Vaccines help protect our pets

As pet owners, we all want our furry friends to be healthy and happy. One of the most important things we can do for our pets is to ensure that they receive the necessary vaccines to keep them at their optimal health. These vaccines not only protect our pets, but they also help maintain herd immunity and reduce the risk of disease outbreaks in our communities. This article discusses the recommended frequency of vaccines and why they are important.


Importance of vaccines 

The diseases against which these vaccines protect can cause significant harm to unprotected animals. For instance, both canine distemper virus and rabies are fatal diseases in pets. Canine parvovirus can also be fatal if left untreated, and the cost of treatment can be significant.

Dr Anri Celliers, a veterinarian at the University of Pretoria’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, says: “Some of these diseases, like rabies, can also infect humans, making vaccination against them mandatory by law.”


Core and non-core vaccines

Core vaccines are those recommended for all dogs or cats irrespective of their lifestyle or where they stay. For dogs, the core vaccines include:

  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine parvovirus
  • Canine adenovirus
  • Canine parainfluenza virus
  • Rabies

For cats, the core vaccines include:

  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus type 1
  • Feline panleukopenia virus
  • Rabies
  • Feline leukaemia virus (considered core for kittens and young cats less than one year of age but considered non-core for low-risk adult cats).

Non-core vaccines are those given based on an individual risk assessment of lifestyle, geographical location and specific endemic conditions.

Depending on your pet’s lifestyle, where he lives and his contact with other pets, your vet may suggest non-core vaccines for your dog, such as those for leptospirosis and Bordetella (the virus that causes kennel cough), and for your cat, he may suggest a vaccine for feline leukaemia.


Frequency of vaccines

For puppies and kittens, vaccinations are typically given from the age of six to eight weeks and repeated at two to four week intervals until the puppy or kitten reaches the age of 16-20 weeks. For dogs, a booster is repeated within a year, and for cats, it is repeated in six months. Vaccine boosters are recommended yearly.


Safety of vaccines

Of course, some pet owners may be concerned about the risks associated with vaccines and may be hesitant about getting their pets vaccinated. It’s essential to discuss any concerns you may have with your veterinarian and make an informed decision about the best course of action for your pet.

“All licensed vaccines have a very high degree of safety and efficacy. The benefits of vaccination in dogs and cats with an unknown immune status or vaccination history far outweigh the risks of an adverse reaction,” says Dr Celliers.

She adds that the reported rate of adverse reactions in cats is only 0.52%, and in dogs, it’s just 0.13%, with the risk of severe allergic reactions being even less than that.

“If you do notice any adverse reactions in your pet after vaccination, it’s essential to contact your veterinarian immediately. They can recommend appropriate treatment and ensure your pet’s safety. It’s also crucial to let your vet know about any previous vaccination reactions and their severity before revaccination,” says Dr Celliers. The vaccine manufacturer should also be contacted to report the adverse event.

Depending on the severity of the vaccination reaction, pretreatment with an antihistamine might be given, and your pet may be admitted for observation in the hospital for the day of the vaccination. Reducing the number of vaccines administered during a single visit may also be useful in decreasing the allergic stimulus and identifying which vaccine is the culprit. With severe vaccine reactions, revaccinations should only be done based on a risk-benefit analysis.

The most commonly reported reactions after vaccination are lethargy, fever for a few days after vaccination, or local inflammation at the vaccination site. More severe reactions could include vomiting, diarrhoea, facial swelling, itchiness, and in life-threatening cases, breathing difficulty and collapse.

“For cats receiving FeLV or rabies vaccination we recommend the 3-2-1 rule: if a mass forms and is still present for three months after vaccination, is larger than 2cm and is increasing in size one month after vaccination, a biopsy is warranted,” says Dr Celliers.

While vaccines can be given to nursing pets, as a general rule, steer clear of administering vaccines to pregnant animals unless necessary or in an animal shelter-type situation. In that case, a killed vaccine (inactivated) should be used instead of a modified-live vaccine.


Other pets

Small pets, such as rabbits, may also require vaccines and, in particular, should be vaccinated against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. The vaccination schedule for rabbits may vary, so it is best to consult with your veterinarian.


Preventing illnesses

Vaccination is a critical component of preventive healthcare for our pets. By staying up to date with our pets’ vaccinations, we can help protect their health and the health of the entire pet community.


For a complete guideline to recommended vaccines in South Africa for companion animals go to


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