I thought I’d address a common general question: What vaccines do our cats and dogs need? They are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies; after that, let the debate begin!

Just as in human medicine, there is usually some debate about which vaccines should be given. Some owners (like some parents) follow the less-is-more philosophy, while others are seeking immunity against any and all possible diseases. The vaccine manufacturers have a stake in making their products appear necessary. In each case, efficacy must be weighed against risk. And, ultimately, the lifestyle of the pet and its owners will play a key role in tailoring the right vaccine protocol.

To aid veterinarians and pet owners alike, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) developed (and regularly updates) recommendations about which vaccines are best for each dog and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) makes similar assessments for cats. In these comparisons, some vaccines are clearly necessary, while others are less desirable. To reflect this, AAHA divides vaccines into “core,” “non-core,” and “not recommended” categories.

  1. Core vaccines are recommended for all dogs or cats, regardless of lifestyle or geographic region.
  2. Non-core vaccines should be given only when the benefit outweighs the risk; in other words, the pet’s lifestyle must dictate that there will be sufficient exposure to the disease being vaccinated against.
  3. Finally, not-recommended vaccines are those that are very risky or for which there is little evidence that the vaccine offers sufficient protection against the disease (such as diseases for which many strains exist but for which the vaccine covers only one or two).

Here’s what AAHA has recommended since 2006:

For puppies 6-14 weeks of age:

  • Core: Parvovirus, distemper, and canine adenovirus-2 vaccines are given starting at 6-8 weeks and every 3-4 weeks thereafter until 12-14 weeks of age; these are often given as a single combo (“3-in-1” or “DHP”) vaccine. Rabies 1-year killed vaccine is given once as early as 3 months of age.
  • Non-Core: Bordetella (one dose at 6-8 week; another at 10-12 weeks), Lyme borreliosis (one dose 9-12 week; another 2 weeks later), leptospirosis (one dose at 12 weeks; another at 14-16 weeks), and parainfluenza (one at 6-8 weeks, then every 3-4 weeks until 14-16 weeks).
  • Not recommended: Canine adenovirus-1, the “killed” form of canine adenovirus-2, canine coronovirus, and giardia.

For adult dogs:

One year after initial puppy vaccinations, or when the most recent vaccinations expire, canine vaccine boosters are as follows:

  • Core: 3-in-1 booster (“DHP”) every 3 years; rabies 3-year killed vaccine every 3 years (some cities/states require annual rabies vaccination and a one-year vaccine should be used).
  • Non-core: Boredetella (annual), Lyme (annual), Leptospirosis (annual), and parainfluenza (every 3 years).

For kittens 6-16 weeks of age:

  • Core: Panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus, and feline calicivirus vaccines are given starting at 6-8 weeks and every 3-4 weeks thereafter until 16 weeks of age; these are often given as a single combo (“3-in-1” or “FVRCP”) vaccine. Rabies 1-year killed vaccine is given once as early as 3 months of age.
  • Non-Core: Feline leukemia virus (FeLV. Although classified as a non-core vaccine, it is highly recommended for all kittens; given once at 8 weeks, again 3-4 weeks later), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV. One dose at 8 weeks, two more given at 2-3 week intervals), Chlamydophila felis (one dose at 9 weeks; another 3-4 weeks later), and Bordetella (one dose  at 8 weeks).
  • Not recommended: Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), giardia.

For adult cats:

One year after initial kitten vaccinations, or when the most recent vaccinations expire, feline vaccine boosters are as follows:

  • Core: 3-in-1 booster (“FVRCP”) every 3 years; rabies 3-year killed vaccine every 3 years (some cities/states require annual rabies vaccination and a one-year vaccine should be used).
  • Non-core: FeLV, FIV, Bordetella, and C. felis each require an annual booster (in cats considered at high risk for exposure).

 These AAHA and AAFP recommendations don’t change often; but when they do, it takes veterinary clinics a varying amount of time to adopt the new guidelines (if they do at all). On top of this, different vaccine manufacturers make different vaccine combinations with different lengths of immunity. So, it’s easy to find yourself in a situation in which your pets are not following the current guidelines too precisely. If you have questions or concerns about your cat or dog’s current vaccination status, please consult your veterinarian.

Additional reading:

The AAHA canine guidelines: http://secure.aahanet.org/eweb/dynamicpage.aspx?site=resources&webcode=CanineVaccineGuidelines   The AAFP guidelines for cats: http://www.catvets.com/professionals/guidelines/publications/?Id=176     A good synopsis of current recommendations prepared by the UC Davis teaching hospital http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vmth/small_animal/internal_medicine/vaccination_protocols.cfm

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