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All About Pet Vaccinations

In our quest to keep our pets safe from deadly diseases,we routinely deliver them to our veterinarians for pet vaccinations every year or every three years. Most of us probably think nothing of it, assuming everything that is done is necessary and safe for our pets.


The pet vaccinations available for dogs that are considered “core” include canine rabies virus, canine parvovirus (CPV), canine distemper virus(CDV), and canine adinovirus-2 (CAV-2).


The “core” pet vaccinations available for cats include feline rabies virus, feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), feline calicivirus (FCV), and feline herpes virus 1 (FHV1). Opposition to vaccines in general has existed since its discovery and use, and in the last few years, more and more vets and pet owners have raised concerns about pet vaccinations and how necessary they are. Some even question their safety, claiming they might actually cause illnesses.

I wanted to look into this a bit and present information about this controversial topic to keep you up-to-date. For this article, I will deal with vaccination information regarding dogs and cats.

First of all, it’s nothing new or unusual to us to think of vaccines as part of pet ownership. When you adopt a pet, the routine information given to you is that you should take your new pet to a vet for a full checkup and for their shots. Most of us do that without a second thought.

It’s most likely that your vet will examine your pet and give it vaccination shots for diseases such as rabies and distemper. Puppies and kittens are given shots when they are several weeks old and then get “booster”or additional follow up shots later on. Even after our pets reach adulthood, we take them to the vet to get shots annually or every three years.

The word vaccine is from “vacca,” or “cow” in Latin.Edward Jenner of England is credited with successfully using the cowpox virus to immunize people against smallpox in 1796, a feared deadly disease during that age. Vaccines are actually very small doses of the diseases in question, which is supposed to force the recipient’s natural immune system to kick in and fight off the viruses, thus making them stronger and better able to fight off diseases if they are exposed to them in the future. It may even make them immune to the disease altogether.

The rabies vaccination is recommended for dogs when they are about 16 weeks of age. They should receive a “booster” shot after 1 year, and then every three years after that with a vaccine that has been approved for administration every three years. Adult dogs with an unknown history should get one shot of rabies vaccination, then another after 1 year, then every three years after that.

For the parvovirus, distemper, and adinovirus-2vaccines, it is recommended that puppies receive the shots at  6 to 8weeks of age, again at 9 to 11 weeks of age, and one more at 12 to 16weeks of age. For dogs older than 16 weeks of age, one dose of these vaccines, as well as a “booster” or follow-up shots are recommended at 1year. After that, shots should be administered every 3 years.

The vaccines that are considered “non-core” include canine parainfluenza virus (CPiV) and bordetella bronchiseptica (both connected with kennel cough), distemper-measles combination vaccine, leptospira, and borrelia burgdorferi. These vaccines are optional and you should consider the pet’s risk of exposure due to geography and lifestyle when deciding whether or not to administer the shots.

Both the parainfluenza and bordetella bronchiseptica vaccinations should be given if you are going to board your dog in a kennel. In fact, most boarding facilities will require you to do so. The vaccination can be given within 6 months of the anticipated boarding date, but 1 week prior to boarding for the best protection.

The distemper-measles combination vaccine is usually administered to pups 4 to 12 weeks of age. A booster is given about 2 to 4 weeks later. This vaccine is not used in dogs older than 12weeks of age and only in environments where distemper-measles is a known problem.

The borrelia burgdorferi or Lyme borreliosis vaccine should be administered at 9 or 12 weeks of age, then again 2 to 4weeks later. Since risk of exposure to Lyme disease in California is considered to be extremely low, this vaccine is probably not one that we would consider here.

The leptospira vaccine should be considered for dogs that have exposure to wildlife or livestock. One dose of the vaccine is given in dogs 12 weeks of age or older, then again 2 to 4 weeks later. This vaccination is not recommended for dogs not exposed to wildlife or livestock because there is a high incidence of negative reactions to this vaccine. Puppies younger than 12 weeks of age and smaller breed dogs have the highest incidence of negative reactions, so extreme care and consideration should be taken when dealing with this vaccine.

Other vaccines that are available on the market include canine coronavirus, giardia spp., canine adenovirus-1, and rattlesnake
envenomation. These are generally not recommended because there is either minimal evidence of their effectiveness, and/or there is a high incidence of negative reactions.

Kittens12 to16 weeks of age should receive their first feline rabies vaccination. Adult cats with an unknown  history should get one dose of the vaccination. Like the canine rabies vaccination, depending on the type of  vaccine, boosters can be given at 1 or 3 years.

The feline viral rhinotracheitis (herpes virus 1), feline calicivirus and feline panleukopenia virus (distemper)  vaccines are usually given in combination (called FVRCP) to kittens at 6 to 8 weeks, then at 9 to11weeks, and a third dose at 12 to 16 weeks of age. After that, a booster is given at one year, and then every three years after that. The panleukopenia vaccine should not be given to pregnant cats.

The optional or “non-core” vaccines for cats include feline leukemia virus(FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV, sometimes called feline AIDS virus), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), chlamydophila felis,bordetella bronchiseptica, and giardia spp.

The feline leukemia virus vaccine is reasonably effective and is recommended for outdoor cats that have direct contact with other cats. Keep in mind, however,that kittens are the most susceptible to this disease and vaccination is recommended for kittens younger than 16 weeks of age. After an initial dose, another is given after a 2 to 4 week interval. After that, a booster is given every year, or every three years. Vaccination is not recommended for older cats that have little risk of exposure.

The feline immunodeficiency virus vaccine is controversial and there are doubts about its ability to protect cats against all strains of FIV. It s not recommended for indoor cats and you should discuss administering this vaccine with your vet.

The feline infectious peritonitis vaccine is another controversial vaccine because of questions about its efficacy and duration. This vaccine should be considered for cats around16 weeks of age that will be entering an environment where FIP is a known problem.

The feline chlamydophila felis vaccine also should only be considered for cats that will be introduced into an environment where infection is a known problem. This vaccine’s negative points include short duration of protection and incomplete protection.

The feline bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine is not recommended as routine,only for younger cats that are at risk for exposure in an environment with multiple cats. This disease usually hits young kittens most often.

As with the canine giardia vaccine, the feline giardia vaccine can cause negative reactions, such as sarcoma (cancer), and is not recommended.


Although vaccines are the conventional and accepted way to prevent diseases in us as well as our pets since its discovery, there is an increasing number of vocal critics of pet vaccinations.

Some vets and pet owners have claimed that vaccines are the source of immediate negative side effects as well as long-term health issues. A number of illnesses are connected to vaccinations, such as asthma, allergies, anemia, digestive problems,cancer, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, organ failure,seizures, neurological disorders, and tumors.

There is evidence of sarcoma (cancerous tumors) at the site of injections. All these frequent shots may also be compromising our pets’ health by overloading their immune systems.

Not only do people object to these regular pet vaccinations as a source of a variety of problems, but some also claim that some vaccinations are unnecessary because of the rarity of some of the disease in question. There are vets who now offer tests to determine the level of antibodies (proteins that in immune system that identify and fight off viruses and bacteria) in animals so that they can decide on the needed vaccinations for  individual pets.


In the end, I believe it’s best to educate yourself as much as possible about all the vaccines out there,those being given to your pets, and to talk to your veterinarian about the best course of action for your pet.

Vaccinations have proven to be effective over many years of use and I think it’s important to prevent diseases, but keep in mind that each pet is unique and it’s best to determine with your vet the best course of  action. A barn cat’s vaccination needs will differ greatly from the pampered lone kitty living in a condo. The  working sheep herding dog will probably need additional vaccines compared to the lap dog that goes outside only for walks and potty breaks.

Of course, pet vaccinations are not 100percent effective all the time, as I found out with the kittens I tried to adopt. They had been vaccinated, but were not protected from the distemper virus.

You don’t want to vaccinate when it’s not necessary and you should keep close tabs on what your pet is receiving and how often to ensure maximum benefit and safety. When combination shots are given, ask what is contained in the shots and get an explanation of each component.

When vaccination shots are given,talk to your vet about where the shots are administered and why. After vaccinations, observe your pet to catch any signs of negative side effects.

I’ve tried to give an overview of a very large topic here, and I’m sure there are many facets to this story that I haven’t touched upon, so be sure to do some additional fact-gathering about pet vaccinations. It’s your pet’s health at stake, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and give input on what might be best for our furry friends!

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • The Woof Blog September 12, 2010, 11:39 pm

    Pet Vaccinations: Pros and Cons

    Recently, I had a client whose dog had a bad reaction to a vaccination, which made me want to touch upon this subject again. Although vaccinations are now a regular part of vet care for our pets,
    it’s a topic that has its share of controversy. In this article, I want to talk about the protective value of vaccines, as well as some of the negative effects attributed to them, and what to watch
    out for if you do decide to vaccinate your pet.

    Many of …

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