What are all these different vaccines for pets? Here is a brief description of the vaccines that may be mentioned to you at your annual visit and why they may be recommended for your pet.

Core Vaccines 

Rabies is a required vaccine for all dogs and cats. It is required by law as a core vaccine in the United States with very few exceptions and is closely monitored due to the danger of Rabies to human life. Even if your pet never goes outside there is still the possibility of small animals like bats making their way into your home. Bats have such tiny teeth that most often a bite would not even be noticed. This can cause disease transmission without you even being aware of it. Rabies is given at 12-16 weeks of age based on local regulations, followed by a booster in 1 year. Boosters can then be extended to 1-3 years based on state or city laws as well as manufacturer licensing regulations.

The other core or primary required vaccine for our dogs is a Distemper combination. This includes a variety of upper respiratory illnesses that are all highly contagious and can prove fatal to some individuals. The dog version typically includes Distemper, Adenovirus, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus. Distemper and parvovirus are both severely debilitating diseases with few treatments available. Adenovirus and parainfluenza cause the majority of viral kennel cough type illnesses. Depending on the particular vaccine your vet carries it may other additives in the combination.

Canine Core Vaccines Canine Noncore Vaccines

·Combination vaccine:




    ·+/- Parainfluenza

·Bordetella bronchiseptica


·Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease)

·Influenza (H3N8 and H3N2)



The feline “distemper” version includes Calicivirus, Rhinotracheitis (Herpes), and Panleukopenia (distemper). Calicivirus and rhinotracheitis both cause upper respiratory signs and are easily transmissible.  Rhinotracheitis can often flare up throughout a cat’s life in stressful situations. Panleukopenia causes more GI signs and is similar to Distemper in our dogs.

Feline Core Vaccines Feline Noncore Vaccines

·Combination vaccine:




·Feline Leukemia*

·Feline Leukemia*






*AAHA considers feline leukemia a core vaccine for kittens and young adult cats < 1 year of age owing to age-related susceptibility, and a non-core vaccine for low-risk adults.


Vaccine Schedule

Both the dog and cat versions are given starting at about 6 weeks old every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks old.  There are several reasons for this: Puppies and kittens have maternal antibodies present in their systems they acquire from their mother’s milk. Those antibodies help protect the young until they are old enough to be away from her and be vaccinated themselves. The maternal antibodies disappear at different rates in each individual at some point between 12-14 weeks of age. While maternal antibodies are still present they interfere with the animal’s immune system from making their own antibodies to the vaccine. By boostering the vaccine at regular intervals it ensures the pet is getting at least 2 vaccines after maternal antibodies are gone, thereby allowing their immune system to reach adequate immunity. The reason for starting at such a young age is to provide coverage for any under- or non-vaccinated mothers that did not have good antibodies to pass on to their offspring. An early start to the vaccine schedule will provide protection for the young in these cases. Coordinate with your veterinarian to provide an individualized vaccination schedule for your pet.


Feline Leukemia 

Although it is considered a non-core vaccine for low risk adult cats, AAHA recommends the Feline Leukemia (FeLV) vaccine for kittens and young adult cats <1yr. This is an immunodeficiency virus that is spread through cat-to-cat contact but can also live on surfaces such as food and water bowls or grooming brushes.

Footnote 1

Cats should be tested for this disease prior to vaccination. Kittens and young adult cats should receive an initial dose, booster 3-4 weeks later, then a booster again after 12 months. After the 12 month booster the vaccine can be discontinued or continued based on lifestyle risk. Most at-risk are cats that live with an infected cat or cats that go outdoors.


Canine Non-Core Vaccines 

Footnote 2

For dogs the most common non-core vaccines include Bordetella, Lyme, Leptospirosis, and Influenza. Bordetella is recommended for any dog that is around other dogs that you do not know personally. These commonly include dog parks, boarding facilities including doggy daycare, and grooming facilities. These facilities also usually require dogs to be vaccinated with Bordetella in addition to the Core vaccines in order to be admitted to the facility.

Canine Influenza is often used in similar situations to the Bordetella vaccine and usually in areas of the country that are more likely to experience outbreaks of the disease. Lyme and Leptospirosis are also often location dependent. Minnesota is in an endemic area and so there is a high proportion of Lyme disease exposure; any dogs that are likely to be in heavy tick burden areas are recommended to receive the Lyme vaccine in addition to maintaining a complete tick preventive schedule.

Leptospirosis is a bacterium spread through animal urine that can survive for long periods of time in the environment, especially in stagnant water. Vaccine recommendations will change depending on the risk in areas you frequent.


Your veterinarian will help you determine which vaccines are necessary based on your pet’s lifestyle and your concerns. Exposure risk, lifestyle, and local disease prevalence all impact the appropriate vaccination schedule of pets.



1  Image taken from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) License. No changes made to image.

2  Image taken from Pixabay.com under Pixabay License.  No changes made to image.

Article written by: Heather