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Dog and Cat Vaccines: One Size Does NOT Fit All
by Veterinarian Columnist, Dr. Kitti Wielandt, DVM

When it comes to dog and cat vaccines one size no longer fits all. In the early days of vaccines, when the vaccines were not as potent or as long-lasting, it was recommended that all dogs and cats be vaccinated for every disease for which a vaccine existed, every year.

Now, however, with the advances in vaccine technology, there is no longer such an easy answer. The following are the latest guidelines recommended for dogs and cats, respectively, followed by some important final considerations for both dog and cat owners.


Gone are the days when it is recommended that dogs and cats be vaccinated for every known disease. Now there are only 4 vaccines for dogs and 4 for cats, discussed respectively below, that are highly recommended for all.

For Dogs

The veterinary colleges in the U.S., the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Society), and AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), have reviewed the available evidence and come up with new recommendations for dog vaccinations.

They recommend that vaccines be divided into 3 groups: Core, Noncore (or Optional), and Not Generally Recommended.

CORE VACCINES: These should be administered to all puppies (dogs less than 6 months old).

For dogs, core vaccines are: Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), Canine Parvo Virus (CPV), Canine Adeno Virue-2, and Rabies virus.

Schedule: All puppies (less than or at 16 weeks of age) should be vaccinated with core vaccines as follows:

CDV, CPV 7 Adeno-2: One (1) dose at 6-8 weeks, 9-11 weeks and 12-14 weeks. Greater than 16 weeks - One (1) dose is protective. Booster at 1 year, then every 3 years. (There is some evidence that these are protective for up to 7 years).

Rabies (3 year vaccine): One (1) dose at 3-4 months, booster at 1 year, then every 3 years (if allowed by law). Note: This is governed by state statute. You have to obey the law in your area.

NONCORE VACCINES: Should be used in special circumstances based on the exposure risk of the animal.

Noncore vaccines for dogs are: Canine Parainfluenza, Leptospirosis spp., Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Borelia burgdorferi.

Schedule: The use of these should be discussed with your veterinarian, or more information can be obtained from AAHA or AVMA. Because certain diseases or certain activities may make your dog more susceptible, they should be considered on a case-by-case basis. (Example: if you board your dog, most kennels will require Bordetella [kennel cough] vaccine.)

NOT GENERALLY RECOMMENDED VACCINES: Are those that have little or no indication. These are for diseases that are of little clinical significance or readily respond to treatment.

Not generally recommended vaccines are: Giardia spp., Canine corona virus and canine adenovirus-1.

Schedule: Not generally recommended vaccines should be used only under very specific circumstances. Most pet owners will not have these circumstances.


For outdoor cats, in addition to the four highly recommended vaccines, a fifth vaccine - Feline Leukemia (FlV) -- is recommended.

For Cats

For all you cat lovers, the situation is much the same. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) put out recommendations in 2000. They divided vaccines into Highly Recommended, Recommended, and Not Recommended for Routine Use categories.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED VACCINES: Inludes those for Feline parvovirus (FPV) (the cause of feline panleukopenia or 'distemper'), Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV), feline calicivirus (FCV) and Rabies.

Schedule: For FPV, FHV, FCV: 1 dose at 6 -8 weeks, then every 3 to 4 weeks until at least 12 weeks old. Booster at 1 year; then every 3 years.

For Rabies: Also highly recommended and possibly required by law in your area. ALL CATS THAT GO OUTSIDE SHOULD BE VACCINATED FOR RABIES.

Give 1 injection at 3-4 months. Booster at 1 year, and then every 3 years (if using a 3 year vaccine). Note: This is governed by state statute. You have to obey the law in your area.

RECOMMENDED VACCINES: Includes those for Feline Leukemia (FeLV) in cats that are NOT restricted to a closed, indoor, FeLV-negative environment.

Schedule: Feline Leukemia is advised for outside cats, or those in contact with FeLV positive or unknown status cats. Inside cats with no exposure to other cats probably don't need this vaccine.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR ROUTINE USE: Includes Chlamydia psittaci, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Microsporum canis (ringworm), Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Giardia lamblia.

Schedule: Generally only for cats in unusual circumstances. Consult with your veterinarian if you think your cat falls into this group.

As with the dog vaccines, you should discuss your cat's individual needs with your veterinarian.

Important Considerations for Dog and Cat Owners

Many veterinarians still vaccinate on the old every year schedule. There are several reasons for this: many still believe that your pet is best protected by following the manufacturers' recommendations. Manufacturers mostly have not changed their recommendations because to do so costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to do the tests required by the USDA.

Also, the manufacturers are in business to sell vaccines. In the event of a pet getting a disease for which it is vaccinated, the drug companies will stand behind the veterinarian only if the pet is vaccinated according to label directions. Most vets don't want to get sued.

Some vets are not up to date on the very latest research. Some feel (correctly) that the only way to get a pet in the door for an annual exam is by pushing the vaccines. Even without the vaccines, you should take your pet in for yearly checkups ... you wouldn't take your child to the doctor only once every 5-7 years, would you? That's what a year in your pet' life is equivalent to.

Yearly dog and cat checkups can identify problems early, when they are more likely to be treatable, instead of after your pet becomes sick and you have to shift to crisis mode.

Vaccines can help protect your pet from disease, but they are not benign or perfectly safe or 100% effective. You must weigh the risks of the disease against the side effects of the vaccine.

Your pet's best chance for a healthy life is for you to be an informed consumer.

Recommended Reading

The Top Household Dangers to Your Pets

About Dr. Kitti Wielandt, DVM:

Veterinarian and columnist Dr. Kitti Wielandt has been in small animal practice since graduating in 1987 from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

She practiced in Illinois from 1987 to 1996 and in Virginia from 1996 to the present. Her focus is on small animal medicine and surgery, Veterinary Chiropractic, Veterinary Acupuncture and Massage therapy on people and animals. She has a special interest in behavior and training, and in nutrition.

Dr, Wielandt is owned by Ceri, her 15 year old Tonkinese cat, and by Pen, her 7 year old American Pit Bull Terrier, who shows in conformation, weight pull, obedience and Rallye obedience.

Dr. Wielandt lives in the woods near a small town in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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