Vaccines are important to safeguard your pet against serious diseases. Starting when they are 6 to 8 weeks of age, puppies and kittens need vaccinations and boosters every three to four weeks until they are about 16 weeks old. Adult pets need vaccinations every one to three years, depending on the vaccine and the pet’s particular needs and lifestyle. Our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team explains what diseases you are protecting your pet against when you keep their vaccines up to date. 

Core versus non-core vaccines for pets

Certain pet vaccines are considered core shots and others non-core. What’s the difference?

  • Core vaccines — The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines core vaccinations as those that protect against diseases that are endemic to a region, have a potential public health risk, are required by law, are particularly virulent, and that pose a risk of causing severe disease. Core vaccinations are recommended for all pets.
  • Non-core vaccines — Non-core vaccines are those recommended by a veterinarian based on a pet’s unique medical history and lifestyle and are not recommended for all pets.

Core vaccines for dogs

Vaccinations recommended for all dogs include:

  • Rabies — Rabies presents a serious health threat to humans and pets, and rabies vaccinations are required by New York law for all dogs, cats, and domestic ferrets. The disease is caused by a virus that is typically transmitted by a carrier—most commonly bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes in the United States—through their bite. Signs can take weeks to months to manifest and include fever, excessive drooling, incoordination, behavioral changes, aggression, seizures, and paralysis. Once signs occur, the disease is almost always fatal.
  • Canine distemper — Canine distemper is a viral disease that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of dogs and puppies, and also foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, and skunks. Transmission most commonly occurs through airborne exposure when susceptible dogs inhale or ingest respiratory droplets from an infected animal’s sneeze or cough. Infected mothers can also spread the virus to their unborn puppies. Puppies younger than 4 months of age and unvaccinated dogs are at highest risk. Initial signs include fever, nasal discharge, cough, lethargy, and vomiting, followed by circling, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions, seizures, and partial or complete paralysis as the virus progresses to the nervous system.
  • Canine hepatitis — Canine hepatitis is caused by an adenovirus that attacks the dog’s liver, kidneys, and blood vessels. Transmission occurs when a susceptible dog contacts an infected animal’s feces, urine, or saliva, or contaminated objects. The disease is most commonly seen in dogs less than 1 year of age. Signs depend on the dog’s immunologic status, but can include fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, clotting disorders, central nervous system signs, enlarged lymph nodes, and eye inflammation. 
  • Canine parvovirus — Canine parvovirus is a viral disease that commonly causes severe gastrointestinal illness in puppies. Transmission occurs when a susceptible dog contacts an infected animal, or contaminated feces or objects. Signs include fever, lethargy, abdominal pain, vomiting, and severe, often bloody diarrhea. 
  • Parainfluenza — Parainfluenza is a virus that causes respiratory disease in dogs and is an important agent in kennel cough. Transmission occurs when a dog contacts an infected dog’s respiratory droplets, or contaminated objects. Signs include coughing, nasal discharge, and sneezing. 

Core vaccines for cats

Vaccinations that are recommended for all cats include:

  • Rabies — Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the cat’s nervous system, and New York law requires that cats be vaccinated.
  • Feline distemper — This viral disease, also known as feline panleukopenia, attacks the rapidly dividing cells in the cat’s body, including the bone marrow, intestines, skin, and developing fetus. Transmission occurs when a susceptible cat contacts an infected cat’s blood, feces, or urine. Mother cats can pass the disease to their unborn kittens. Fleas can spread the disease. Signs include fever, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. Kittens infected in utero may exhibit neurological signs and appear uncoordinated. 
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis — This virus, also known as feline herpesvirus type 1, commonly causes respiratory disease in cats and is the most frequent pathogen identified in cats with conjunctivitis (i.e., inflammation involving the tissues surrounding the eye). Transmission occurs when a susceptible cat contacts an infected cat’s saliva, tears, or nasal discharge. Signs include lethargy, sneezing, nasal congestion, excessive blinking, and nasal and ocular discharge. In severe cases, the corneas can be inflamed and infected. 
  • Feline calicivirus — Feline calicivirus causes mild to severe respiratory infection and oral disease in cats. Transmission occurs when a susceptible cat contacts an infected cat’s saliva, tears, or nasal discharge. Signs include lethargy, sneezing, nasal congestion, nasal and ocular discharge, and oral ulcerations on the tongue and oral mucosa. 

Non-core pet vaccines

Vaccinations recommended based on a pet’s medical history and lifestyle include:

  • Dog non-core vaccines — Lyme disease, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and canine influenza.
  • Cat non-core vaccines — Feline leukemia virus

Keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date is important for their protection from these serious diseases. If you would like to schedule a vaccination appointment, contact our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team, so we can determine an appropriate vaccination schedule based on your pet’s individual needs and lifestyle.