Must-have vaccinations for cats and dogs

Preventative injections for your pets is usually the first step for most owners. Find out more about what these jabs protect against.

Core and Non-Core Vaccinations for Pets

A key part of responsible pet ownership is ensuring that your furry friends are given all the protection against infections and diseases that are possible. Preventative pet care like spaying, neutering, micro-chipping are key but here we’ll look at the vaccinations that are vital to ensuring your pets have all the tools to fight common diseases they may be exposed to.

Cats

Core Vaccines

The vital vaccinations that are necessary for your cat should be administered for the first time at around 8 weeks old, then boosted at around 3 months. Records of the vaccinations should be available to you when you purchase your pet from a responsible breeder or re-homing center. Let’s take a look at the 3 core vaccines that cats need.

1. Feline parvovirus

Feline parvovirus – also known as feline panleucopenia virus or feline infectious enteritis – can cause severe and in some cases fatal gastroenteritis. Parvovirus infections are particularly common, but happily vaccinations are very effective not just at mitigating the risk posed to cats should they get infected, but also against spreading the disease to other cats. There are no other ways that are as effective at preventing feline parvovirus as vaccination has proven to be.

2. FHV and FCV

Combined vaccinations for FHV (Feline Herpes Virus) and FCV (Feline Calicvirus) tackle the causes of cat flu. Cat flu typically results in sneezing, eye discharge and conjunctivitis, mouth ulcers and nasal running with symptoms running from mild to severe, at its worst it can lead to developing pneumonia.

The viruses can spread through direct or close content between cats, and as such they are very common infections which vaccinations are effective at stopping the severity of the symptoms.

3. Rabies

Rabies is a condition probably much more known as affecting dogs rather than cats, it is still an infection that can infect felines and in fact can then be passed on to humans. Vaccination is very effective at preventing rabies cases and averting the human transmission.

Non-Core Vaccines

There are a number of other vaccines that can be given to cats to offer protection against a variety of conditions. Whilst they’re not deemed at essential they can provide added defence.

1. Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV)

Outdoor cats are the most likely to be exposed to feline leukaemia virus (FeVL), it is a condition that can be spread through mutual grooming, sharing food and water bowls, shared litter trays and fighting.

If a cat is infected with FeVL it could cause an array of issues such as anaemia, immunosuppression and lymphoma. Should cats be infected multiple times it becomes more like that they will die as a result of the symptoms.

Vaccinations are available and have proven effective in protecting cats against FeVL.

2. Feline immunodeficiency virus

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a pretty common condition with cats, particularly outdoor cats that can be aggressive. Vaccinations are able to help reduce a cat’s risk of exposure but may not be as effective against all the strains of the disease.

Dogs

Core Vaccines

There are 4 key vaccines that all dogs should have to protect them against potentially deadly diseases. Vaccinations for these conditions should be given at between 8-10 weeks with follow ups at around 3-4 weeks later. Boosters are then usually required annually from that period. Let’s take a look at which vaccines are deemed as core. 

1. Parvovirus

Much like parvovirus in cats as we’ve described above contracting the disease causes severe vomitiing and diarrhoea in dogs. Vaccinations are highly effective in mitigating both the likelihood of catching the disease and limiting the effects it can have. Boosters for parvovirus in dogs are given every 3 years, rather than 1 year for most others.

2. Distemper

Distemper is a potentially fatal disease that affects unvaccinated younger dogs. It spreads in the air where infected dogs have been as well as bodily fluids like urine and saliva.

The disease targets organs of the body including lungs, heart and brain. Should a dog contract distemper effects can range from mild flu like symptoms all the way up to serious seizures and death.

Vaccinating your dog before they start mixing outdoors with others is the most appropriate way to protect your pet from the condition.

3. Infectious Hepatitis

Also known as Adenovirus, infectious hepatitis is a virus that attacks the liver, kidneys, eyes and blood vessels. Symptoms differe depending upon which organ is affected but typical signs that your pet may be suffering with infectious hepatitis include vomiting, diahhroea and lethargy, all the way up to high temperatures, swollen stomachs and seizures.

The virus spreads through bodily fluids, the virus can survive for as long as a year in the environment. Vaccinations are given every 3 years to protect your dog against infectious hepatitis.

4. Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is common in humans as well as dogs. It spreads through bodily fluids and enters dog’s systems through the nose, mouth and wounds and it can cause serious illness by affecting organs, usually the liver and kidneys.

Booster vaccinations will usually be given each year as there are various different strains which can change over time.

Non-Core Vaccines

There can also be some very effective additional and optional vaccinations, which help to protect against kennel cough and rabies.

1. Kennel cough

As the name suggests this vaccine is effective against the kennel cough disease, which is particularly useful for dogs who undertake a lot of mixing with other dogs or have pre-existing medical conditions that may exacerbate the symptoms of kennel cough. If you are looking at placing your dog in a kennel or sending them to doggy day care or if you use a dog walking service then this vaccination is recommended – and may even be a requirement of sending them to your chosen provider. The vaccination is a yearly inoculation.

2. Rabies

Rabies injections are not required for dogs in the UK but should you be travelling overseas with your pet, then this becomes a requirement. Vaccine boosters for rabies are usually given every 3 years.

How frequently should my pet be vaccinated?

It depends. All kittens should receive their first dose of each of the core vaccines at around 8-10 weeks old, while the second follow-ups completed when they reach around 3 months old.

For dogs, the schedule is pretty similar, initial jabs are given at around 8 weeks old, with the second course coming 4 weeks later.

Booster vaccinations for both cats and dogs are generally given each year, however this may be different depending upon the vaccine required and your vet’s advice.

Are pet vaccinations safe?

Vaccinations are very safe. They are widely and thoroughly tested before being given to your 4-legged friend but in some cases there are some mild side effects.

If there are side effects, then you might see your pet is a little more lethargic or experience a loss of appetite and have some tenderness around the injection site. These are all normal things that you would reasonably expect to see and usually they pass within 24-48 hours. If you see these symptoms lasting longer than a day or 2, then contact your vet who can investigate more thoroughly.

In very rare cases you might find more serious side effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea, lameness, fever, shallow breathing or lumps around the injection site. Consult your vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms occur after the vaccinations.

Protecting an unvaccinated pets

If your kitten, cat, puppy or dog is unvaccinated or has missed a vaccine course then, as a responsible pet owner you should look to:

  • Keep them away from other unvaccinated pets
  • Try to avoid public spaces where lots of other pets may visit
  • Avoid areas where rats, cows and foxes may be or have a tendency to go
  • Allow them in the garden only if it is secure from foxes

If your pet has started but not finished the course of vaccination, or has missed a booster, you might find that your pet will need to restart the entirety of the course.

If you have pet insurance, then should your pet not be up to date with core vaccinations, and then require treatment for a condition that a vaccine could have prevented then you may find that a claim may be rejected.

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