Non-core vaccines for cats include:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) — Recommended for all kittens and for adults living with infected cats or who venture outdoors
  • Bordetella — Recommended for cats in shelters or catteries, but not usually for all pets
  • Chlamydia — Recommended for shelter cats, but not usually pets

Puppy and kitten vaccine schedules

Puppies and kittens require that vaccines be given in an extended series, because their ability to make new antibodies can be hampered by the presence of antibodies from their mother’s milk. Once they are older than 16 weeks, this interference diminishes, and they can be protected from the new vaccines. 

Distemper combination series is usually started at 6 to 8 weeks of age, and repeated every three to four weeks until pets reach 16 weeks old. Rabies is given as a single dose on or after 12-1 weeks of age, or as required by local and state law. Recommended ages for starting other vaccines vary based on manufacturer, but most require two doses given two to four weeks apart. If your puppy needs multiple non-core vaccines, we will spread them out over several visits and administer them in order of importance for your specific pet.

Adult and senior pet vaccine schedules

All vaccines given to pets during their initial puppy or kitten series must be boosted again one year later. If your pet is due for multiple boosters, we will recommend splitting them into several visits to avoid over-stimulating your pet’s immune system or making them sick. After this one-year visit, core vaccines can be given every three years, while non-core vaccines are still required annually.

Vaccine side effects

While their immune system is responding to vaccine antigens, your pet may develop a slight fever, or feel lethargic, which are normal immune responses, and do not mean your pet has become infected with the disease the vaccine was intended to prevent. Pets may also feel sore at the injection site, and intranasal vaccines can cause transient sneezing or coughing.

Rarely, vaccines cause a serious allergic reaction. Usually, this occurs after a few minutes or hours, and requires immediate medical attention. A vaccine reaction may cause:

  • Facial swelling or body hives
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Collapse or shock

Pets with mild vaccine reactions, who are the vast majority, can usually continue to safely receive vaccines by receiving anti-allergy medications beforehand. If your pet has a severe reaction, we may recommend discontinuing all or select vaccines in the future.

Pet vaccinations can prevent devastating infectious diseases, reduce disease severity for others, and provide protection for other community people and pets. Contact The Neighborhood Vet to schedule your pet’s next vaccinations, or to discuss the right vaccinations for your pet. You can also ask about our housecall services, which make vaccinating your pet convenient and stress-free.