Vaccines are an important part of maintaining your pet’s health. Dogs and cats are vulnerable to a handful of preventable diseases that can be fatal if not vaccinated. Veterinarian offices abide by state laws that provide guidelines for how pet vaccines should be scheduled by age.

Keeping track of your pet’s vaccination schedule can be confusing. Luckily, most vets send reminders and make appointments easy to schedule. While they may do most of the work, it is useful for pet owners to have some basic knowledge of which vaccines are required and what they help prevent.

Canines and feline vaccines have some overlap, but a few are dependent on your area and your pet’s lifestyle, like whether they spend a lot of time outdoors or around other people and pets. The symptoms listed below are not all-inclusive but serve to provide a general understanding of the severity of each virus.


Vaccinations are separated into two categories: Core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are essential to the health of your pet, regardless of lifestyle. Noncore vaccines are highly recommended, especially for pets who spend a lot of time outdoors or around other animals.

Core Vaccines

  • Distemper*- Canine distemper is a very contagious virus that affects many parts of the body. Symptoms may begin mildly and quickly become serious. They include respiratory problems like coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea, lethargy, among other symptoms.
  • Hepatitis*- Dogs with hepatitis experience symptoms including lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, and a runny nose. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems or death.
  • Influenza*- Like humans, dogs are susceptible to certain flu strains. A regular influenza vaccine schedule can help avoid serious health problems as a result of the flu, like dehydration.
  • Parvovirus*- Often shortened to “parvo”, this virus can have serious consequences for your pet’s health. Common symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, and fever. It can be fatal. It is extremely contagious and it is difficult to prevent exposure to parvovirus.
  • Rabies- Most people are familiar with rabies. While rare, there is no cure for rabies once symptoms are exhibited. Symptoms may include unusual behavior, excessive drooling, and seizures. Vaccination is the best method of prevention.

Non-Core Vaccines

  • Bordetella- Commonly referred to as “kennel cough”, bordetella is a contagious virus with symptoms including poor respiratory function, fever, and lack of appetite. It is common for a dog to contract bordetella after exposure to new dogs, like in a kennel or at a dog park. If your dog leads a lifestyle in which they are likely to contract bordetella, your vet will recommend a regular vaccination schedule.
  • Leptospirosis- There are many ways for a dog to contract leptospirosis. One common way is through drinking contaminated standing water, like from puddles. It can make a dog very ill, causing them to become tired, feverish, and lose appetite. Your vet will recommend this vaccine depending on your dog’s lifestyle and the area in which you live.
  • Lyme disease- Often spread by tick bites, lyme disease can be difficult to catch in time to prevent serious health effects. If caught in time, it is treatable. Left untreated, lyme disease can eventually affect the kidneys and other vital functions. Some areas have a high population of fleas and ticks, and your vet may highly recommend that you vaccinate for lyme disease as a preventative measure.
  • Rattlesnake bite- This vaccine is self-explanatory. In areas where rattlesnakes are common, vets will suggest vaccinating against rattlesnake venom to protect your dog from being poisoned in case they are bitten.

*The canine distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, and influenza vaccines are typically given in combination, referred to as DHPP. Adult dogs receive the DHPP vaccine at one year and then every three years afterward (this does not include the puppy schedule).


A few of the following vaccines are the same as the ones listed above, but there are a few additional vaccines specific to felines. The section below outlines both feline-specific and similar vaccines.

Core Vaccines

  • Calcivirus*- Calcivirus is a prolonged virus that causes respiratory problems in cats. A runny nose, fever, and lethargy are common symptoms. While not usually fatal, the virus is very contagious.
  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis/Herpes*- FVR is caused by the herpes virus and affects a cat’s respiratory system. Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing, and discharge in the eyes. It can be very serious and is extremely contagious for other felines.
  • Panleukopenia*- Similar to the parvovirus in dogs, panleukopenia can cause fever, lethargy, and vomiting, leading to dehydration. There is no specific treatment, and it is often fatal. The best prevention for panleukopenia is vaccination.
  • Rabies- Like other animals, rabies in cats causes odd behaviors, drooling, and fever. There is no cure and it is fatal. Many consider the rabies vaccine to be the most important for both cats and dogs.

Non-Core Vaccines

  • Bordetella- Dependent on a cat’s lifestyle, they may need a regular bordetella shot. Cats are especially likely to catch it if they spend time in a kennel or around other animals.
  • Chlamydia- The vaccine for chlamydial conjunctivitis is only recommended if your feline is at high risk of contracting the virus, such as if they are outdoor cats. It is a respiratory virus, also targeting the eyes. Symptoms include swollen, runny eyes, runny nose, and sneezing.
  • Leukemia- Feline leukemia is a serious virus that attacks a cat’s immune system. While treatments exist to conduct this disease, vaccination can help prevent symptoms such as loss of appetite, respiratory problems, and fever.

* The FVRCP shot is a combination of the Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia vaccines, given all at once every three years.

Post Vaccine Symptoms

It is common for humans to feel a little tired after receiving a regular vaccination, and the same goes for our furry friends. Regular vaccines are very safe and most pets do not experience significant negative side effects.

Your pet may sleep a little extra for about a day after getting their shot and then will be right back to normal. However, you should always monitor your pet just in case they exhibit rare symptoms of side effects or allergies, like anaphylaxis.

If your pet does have an allergy or sensitivity to a vaccine, your vet may recommend foregoing that shot going forward.

How and When to Schedule Vaccines

Call your family veterinarian office to ask about local guidelines for non-core vaccines and check when your pet is due for its next shots. Most office vaccination appointments are quick and easy because you regularly only need to see a technician.

Remember that vet offices keep detailed records of your pet’s vaccinations and health conditions. Some cities require dog registration with proof of up-to-date vaccinations. If you move, it will be important to have a copy of your pet’s record. Most vets can quickly send this record to their new vet office.

A lot of pets get nervous about visits to the vet, so many offices make the entire process as fast and easy as possible. They are there to help and to keep your pet healthy. Call your vet to check when your pet is due for its next vaccination.