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Pet Vaccinations: Understanding Vaccinations for Your Cat or Dog

WebMD discusses pet vaccinations, including why pets need them, vaccination reactions, and more.

Vets talk of “core” and “non-core” vaccines. What’s this mean?

Core vaccines are those that are universally recommended and most commonly given. Non-core vaccines are optional, according to protocols set by major veterinary organizations. 

Parvovirus vaccine is core, and dogs should get a minimum of three doses between six and 16 weeks, administered at intervals of three to four weeks. The final dose should be given at 14-16 weeks. Then the dog needs a booster a year later followed by revaccination every three years.

Other core vaccines for dogs are those against rabies, distemper, and adenovirus-2. Non-core vaccines include those to ward off Bordetella, parainfluenza, Leptospira, and Lyme disease.

What are the core vaccines for cats?

All kittens should be vaccinated as early as six weeks of age against panleukopenia, the feline form of parvovirus, and also for herpesvirus, rabies, and calicivirus. 

Non-core vaccines are for protection from feline leukemia, feline immune deficiency virus, chlamydophilia, and Bordetella.

Why has the topic of pet vaccination become so hot?

Part of the intense focus on pet vaccination stems from the highly publicized debate that vaccines may cause autism in people, a discounted but widespread theory.

Also, new vaccines and research “show that some of the routinely administered vaccines for dogs and cats actually immunize for much longer than one year,” Ford says. “Today, selected vaccines are recommended to be administered to adult pets every three years. 

Some veterinarians have expressed reluctance to implement triennial (every three year) vaccination, until there is more information available," Ford says.

Would I be playing doctor to put my pet on an alternate schedule?

“Alternative vaccination schedules for kittens and puppies are not recommended,” Ford says. “However, among adult dogs and cats, alternative re-vaccination schedules are feasible.”

Are there any alternatives to just doing what vets say?

Yes. Do some research to arm yourself to ask good questions. You also can ask for blood work, called titer testing, a tool to help assess the status of your pet’s defenses against specific infections.

How can you tell if a vet is a good one?

“If they take time to explain vaccines and ask about your pet’s lifestyle, I’d say that’s a good vet,” Casal says. “If you have one who doesn’t want to hear questions, that’s not where you want to be.”

Does the federal government require rabies shots?

No. Only 39 states require rabies vaccines for dogs and 31 for cats, according to a 2008 survey by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. 

Even within states, rabies requirements vary widely, says Charles Rupprecht, VMD, PhD. Rupprecht is chief of the rabies program at the CDC. The disease is fatal in animals but can be cured in humans who seek medical help immediately after exposure to an infected animal.

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