What Common Pet Diseases do Vaccinations Prevent?

Vaccinating pets is one of the most important things a pet owner can do to protect their furry companions. As a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that preventable diseases can have on pets and their families. In this comprehensive guide, I will explain what pet vaccinations are, why they are so critical for your pet’s health, what diseases they prevent, when pets should be vaccinated, and what the vaccination schedules are for both dogs and cats.

What Are Pet Vaccinations?

Pet vaccinations work in the same way as human vaccines. They introduce a weakened or killed form of a virus or bacteria into the body so that the immune system can build antibodies to fight it off in the future. This allows the body to mount a quicker immune response if exposed to that disease again, preventing illness. Pet vaccines are extremely safe and effective at building this immunity without causing sickness in most pets.

Why Are Pet Vaccines Important?

There are four critical reasons that pet vaccinations are vital:

  1. Prevent Serious Diseases: Vaccines guard against harmful viruses and bacteria that pets would otherwise have very little defense against. These diseases often require intensive veterinary treatment, have distressing symptoms, or can lead to death.
  2. Avoid Costly Treatment: Treating sick pets with preventable illnesses like parvovirus or distemper can cost thousands of dollars and require extended hospitalization. The price of vaccination is far more affordable.
  3. Protect Community Health: Contagious pet diseases put other pets and even people at risk. Maintaining herd immunity through widespread vaccination keeps outbreak risks lower.
  4. Often Legally Required: In most regions, rabies vaccination is mandated by law for public health and safety due to its deadly zoonotic potential. Other non-core vaccines may be required for boarding, grooming, or travel.

When Should Pets Be Vaccinated?

Mother’s Milk

Puppies and kittens receive vital antibodies from their mother’s first milk that offer early protection. But this immunity begins fading around 6-8 weeks of age, leaving young pets vulnerable.

Puppy and Kitten Shots

Vaccination should begin at 6-8 weeks old for puppies and kittens. A series of shots 2-4 weeks apart will provide progressive immunity until around 16 weeks of age. Some vaccines require multiple doses to fully protect pets.

Adult Pet Boosters

Most adult pet vaccines require periodic booster shots to maintain effective immunity. Core vaccines are given every 3 years or as directed by your veterinarian. Non-core boosters may be given annually depending on risk factors.

Senior Pet Vaccines

Continuing vaccination in older pets is key to prevent lowering immunity due to age. However, certain vaccines may need adjustment based on health status. Check with your veterinarian.

Importance of Timely Vaccination

Closely following the recommended schedule ensures dependable protection. Delaying shots leaves pets susceptible during high-risk periods. Staying up to date is key!

What Diseases Do Pet Vaccines Prevent?

There are a multitude of dangerous viruses and bacteria that pets should be vaccinated against. Some vaccines protect against multiple diseases in one injection. Here are explanations of the most common pet illnesses prevented by vaccination:

Core Canine Vaccines


  1. Caused By: Rabies virus · Transmission: Bite wounds from infected mammals
  2. Symptoms: Fever, seizures, paralysis, aggression, death
  3. Vaccine: Rabies vaccine

A fatal viral disease affecting the nervous system and salivary glands. All cases are fatal once clinical signs appear. Rabies vaccination is legally mandated for dogs in most regions to prevent human exposure.


  1. Caused By: Canine distemper virus
  2. Transmission: Respiratory secretions or contact with infected bodily fluid
  3. Symptoms: Fever, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, death
  4. Vaccine: DHPP/DAPP vaccine

A highly contagious and often fatal viral disease attacking the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Distemper is preventable through early vaccination.


  1. Caused By: Canine parvovirus
  2. Transmission: Contact with infected feces
  3. Symptoms: Vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, death
  4. Vaccine: DHPP/DAPP vaccine

A severe gastrointestinal virus spread through exposure to contaminated feces. It causes extreme vomiting and diarrhea leading to deadly dehydration and sepsis, especially in puppies.


  1. Caused By: Canine adenovirus types 1 & 2
  2. Transmission: Contact with urine, feces, or saliva
  3. Symptoms: Liver disease, respiratory illness, eye inflammation
  4. Vaccine: DHPP/DAPP vaccine

Two strains causing liver inflammation and respiratory disease. Type 1 leads to severe hepatitis and type 2 contributes to infectious tracheobronchitis (“kennel cough”).


  1. Caused By: Canine parainfluenza virus
  2. Transmission: Respiratory secretions
  3. Symptoms: Dry cough, fever, nasal discharge, pneumonia
  4. Vaccine: DHPP/DAPP vaccine

A highly infectious respiratory virus and contributor to “kennel cough” complex. It spreads easily through the air and between dogs. Preventable through vaccination.

Non-Core Canine Vaccines

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

  1. Caused By: Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria
  2. Transmission: Respiratory secretions
  3. Symptoms: Severe coughing/choking fits, nasal discharge, retching
  4. Vaccine: Bordetella vaccine

Commonly called “kennel cough”, this extremely contagious bacterial respiratory infection causes a forceful, hacking cough. Outbreaks rapidly spread through kennels and shelters.

Canine Influenza

  1. Caused By: Canine influenza virus (H3N8, H3N2 strains)
  2. Transmission: Respiratory droplets and contaminated objects
  3. Symptoms: Coughing, fever, lethargy, nasal discharge, pneumonia
  4. Vaccine: Bivalent canine influenza vaccine

The “dog flu” is a contagious respiratory influenza virus. It spreads swiftly between dogs through coughing, sneezing, barking, and contaminated surfaces. Two strains are now circulating.


  1. Caused By: Leptospira bacteria
  2. Transmission: Urine-contaminated food/water
  3. Symptoms: Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, liver/kidney failure
  4. Vaccine: Leptospirosis vaccine

Bacterial disease acquired through exposure to infected urine or contaminated water sources. It attacks the liver and kidneys. Geographic risk varies.

Lyme Disease

  1. Caused By: Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria
  2. Transmission: Deer tick bites
  3. Symptoms: Fever, lameness, kidney disease, arthritis
  4. Vaccine: Lyme vaccine

Bacterial disease carried by ticks. It causes recurrent fever, shifting leg lameness, and later kidney and arthritis issues. Endemic to certain regions.

Core Feline Vaccines


  1. Caused By: Rabies virus
  2. Transmission: Bite wounds from infected mammals
  3. Symptoms: Fever, seizures, paralysis, aggression, death
  4. Vaccine: Rabies vaccine

A fatal viral infection of the nervous system and salivary glands. All cases lead to death once clinical signs start. Rabies vaccination is legally required for cats in most areas.


  1. Caused By: Feline panleukopenia virus
  2. Transmission: Saliva, urine, feces of infected cats
  3. Symptoms: Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, rapid death
  4. Vaccine: FVRCP vaccine

A parvovirus attacking and destroying white blood cells. It causes severe bloody diarrhea, leaving kittens extremely prone to secondary infections.


  1. Caused By: Feline herpesvirus
  2. Transmission: Oral/nasal secretions, mother’s milk
  3. Symptoms: Upper respiratory infection, eye inflammation, pneumonia ·
  4. Vaccine: FVRCP vaccine

A highly contagious viral respiratory infection causing severe upper respiratory symptoms and eye inflammation. Can become latent.


  1. Caused By: Feline calicivirus
  2. Transmission: Saliva, nasal discharge of infected cats
  3. Symptoms: Oral ulcers, upper respiratory infection, lameness
  4. Vaccine: FVRCP vaccine

An extremely infectious respiratory virus also causing painful mouth ulcers. Outbreaks common in multi-cat facilities. Preventable by vaccination.

Non-Core Feline Vaccines

Feline Leukemia Virus

  1. Caused By: Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  2. Transmission: Saliva/nasal fluids (mutual grooming & sharing dishes)
  3. Symptoms: Anemia, cancer, secondary infections, death
  4. Vaccine: Feline leukemia vaccine

A retrovirus suppressing the immune system leading to cancer and chronic secondary infections. Mainly spread between cats by prolonged close contact.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

  1. Caused By: Feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV)
  2. Transmission: Exposure to feces/secretions of infected cats
  3. Symptoms: Fever, weight loss, fluid buildup, organ failure
  4. Vaccine: Feline infectious peritonitis vaccine

A coronavirus variant causing a highly fatal systemic infection. Difficult to control due to shedding from healthy appearing carrier cats.


  1. Caused By: Chlamydia felis bacteria
  2. Transmission: Eye/respiratory secretions of birthing cats to kittens
  3. Symptoms: Conjunctivitis, rhinitis, pneumonia, infertility
  4. Vaccine: Feline chlamydia vaccine

Bacterial infection spread between cats during birth or close contact. Causes respiratory and eye infections. Routine vaccination advised for breeding cats.

When to Start Puppy Vaccinations

Here are the CDC and AAHA guidelines for puppy vaccination schedules:

  • 6-8 Weeks Old: First DHPP (core)
  • 9-11 Weeks: Second DHPP
  • 12-14 Weeks: Third DHPP
  • 12-16 Weeks: Rabies vaccine
  • 12-16 Weeks: Bordetella (kennel cough) if needed
  • 15-17 Weeks: Fourth DHPP
  • 15-17 Weeks: Leptospirosis vaccine if needed
  • 15-17 Weeks: First Lyme vaccine if needed
  • 18+ Weeks: Rabies booster if needed

All puppy shots should be given 2-4 weeks apart in this sequence. Puppies need multiple DHPP doses to fully protect against parvo, distemper, and adenovirus. Timely vaccination is crucial to avoid gaps in immunity during periods of susceptibility.

Puppy Vaccination FAQs:

Should puppies have shots before 8 weeks?

Generally no, unless there is a very high risk situation or maternal antibodies are lacking. Maternal immunity typically prevents effectiveness until 8 weeks.

When should a puppy get rabies vaccine?

The first rabies vaccine should be given at 12-16 weeks old, with a booster 1 year later, then every 1-3 years depending on local laws.

Do puppies really need lepto and Lyme vaccines?

These non-core vaccines are based on lifestyle risk factors and regional likelihood of exposure to the diseases. Check with your veterinarian.

When to Start Kitten Vaccinations

Here are the general guidelines vets follow for kitten vaccination schedules:

  • 6-8 Weeks: First FVRCP (core)
  • 9-11 Weeks: Second FVRCP
  • 12-14 Weeks: Third FVRCP
  • 12-16 Weeks: Rabies vaccine
  • 16+ Weeks: Feline leukemia vaccine if needed
  • 16+ Weeks: FIPV vaccine if needed

Kittens need multiple doses of the FVRCP vaccine for full protection. The initial series is spaced 2-4 weeks apart. Rabies vaccine should be given by 16 weeks to meet legal requirements. Non-core vaccines depend on risk factors.

Kitten Vaccination FAQs:

Should I give kittens shots before 8 weeks old? Generally no, unless the mother cat has questionable or unknown vaccination history. Maternal antibodies typically prevent effectiveness prior to 8 weeks.

When should a kitten receive its first rabies vaccine?

Kittens should receive their first rabies vaccine between 12-16 weeks old, with a booster 1 year later, then every 1-3 years per local laws.

Are feline leukemia and FIPV vaccines optional?

FeLV and FIPV vaccination is only required if your cat goes outdoors or lives with cats of unknown FeLV/FIV status. Indoor cats may not need these vaccines. Check with your veterinarian.

Puppy and Kitten Vaccination Tips

  • Stick to schedule: Follow the vaccine timeline carefully, without delays between doses during the initial series. This ensures proper immunity builds.
  • Proper identification: Be sure your pet has proper ID, including collar tags and microchip, before their vaccines. This will help reunite you if they become lost.
  • Mild vaccine reactions: Soreness, swelling, or mild fever after vaccines lasts around 1-2 days. If it persists longer, contact your vet.
  • Avoid infection exposure: While building initial immunity with vaccines, avoid contact with unknown dogs or cats to reduce disease risks.
  • Keep records: Ensure your vet documents each vaccine with the date/type/manufacturer in your pet’s health records. Also keep your own vaccine certificates.

Adult Dog Vaccination Schedule

Adult dogs should receive select core vaccines every 3 years, unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian, including:

  1. Rabies: Booster every 1-3 years (minimum once every 3 years)
  2. DHPP: Booster every 3 years
  3. Leptospirosis: Annual booster if previously vaccinated
  4. Bordetella: Annual booster if regularly boarded or exposed
  5. Lyme: Annual booster if previously vaccinated and still at risk
  6. Canine Influenza: Annual booster if previously vaccinated and still at risk

Your vet may advise more or less frequent vaccination depending on your dog’s age, breed risk factors, and lifestyle. Routinely evaluate which vaccines your adult dog requires based on their individual disease exposures.

Adult Cat Vaccination Schedule

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends adult cats receive:

  • Rabies: Booster every 1-3 years (minimum of every 3 years)
  • FVRCP: Booster every 3 years
  • Feline Leukemia: Booster annually if previously vaccinated and still at risk

Your veterinarian may tailor vaccine frequency recommendations for each patient based on age, health status, and lifestyle factors. Cats with minimal outdoor access and unknown disease exposure may need only every 3 year core vaccines. Senior cats may require adjusted vaccine timing based on health risks. Review your cat’s vaccine needs at annual wellness exams.

Risks and Side Effects

While extremely safe, pet vaccines do carry a small degree of risk like any medical treatment. The majority of vaccine reactions are mild and resolve quickly, but more severe responses can rarely occur.

Mild vaccine side effects include:

Soreness, swelling, or hair loss at injection site

  • Low grade fever
  • Decreased appetite for 1-2 days
  • Mild gastrointestinal upset
  • Fatigue/lethargy for 24 hours

Contact your veterinarian if these symptoms persist over 48 hours or additional concerning symptoms develop like trouble breathing or walking. Less than 1% of pets experience more severe vaccine reactions, typically allergic responses, but fatal reactions are extremely rare.

Overall, the dangers posed by these preventable viral and bacterial diseases drastically outweigh the minimal risks from vaccination.

The benefits of protection greatly justify routinely vaccinating all pets.

Legal Requirements for Pet Vaccines

In most regions, rabies vaccination is mandated by law for dogs, cats, and ferrets due to its deadly zoonotic potential. Requirements for core and non-core vaccines may also apply for access to certain services and locations, including:

  • Boarding facilities/kennels/daycares
  • Pet grooming salons
  • Doggy daycares
  • Dog parks
  • Pet shelters/rescues
  • Pet hotels/pet sitters
  • Air travel or public transportation

Ensure your pet’s vaccine record adheres to all local and travel laws and requirements to avoid issues. Some boarding facilities may require specific non-core immunizations like bordetella or canine influenza vaccines. Check each location’s policies.

How Much Do Pet Vaccines Cost?

While prices vary somewhat by region, on average:

  • Rabies vaccine = $15-$25
  • DHPP/DAPP vaccine = $18-$30
  • FVRCP vaccine = $18-$30
  • Bordetella vaccine = $10-$20
  • Lyme vaccine = $25-$40
  • Feline leukemia vaccine = $25-$45
  • Office visit/exam fee = $40-$75

Multiple vaccines may be administered in one visit to reduce exam fees. Compared to thousands in treatment costs, prevention through routine vaccination is very affordable and typically less than $100 annually. This investment safeguards your pet and avoids difficult disease treatments down the road.

Some regions may offer occasional low-cost vaccine clinics, but their vaccine schedules may not follow vet recommended guidelines. Visit your primary veterinarian to ensure your pet receives properly timed vaccines meeting current standards for optimal immunity.

Pet Health Insurance can also help ease the financial strain should your pet become ill between vaccine boosters. Policies cover diagnostics, hospitalization costs, surgeries, and medications at affordable monthly premiums. Enroll pets while young and healthy as pre-existing conditions may limit coverage later.

Home Vaccine Visits

If regular vet visits cause your pet stress or you have limited transportation options, some veterinary practices now offer at-home vaccine visits for your convenience. You must be an established client with a current exam on file.

Benefits of in-home pet vaccine services include:

  • Less stressful for anxious/fearful pets · Avoids transporting injured or elderly pets
  • More flexibility with timing
  • Familiar home environment
  • One-on-one attention from the vet
  • Ability to examine skin, ears, or other issues
  • Easy to combine with wellness exams

Regardless of location, keeping your furry companions up to date on their schedule of core and non-core vaccines is the best way to ensure longer, healthier lives. Avoid needless suffering from preventable illness by vaccinating all pets without delay!

Our pets depend on us to make the right preventative healthcare decisions for them. Understanding common diseases like parvo, panleukopenia, calicivirus, and rabies underscores why consistent vaccination is so critical. These illnesses frequently end tragically or require extensive treatment if pets are left unprotected.

By vaccinating dogs and cats, we spare them considerable discomfort and distress. We shield them from struggling to survive for days hospitalized on IV fluids and antibiotics. We avoid causing financial hardship within the family attempting to cover thousands in emergency vet bills. We protect ourselves, our children, and community members from accidentally contracting deadly rabies.

With an annual investment of less than $100 and a few minutes of our time, our pets can be shielded from so much suffering. This routine act of love and responsibility is part of earning the privilege to care for our devoted, dependent pets. Discuss your pet’s vaccine schedule with your trusted veterinarian today to keep your whole family safe!


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  • Miyazawa, T., Yoshikawa, R., Golder, M., Okada, M., Stewart, H. and Palmarini, M., 2010. Isolation of an infectious endogenous retrovirus in a proportion of live attenuated vaccines for pets. Journal of virology, 84(7), pp.3690-3694.
  • Horzinek, M.C., 2006. Vaccine use and disease prevalence in dogs and cats. Veterinary Microbiology, 117(1), pp.2-8.