Pet Vaccinations and Why They Are Important

3 min read
Jan 17, 2022

Pet vaccinations have become super common over the past few decades, and with good reason. For many pet parents, it’s normal to get these pet shots administered at least once every 1-3 years, typically annually. Plus, with new and improved formulas coming out all the time, pet shots are safer and longer lasting than ever before, making it easy to maintain a healthy routine for dog and cat vaccinations alike.

Still, it’s a good idea for pet owners to be familiar with the most common pet vaccinations for dogs and cats, whether they fall into the “core” category or the “non-core” category. 

Core Vaccines for Dogs

Core vaccines protect against viruses that have high rates of infection, pose significant health risks or have the potential to be passed to humans. As such, core vaccines for dogs are recommended regardless of the canine’s age or health history. They’re very effective once administered, and in many cases, they’re even required by law. Some of the most common core vaccines for dogs prevent:

  • Canine parvovirus: Canine parvovirus can be caught from infected dogs, and is most commonly found in puppies. It’s highly contagious and typically attacks the immune system, causing diarrhea, vomiting, cardiac issues and even death in extreme cases. The canine parvovirus vaccine for puppies should be given at least three times between 6 and 16 weeks of age. For puppies older than 16 weeks, it should be given twice, three to four weeks apart.
  • Canine distemper: Canine distemper is a virus that affects the gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems, amongst others. Symptoms can include everything from diarrhea to depression to coughing. The virus is passed through direct contact with other dogs, raccoons, foxes and skunks. Since there is no known cure and the disease can be fatal, immunization against canine distemper is extremely important. The vaccination should be given toall puppies between 6 to 8 weeks old.
  • Canine hepatitis / adenovirus: Canine hepatitis is spread through contact with infected dogs or their urine or feces. Though the virus typically runs its course within 2 weeks, it can remain present in the kidneys and urine for up to 9 months. Similar to human hepatitis, it can lead to liver damage and death. For puppies, three shots are recommended between 6 and 16 weeks of age. For adult dogs, two doses are recommended at least 2-3 weeks apart.
  • Canine rabies: Canine rabies is often fatal and very contagious when the proper pet shots aren’t received. It affects the brain and spinal cord, and is easily spread to humans and other mammals thorough biting. With the right shots, canine rabies is very preventable. These shots come in different doses and strengths, but they are usually are given to dogs in a single dose at 3 months of age, with additional boosters given each year after that.

Non-Core Vaccines for Dogs

Non-core vaccines usually don’t work as well as their core counterparts, which is the primary reason they’re typically reserved only for dogs exhibiting symptoms as opposed to every single pup who comes in for a checkup. Non-care vaccines for dogs are most often given for:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica: A bacteria that can cause respiratory diseases.
  • Borrelia burgdorferi: Also known as lyme disease, this is a relatively common tick-transmitted disease, but it only shows in 5-10% of infected dogs. When symptoms do occur, they can include stiff walk, sensitivity to touch, difficulty breathing and more.
  • Leptospira bacteria: Also known as ”lepto”, this is a bacteria that’s spread to dogs from water or soil contaminated with infected urine. Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, lethargy, bloody urine and more.

Core Vaccines for Cats

Just like their core-canine counterparts, core vaccines for cats are often required by law to protect against especially common or dangerous diseases. The most commonly administered core vaccines for cats prevent:

  • Feline calicivirus: A highly contagious and damaging respiratory disease that attacks the lungs and nasal passages, feline calicivirus is common condition in cats. Symptoms include loss of appetite, discharge from the eyes and nose, ulcers on the tongue or gums, difficulty breathing, pneumonia and more. Kittens need to get their boosters between 6 and 16 weeks of age, then follow-up boosters every 1-3 years afterwards.
  • Feline panleukopenia: AKA feline distemper, this disease used to be a leading cause of death amongst kittens. For unvaccinated cats, it’s still a very dangerous viral disease that kills cells in the bone marrow and intestines. Most vaccinations are given between 6 and 8 weeks of age, with follow-up vaccines administered until the kitten reaches 16 weeks. Adult vaccines are more variable, but still very important.
  • Feline rabies: Like canine rabies, feline rabies can result in pronounced changes in temperament, erratic behavior, pupil dilation, aggressiveness and eventual death. Feline rabies shots should be administered once every 1-3 years starting at 3 months of age.  

Non-Core Vaccines for Cats

  • Feline leukemia: This disease impairs the cat’s immune system, frequently leading to cancer. It’s most common in male cats between 1 to 6 years old.
  • Feline AIDS: Also known as FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus infection), feline aids affects the body’s ability to develop normal immune responses. It can be transmitted sexually, through bites and scratches, or passed along at birth. 
  • Feline infectious peritonitis: An uncommon yet progressive (and fatal) viral disease that usually doesn’t exhibit symptoms until it has reached its later stages. There is a vaccine available, but like many core vaccines for cats and dogs, its effectiveness is questionable. 

Keep in mind that this list is only meant to highlight some of the most popular pet vaccinations, but it’s far from comprehensive. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not certain pet vaccinations are right for your animal, consult with your vet about any concerns. Many factors will be taken into account, including your pet’s age, size, breed and health history. Then, you and your vet can reach a decision together regarding pet shots. 

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Looking for more ways to keep your pets happy and healthy? Consider investing in a pet insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance.1 Get your free quote today. 

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances. 

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.