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Essential Vaccinations for Your Dog and Cat

Confused about which dog and cat vaccinations are absolutely essential? Stay organized and up-to-date with this useful guide.

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Which dog and cat vaccinations are absolutely essential?

Vaccinations for dogs and cats are classified into two easy-to-understand categories: core and non-core vaccines.

According to Dr. Troye McPherson, a Nova Scotia-based veterinarian and a council member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, “Core vaccines are immunizations that are essential for your pet. Non-core vaccines are for diseases that only occur in certain circumstances, or areas of the country.” It’s important to discuss your pet’s health situation with your veterinarian before commencing any medical treatment including vaccinations. To start the conversation, here’s a simple guide to core and non-core pet immunizations.

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Vaccinations for Dogs

Core vaccines for dogs:

Canine distemper (CDV)
What is canine distemper? Distemper is a contagious disease that can easily be transmitted from dog to dog through infected nasal discharge, feces and urine. Your pet can also contract the disease by using an infected dog’s water bowl. Distemper is difficult to treat and often fatal. Dogs that survive the illness tend to have permanent nervous system damage.
When to vaccinate for canine distemper: “If your vet gives the distemper vaccine to your puppy before it’s 16 weeks old, a shot is required every 3 to 4 weeks up to 16 weeks of age,” says McPherson. A distemper booster is due one year later, and it’s followed up every three years after that. Adult dogs that have never been vaccinated should receive one initial dose followed by a booster every three years.

Parvovirus (CPV2)
What is parvovirus? A serious, extremely contagious disease that attacks a dog’s gastrointestinal tract, parvovirus can be spread via an infected dog’s feces, or contaminated objects such as water bowls and shoes. Left untreated, death is almost certain. All dogs are susceptible to parvovirus, however puppies and elderly canines are the primary victims.
When to vaccinate for parvovirus: “Parvovirus vaccination schedule is similar to distemper,” says McPherson. A puppy vaccinated before 16 weeks of age needs booster shots every 3 to 4 weeks up to age 16 weeks. A parvo booster is given one year later, and then every three years after. Adult dogs that have never been vaccinated should receive one initial dose followed by a booster every three years.

Adenovirus, aka canine hepatitis (CAV-2)
What is canine hepatitis? Dogs can become stricken with canine hepatitis when exposed to an infected dog’s urine, saliva or feces. Extreme cases of the disease can leave a pet with eye damage, liver failure and breathing difficulties. Canine hepatitis can be fatal if untreated.
When to vaccinate for canine hepatitis: Adenovirus vaccination follows the same protocol as parvovirus and distemper for both puppies and adult dogs.

FYI – It’s common for veterinarians to give dogs the vaccines for distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus as a three-in-one vaccine.

What is rabies?
Rabies is a usually fatal disease that attacks the central nervous system. Pets can contract rabies when they’re bitten by an infected animal-a raccoon, skunk, bat even another dog or cat. Humans can also contract rabies from an infected animal.
When to vaccinate for rabies: McPherson says that there are two types of vaccine for dogs: the 1-year or 3-year vaccine. A puppy must be at least 12 weeks of age to receive a rabies shot, but “puppies are usually 16 to 19 weeks of age when they have it because rabies is the last shot a puppy receives,” she says. A rabies booster shot will be given either one or three years after the date of the first rabies puppy vaccine, depending on the initial vaccine given. Unvaccinated adult dogs should start with one initial dose of the vaccine. If they initially received the 1-year vaccine, it should be boosted annually. If they initially received the 3-year vaccine, a booster is required one year later, with boosters to follow every three years.

Non-core vaccines for dogs:

“Measles, parainfluenza, bordetella, lyme disease, and leptospirosis are only given when the dog is at risk,” says McPherson. For example, if your pet goes to doggie daycare, your canine could easily pick up bordetella (“kennel cough”). It’s important to discuss your dog’s situation with your veterinarian. Many dogs won’t require these non-core shots, but some will depending on their breed, age, location, and lifestyle habits.

“Corona virus and giardia vaccines aren’t usually recommended due to poor ethicacy,” says McPherson. Neither vaccine has been scientifically proven to be effective.

Want to learn more? Both Canada and the U.S. follow the American Animal Hospital Association’s canine vaccination guidelines.

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Vaccinations for Cats

Core vaccines for cats:

Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV)
What is feline panleukopenia virus?
A highly contagious disease, the feline panleukopenia virus is often fatal. Unvaccinated kittens are the most susceptible to FPV, however the disease can exist in the environment, in contaminated water or food bowls, and among feral cats, so felines of all ages require vaccination.
When to vaccinate feline panleukopenia virus: A kitten can start to receive the FPV vaccine at 6 weeks of age. This immunization is boosted every 3 to 4 weeks until the kitten reaches 16 weeks of age. A FPV booster is given one year later, and then it’s repeated once every three years. Adult cats that have never been vaccinated should receive two doses, 3 to 4 weeks apart.

Feline Calicivirus (FCV)
What is FCV? FCV causes a nagging upper respiratory tract infection in cats. The illness is characterized by sneezing and nasal discharge, and in more extreme cases mouth ulcers, pneumonia and joint disease. Felines can become chronic carriers of the virus, so vaccination is considered mandatory.
When to vaccinate for FCV: “FCV vaccination follows the same protocol as feline panleukopenia virus immunization,” says McPherson.

FYI – It’s common for veterinarians to give cats the vaccines for FPV and FCV together.

What is rabies?
Cats with rabies experience the same symptoms as dogs. The disease is also fatal in felines, and can be passed on to humans through an infected cat bite.
When to vaccinate for rabies: “Kittens get an initial dose-as early as 8 or 12 weeks-and then another dose a year later,” says McPherson. Depending on whether the initial dose was from the 1-year or 3-year vaccine, your cat will either receive a booster every year, or every three years. Adult cats that have never been vaccinated should receive two doses, 12 months apart.

Non-core vaccines for cats:

“Non-core vaccines are feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), chlamydia, and bordetella,” says McPherson. These vaccinations are only given when there is an increased risk to your kitten or cat. For example, if your feline roams outside and encounters other cats, it’s important to inform your veterinarian so you can discuss whether these non-core vaccinations are necessary for your pet.

“Feline infectious peritonitis (FIB) and giardia are not recommended because of ethicacy issues,” says McPherson.

Want to learn more? Veterinarians in Canada and the U.S. follow the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ feline vaccination guidelines: If you’re concerned about over-vaccinating your pet, speak with your veterinarian about a titre test. A blood sample is taken from your pet and examined in the lab for evidence of an acceptable immune response to certain diseases. If satisfactory vaccine titres are present, vaccinations might not be necessary at that time.

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