Pet Vaccinations 101

An Overview for Pet Owners

Dog receives vaccine

As a pet owner, you hear a lot about vaccinations and how your four-legged friend has to have them. But what are pet vaccinations? And what vaccinations should your pet have?

Protecting Pets from Disease

Simply put, vaccinations are given to protect your pet against disease. During vaccination, a modified bacteria, parasite or virus is administered to your pet by injection or intra-nasally. The vaccination triggers an immune response within your pet’s body to protect against a specific disease.

Vaccinations for Young Pets

Veterinarians usually recommend giving puppies and kittens a series of vaccinations starting when they are approximately six weeks old. Young animals need to be vaccinated early on since the natural immunity in their mothers’ milk gradually wears off and they become vulnerable to infectious diseases.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), a series of vaccinations are usually scheduled approximately three to four weeks apart, with the final vaccination series being administered when they are 12 to 16 weeks old.

The Importance of Annual Shots

Annual booster shots will also be necessary to keep vaccine levels high enough in your pet to protect her over time. Fortunately, pet owners appear to be keeping up with their pets’ shots; the 2007 AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook reports that 64.4% of dog owners and 63.7% of cat owners received vaccination services or products during their most recent veterinary visit.


It’s important to remember that not all vaccines are 100% effective; a vaccinated pet may not develop adequate immunity and can become ill. However, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

Core vs. Non-Core Vaccinations

Vaccinations for both cats and dogs can be categorized into two groups: core and non-core. Core vaccines are recommended for cats and dogs with an unknown vaccination history. Non-core vaccines are optional vaccines that should be considered depending on your animal’s risk.

Core vaccinations for puppies and dogs include:

  • Parvovirus (CPV),
  • Canine distemper virus (CDV),
  • Canine adenovirus (CAV), and
  • Rabies.

Non-core vaccines include:

  • Canine parainfluenza virus (CPiV),
  • Distemper-measles combination vaccine,
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (Kennel Cough),
  • Leptospira spp.,
  • Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme), and
  • Giardia.

Core vaccines for kittens and cats include:

Cat receives vaccine
  • Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV1),
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV),
  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) and
  • Rabies.

Non-core vaccines include vaccines for:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV),
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus,
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP),
  • Chlamydophila felis, and
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Know the Facts

It’s important to remember that not all vaccines are 100% effective; a vaccinated pet may not develop adequate immunity and can become ill. However, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. When vaccinated, pets are protected against life-threatening diseases.

The list of vaccinations available can be overwhelming and costly, but the good news is there are resources available to consumers, such as Veterinary Pet Insurance’s (VPI) optional CareGuardSM coverage that reimburses policyholders for important pet wellness services, including vaccinations, without a deductible. Want to learn more about the benefits of routine care coverage? Click here.


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