Pet Vaccinations

Vaccination FAQ

This article was prepared as a service by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and is used with their permission

Q: What are vaccines?

A: Vaccines are health products that trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians.

Q: Is it important to vaccinate?

A: Yes! Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents continue to be present in the environment.

Q: Which vaccines should pets receive?

A: When designing a vaccination program, veterinarians consider the pet’s lifestyle, related disease risks, and the characteristics of available vaccines. “Core vaccines” (e.g., rabies, feline panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus infection, canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection, and canine hepatitis) are recommended for most pets. Additional “non-core vaccines” (e.g., feline leukemia, canine kennel cough and other vaccines) may be appropriate based on the pet’s particular needs.

Q: How often should pets be revaccinated?

A: Veterinarians have traditionally vaccinated annually; however, they are now learning that some vaccines induce immunity that lasts less than one year, whereas others may induce immunity that lasts well beyond one year. The AVMA recommends that veterinarians customize vaccination programs to the needs of their patients. More than one vaccination program may be effective.

Q: How does my pet’s lifestyle affect its vaccination program?

A: Some pets are homebodies and have modest opportunity for exposure to infectious disease, whereas others have a great deal of exposure to other pets and/or wildlife and infectious disease by virtue of their activities. Still other pets live in geographic areas that place them at greater risk for contracting some infectious diseases. Differences in lifestyle illustrate the importance of customizing a vaccination program to individual patients.

Q: Are there risks associated with vaccination?

A: Vaccines have protected millions of animals from illness and death caused by infectious diseases. All medical procedures, however, carry with them some risk. Fortunately, in the case of vaccination, serious adverse responses are very infrequent. Veterinarians minimize risk by carefully selecting vaccines on the basis of a pet’s individual needs and by choosing appropriate injection sites. In an effort to find ways to prevent even these limited numbers of adverse responses from occurring, the AVMA is working with government and industry to redefine how information regarding adverse responses is gathered, analyzed, and disseminated.

Q: What should I expect after my pet’s vaccination?

A: It’s common for pets to experience some mild side effects after receiving a vaccine. You should talk with your veterinarian about what to expect after vaccination, and be sure to inform him or her if your pet has had prior reactions to any vaccine or medication. More serious, but less common side effects, such as allergic reactions, can be life-threatening and are medical emergencies. Seek veterinary care immediately if any of these signs develop:

–Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
–Itchy skin that may seem bumpy (“hives”)
–Swelling of the muzzle and around the face, neck, or eyes
–Severe coughing or difficulty breathing

Q: Is serologic testing useful to evaluate immunity to some diseases?

A: Theoretically, tests that measure antibody response (i.e., serologic titers) may help veterinarians determine the need for revaccination in some cases. Unfortunately, veterinarians cannot be certain that a specific concentration of antibody is always protective or that a lower concentration leaves an animal unprotected.

Canine Vaccination Guidelines

During your pet’s wellness exam at Lincoln Square Animal Hospital, we will discuss your pet’s lifestyle factors, including indoor vs. outdoor, travel plans, kennel/boarding plans, and underlying disease conditions. Based on this information we can define an appropriate vaccination plan. As your pet’s lifestyle changes, please let us know so we can adjust your pet’s vaccinations as needed.

Canine Core Vaccines

Core vaccines are recommended for all puppies and dogs with an unknown vaccination history. They provide reasonably good protection from diseases that are easy enough to contract and that can be deadly.

Canine Parvovirus, Distemper Virus, Adenovirus-2 Vaccines, and Parainfluenza

At Lincoln Square Animal Hospital we give a distemper, adenovirus-2, parainfluenza, and parvovirus vaccine that is 90 percent combined with 4 servers of leptospirosis. We don’t include the leptospirosis with this combination vaccine for puppies under the age of 12 weeks. This vaccine is considered a two-year vaccine. However, the leptospirosis component is considered a one-year vaccine.

Canine Rabies Virus Vaccines

We give a single dose of killed rabies vaccine for puppies at 16 weeks or 4 months of age. The same single dose recommendation applies to adult dogs with unknown vaccination history. A booster is required one year later. After that, rabies vaccination is required every 3 years using a vaccine approved for 3-year administration.

Canine Leptospira Vaccines

Leptospirosis can occur in dogs from urban backyards. The disease can be fatal and can be transferred between animals and humans. This is why we include it with the combination vaccine described above, except for puppies under 12 weeks old.

Leptospira vaccines have been associated with more severe reactions than other vaccines. However, more recent vaccines with less foreign protein have reduced this problem. Dogs that have had previous reactions to Leptospira vaccines should avoid further Leptospira vaccination if possible.

Canine Non-Core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines are optional and should be considered based on the exposure risk of your dog. These vaccines are generally less effective in protecting against disease than vaccination with the core vaccines.

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

This agent is associated with ‘kennel cough’ in dogs. Dogs expected to board, be shown, or to enter a kennel situation should receive mucosal vaccination with live avirulent bacteria. For puppies and previously unvaccinated dogs, only one dose of this vaccine is needed.

Most boarding kennels require this vaccine before boarding. The vaccine should be given at least one week before the expected boarding date. Some kennels require immunization every 6 months. However, annual booster vaccination with B. bronchiseptica vaccines is considered sufficient for protection.

Canine Influenza Virus (CIV)

Canine influenza virus causes upper respiratory symptoms including a cough, nasal discharge, and low-grade fever followed by recovery. A small percentage of dogs develop other more severe issues.

Vaccination may be advisable for dogs that contact other dogs, such as in boarding. Vaccines may reduce clinical signs and virus shedding in dogs infected by CIV. Vaccination may interfere with the results of blood tests for antibodies.

Canine Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme) Vaccine

Lyme disease is seen near Northern Indiana, Michigan & Wisconsin, not typically in Chicago. Furthermore, use of the vaccine has been controversial because of reports of adverse reactions. The majority of dogs contracting Lyme disease respond to treatment with antimicrobials, and many show no signs of having the disease. Tick prevention is an effective way to avoid Lyme disease.

If you will be traveling with your pet to areas with widespread Lyme disease, vaccination could be considered.

Still Have Questions?

Please feel free to ask us any questions you have about vaccinations for your pet. We will help you decide which ones are appropriate for your companion.

+ References

Vaccination FAQ – American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), retrieved from

Vaccination Guidelines For Dogs And Cats – UC Davis Veterinary Medicine, retrieved from