Vaccines and pets, what’s really needed?

After seeing or hearing headlines about dog flu outbreaks, some pet owners may be confused as to what vaccines are needed for their special furry friend. In addition, the on-going vaccine debate in human medicine has many pet owners worried about potential adverse reactions or severe issues that MIGHT occur after vaccinating their pets.

Today on Indy Style, Thomas F. Dock, Practice Manager and Veterinary Journalist, Noah’s Animal Hospitals, shares what pet owners need to know about vaccines and what should or shouldn’t be done.

  • The simplest way to view vaccines for both dogs and cats is to determine which ones are “core” (must be done) vs. “lifestyle” or “non-core” vaccinations which will depend on your pet’s unique environment.
  • In general, both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) consider vaccination for rabies as vital for both dogs and cats as well as other pets, like ferrets and even for large animals, like horses and cattle. Here in Indiana, rabies vaccination is required by law for dogs and cats over the age of 12 weeks.
  • Since our pets act as a barrier against the rabies reservoir present in wildlife (especially bats here in Indiana), pets should stay current on the rabies vaccine and have it done every 3 years.
  • For our dogs, regular vaccination for canine distemper, canine adenovirus type 1 (infectious hepatitis) and canine parvovirus is highly recommended. These diseases are all highly contagious and have a high mortality rate in dogs.  After the puppy series, most dogs should be vaccinated every 3 years.

  • For our cats, feline panleukopenia (feline distemper) is also a “core” vaccine. Like canine parvovirus, feline distemper is highly contagious and is often fatal to unprotected cats.   After the kitten series, most cats should be vaccinated every 3 years.
  • Lifestyle vaccines for dogs include Leptospirosis (a bacterial disease that can be transmitted to people), Bordetella (infectious tracheobronchitis, more commonly referred to as “kennel cough”), the two canine flu strains and Lyme disease.
  • If your dog visits grooming parlors, boarding facilities, dog parks, doggie day care centers or enjoys camping/hiking with you, one or more of these vaccines could be indicated.
  • For cats, Feline Leukemia is the only recommended lifestyle vaccine. Cats that are indoor/outdoor and live in social environments are at higher risk for this disease.
  • The best course of action is to have an honest discussion about your pet’s risks and lifestyle with your veterinary team.  They can best guide you as to what vaccines NEED to be done, which ones SHOULD be done and which ones you can avoid.

  • Your veterinarian is also well-educated in the risks associated with vaccines and can help you make the right decision.
  • In addition, today is NATIONAL TAKE YOUR CAT TO THE VET DAY! As a rule, cats tend to get far less medical care than their canine counterparts.  Difficulty getting the cat into a carrier, fearful behavior at the veterinary office and a simple lack of knowledge about feline preventive care are all reasons for this.
  • There are great helpful tips at to help you provide the best level of care for your feline friend. You can also ask your veterinarian about “cat only” appointment times, house calls or other things you can do to minimize the stress of proper healthcare.

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