Shots for Cats and Dogs
Even our pets need to stay up to date on their vaccinations
Our cats and dogs are more than just pets to us — they’re family. And they’ve become an even more central part of our family over the last few years of being at home together. So it’s important to keep our four-legged friends happy, healthy and protected from dangerous illnesses. And some diseases — like rabies and Lyme disease — can be spread to humans, too. Let’s get our pets vaccinated for their sake and ours!
We’ve talked to local experts to get the latest on vaccinations for pets. Whether you’re thinking about adopting a furry friend for the first time or have plenty of expertise with family pets, it’s essential to know what our pets need.
The first group of vaccines to consider for pets are the core vaccines, according to the ASPCA, these vaccines are “considered vital to all pets based on risk of exposure, severity of disease or transmissibility to humans.” And some are required by law.
The most important of these is the rabies vaccine. In almost every state, proof of rabies vaccination is required for both cats and dogs, though the starting age and frequency of vaccination varies by state.
In Pennsylvania, cats and dogs must receive their first rabies vaccine before they reach 16 weeks. In Delaware, your pet must be vaccinated by the time they reach 6 months. In both states, your pet must be kept up to date on rabies shots based on the type of vaccine they’re given, typically every one to three years.
Other core vaccines are not legally mandated but are highly recommended to keep your pet safe. For dogs, this consists of canine parvovirus (a highly contagious and potentially fatal virus), distemper and canine hepatitis. For cats, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) strongly suggests vaccinating against feline distemper, feline herpes and calicivirus (a highly contagious respiratory illness).
Most of these vaccines are given starting at 8 to 12 weeks and are administered in multiple doses at four-week intervals. Many also have boosters given every one to three years.
These shots are just the beginning of what may be needed to help protect your pet.
More Shots to Consider
Beyond the core vaccines, your veterinarian may recommend others based on your pet’s individual risk factors. For example, some diseases are more prevalent in certain regions. Another factor is where your pet came from. If your pet was a rescue, it may have been exposed to diseases that a pet from a breeder wouldn’t encounter.
And for cats especially, lifestyle plays a significant role. An outdoor cat will be exposed to many diseases — feline leukemia virus, chlamydia — than a cat that lives entirely indoors.
For dogs, Dr. Corinne Thomas, VMD at Aardvark Animal Hospital in Downingtown recommends vaccinating against Bordetella (the primary cause of kennel cough), canine influenza, Lyme disease and canine coronavirus (a gastrointestinal infection known as CCoV, not to be confused with Covid-19).
A side note: there’s no Covid-19 vaccine approved for animals. Though cats and dogs can get Covid, the CDC reports that the risk of animals spreading it to humans — and vice versa — is low. Infected pets also tend to experience mild or no symptoms. If anyone in your household tests positive for Covid-19, best practice dictates that the infected person should avoid contact with pets (and people!).
“For our puppy patients, these recommended vaccines are administered in booster form beginning at 8 weeks through 16 weeks old,” Dr. Thomas says. “Our adult patients should be vaccinated every year or every three years depending on the vaccination protocol to maintain adequate protection.”
Worried that your pooch might get overwhelmed by all these shots? Dr. Thomas notes that several vaccines “are provided in a combination dose, which reduces anxiety for the pet.” For example, most dogs will receive the DHPP vaccine (for distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and parainfluenza).
For cats, Dr. Thomas recommends vaccinating against feline leukemia disease. The AAFP also recommends feline chlamydiosis (chlamydia), feline infectious peritonitis (a less common but almost always fatal disease) and Bordetella vaccines for cats at risk of exposure to these illnesses.
Puppy Vaccination Schedule
This schedule was originally developed by the American Kennel Club. The AKC notes that it’s a potential vaccination schedule, because there isn’t one schedule for all dogs. Geography and individual risk factors come into play, and some dogs don’t need every vaccine.
Pets Out in the World
Something else to consider when getting your pet vaccinated is whether you plan to board them or enroll them in a daycare program. Every boarding and daycare facility will have its own requirements, so be sure to check before dropping off your pet.
For example, Lucie Greco, owner of Lucie’s Barkingham Palace in Mavern, says that all pets boarding or attending daycare there must have proof of vaccination against rabies, distemper and Bordetella.
Similarly, it’s important to ensure your pup is up to date on their shots before going to the dog park — including rabies, DHPP, Bordetella and canine influenza. The American Kennel Club recommends not taking your puppy to a dog park until they’ve finished their puppy vaccine series and are cleared by a veterinarian.
Bringing your pet on a trip this summer? Check with your airline about which vaccines your pet needs. Some airlines require a veterinary health certificate issued within a certain number of days before travel.
If you’re traveling internationally, remember that all dogs entering the United States must have a valid rabies vaccination certificate (not required by highly recommended for vats). Be sure to check your destination country’s requirements, too.
Risks and Side Effects
Worried about the risks of vaccination? Fortunately, the likelihood of experiencing serious side effects is very rare. According to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, between one and 10 cats out of every 10,000 will have an allergic reaction to vaccines, and about 13 of 10,000 dogs will.
If your pet does experience side effects, the symptoms tend to be mild and far less dangerous than the illnesses the vaccines protect them from. The most common side effects include lethargy, a slight fever and localized swelling. If your pet is given an intranasal vaccine (sprayed into the nose), there could be sneezing and cold-like symptoms.
That being said, the American Veterinary Medical Association advises contacting your vet if these side effects last more than 48 hours or cause your pet “significant discomfort.” A serious reaction typically occurs soon after the vaccine is administered but can appear up to 48 hours later. Signs of a serious reaction include itchiness, hives, facial swelling, diarrhea, vomiting and difficulty breathing.
Again, the risk of your pet having a serious reaction is extremely low — much lower than the risk of contracting a dangerous illness without the vaccine. If you have concerns, or if your pet has had reactions to vaccines in the past, talk to your veterinarian.
What to Know Before Adopting
If you plan to adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue, you’ll want to know which vaccines they’ve already received and what they should get in the future.
Nichola Redmond, site director at Main Line Animal Rescue, says that all cats adopted from the rescue receive the FVRCP vaccination (for feline distemper, herpes and calicivirus). All dogs receive the DA2PP vaccine — similar to DHPP, but also protects against adenovirus (herpes) type 2.
Redmond also notes that if your kitten or puppy is younger than 16 weeks, they may still need a booster in the coming weeks. Cats and dogs 12 weeks and older also receive the rabies vaccine.
As for other vaccines, Main Line Animal Rescue recommends taking your new pet to the vet within two weeks of adopting. “We counsel that their vet may have recommendations about additional vaccinations based on other diseases that may be prevalent in the area — such as Lyme disease or leptospirosis [a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans] — the overall health of the adopted pet and their potential risk for exposure to the disease,” Richmond says.
In short, vaccinating your pet and keeping them up to date on their shots is the best way to keep them healthy and safe from life-threatening illness. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about which vaccines are right for your furry friend.
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