Many people have questions about pet vaccinations, and we hope this information will help.

Vaccines provide life-saving benefits, are associated with minimal risk, and should be a part of routine preventive health care for all dogs and cats. Although we may make it look like a simple “shot”, the vaccines an individual pet receives is a serious medical decision, and many variables should be considered including the manufacturer and components of vaccines, proper transportation, storage and handling of vaccine products, and the selection and schedule of vaccines to be administered to a patient.

At Lakeside Animal Clinic, we carefully choose our vaccines based on their known effectiveness and safety, and tailor our vaccine protocol to the individual patient based on life stage, environment, lifestyle, risk of exposure to disease, and underlying medical conditions.

What diseases do you vaccinate against?

The American Animal Hospital Association has published guidelines for vaccinations in dogs and cats, and vaccines are divided into two categories – Core and Non-Core vaccines. Core vaccines are vaccines that are recommended for every patient, regardless of environment and lifestyle. Non-Core vaccines should be given to a patient based on their individual risk of exposure to that disease.

Canine Core Vaccines: Distemper Virus, Adenovirus Type 2, Parainfluenza Virus, Parvo Virus, & Rabies.

Canine Non-Core Vaccines: Kennel Cough/Bordatella & Leptospirosis. For more information about these diseases, please see the “Canine Non-Core Vaccines” on our Forms page.

Feline Core Vaccines: Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Panleukopenia, and Rabies.

Feline Non-Core Vaccines: FELV (Feline leukemia virus) & FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus). For more information about these diseases, see the “Feline Non-Core Vaccines” on our Forms page.

How do vaccines provide a pet with protection against disease?

Vaccines do not directly protect our pets but rather stimulate the immune system to respond by producing antibodies and cell-mediated responses that protect the pet against viruses and bacteria. The pet is most protected 2 – 3 weeks after a properly-timed and administered vaccine. In addition, when a vaccine against a specific disease is given for the first time, even in an adult animal, it is best to give a booster vaccine 2 – 4 weeks later as the second vaccine will produce an exponentially greater immune response.

Why do puppies and kittens need a series of vaccines and how many do they need?

When a baby kitten or puppy is born, its immune system is immature, leaving it vulnerable to infection if exposed to diseases. During the first few days of nursing, the puppy or kitten receives mother’s milk called colostrum which is rich in all the antibodies the mother has to offer. How long this maternal antibody lasts in a given pet is very individual and depends on a variety of factors.

What we do know about maternal antibody is that it starts to wane as early as 6 weeks of age, and is completely gone by 16 weeks of age. The puppy or kitten’s body must then depend on its own antibodies for protection. While maternal antibodies are in a puppy or kitten’s body, any vaccine given will be inactivated and will not result in antibody production or protection for the pet.

Because it takes one vaccine and then a booster vaccine 2 – 4 weeks later to provide adequate antibody production in an individual animal, our goal with a series of vaccines is to provide two effective (not inactivated by maternal antibody) vaccines, 2 – 4 weeks apart, during the period of time when the maternal antibody is leaving their body and their own immune system is able to respond. That said, it is not the number of vaccines given in the series that is important (it only takes two), but the period of time over which the vaccine series is given that is important.

Why is a physical exam by a veterinarian required before a vaccine is given?

Vaccines are licensed to give only to healthy, non-infected pets. If a vaccine is given to a sick, febrile or infected pet, the vaccine may not provide protection and may make the pet sicker by tying up their immune system so it can’t fight the infection that is already present. We do a thorough physical exam on all patients presented for vaccines to ensure the pet is healthy and that the vaccine will be safe and effective.

What should I expect after my pet is vaccinated?

Some muscle soreness, lethargy, and mild fever persisting for 24 – 48 hours are considered common and normal reactions to stimulation of the immune system secondary to vaccination. Anything longer than this should be discussed with your veterinarian.

What is a vaccine reaction?

Vaccines are biological products and as such can result in adverse reactions in some patients, although these are uncommon. Since the original development of vaccines more than 50 years ago, a continuing effort has been made to make vaccines safer and more efficacious. Today, vaccines have an excellent safety record and adverse reactions are very uncommon.

To date, there is no data available to provide information on the true incidence of adverse reactions to vaccines in companion animals, although we know that genetics, breed, size of the animal, and the number of vaccines given at one time may play a role. For this reason, we may recommend that if multiple vaccines are indicated for a certain pet, we want these vaccines to be given at separate visits to minimize this risk. Adverse reactions to vaccines include immediate anaphylactic shock, or less severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, facial swelling, or hives from a few hours to a few days after vaccines. If any of these symptoms should occur, please discuss this with our veterinarian.

Can vaccines cause serious illness or cancer?

Many people have speculated that annual vaccination is responsible for cancer, immune-mediated diseases, kidney disease, and other common ailments in older dogs and cats. To date, there is no clear evidence that vaccination has increased the incidence of any of these specific health problems.

In cats, fibrosarcomas (aggressive, malignant skin tumors) have been found to grow in areas of the body where vaccinations are routinely administered, although these tumors can also occur spontaneously independent of vaccinations. The FELV and Rabies vaccines have been implicated in this type of tumor growth, and the adjuvants (or carriers) of the vaccine specifically have been suspect. The reported incidence of vaccine-associated fibrosarcomas is anywhere from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 cats which is rare relative to the incidence of the diseases that we are vaccinating against. In an effort to minimize your cat’s risk of fibrosarcoma, we use vaccines that have no adjuvant, minimize the frequency of vaccines given by using 3-year vaccines when possible and only vaccinate your pet against diseases they are at risk of being exposed to. We also administer vaccines in specific locations of the body where should a tumor occur it could be most easily removed surgically.

What are vaccines?

In simple terms, vaccines are injections of an inactivated part of a virus or bacteria, given to an animal so that if he or she is exposed to the actual bacteria or virus, his or her immune system will already be prepared to fight off the infection and prevent illness.

At what age do I need to bring my new puppy or kitten to the clinic to get its first set of shots?

We recommend bringing your new pup or kitten in at six weeks of age for a thorough exam to check for any congenital abnormalities or other problems that may exist. At that time we will give the first set of vaccines, perform a check of the feces for intestinal parasites, give a routine dewormer for roundworms and hookworms, and start heartworm prevention. In cats, we will also want to test for the presence of feline leukemia virus and feline AIDS virus prior to the first vaccination.

What vaccines will be recommended for my pet?

In dogs, rabies and DHPP (distemper, hepatitis, parvo, and parainfluenza) are core vaccines and recommended in every dog (rabies vaccine is required by law). Bordetella vaccine (kennel cough) and canine influenza (dog flu) are recommended in all dogs that will be in a boarding or grooming setting, or have contact with other dogs. Leptospirosis vaccine is recommended in most dogs unless they are strictly indoors or toy breeds.

In cats, rabies and FVRCP (feline distemper, calicivirus, and panleukopenia) are core vaccines and recommended in every cat (rabies vaccine is required by law). Feline leukemia vaccine is recommended for cats at risk of contracting the virus (cats that go outdoors, roam, or live with multiple other cats).


How often do I have to bring my pup or kitten in for an exam and vaccines?

A puppy or kitten's immune system is different than an adult’s, so frequent boosters are required to provide adequate protection against these common diseases. We recommend vaccine boosters at 6 weeks, 9 weeks, 12 weeks, and 16 weeks. The pup or kitten should not be exposed to other animals (pet park, obedience classes, etc.) until all four boosters have been given.

How often are vaccines necessary in adult dogs and cats?

Each animal's potential for exposure to infectious diseases is different. Therefore, the veterinarian will decide the best plan for vaccinating your pet on a case-by-case basis. In general, adult dogs and cats do not require vaccines as often as a pup or kitten. Until recently, the standard of care was to administer all vaccines on an annual basis. However, recent studies have shown that some vaccines last much longer than one year in adult animals. Generally, all vaccines are administered at least once every three years. At Lakeside Animal Clinic, we follow the recommendations of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). The City of Houston and Harris County have both recently adopted protocol to allow Rabies vaccination every three years, with certain conditions.

Can you explain the new Three-Year Rabies vaccine protocol?

If your adult dog is vaccinated for rabies and then given a booster within 365 days, the next booster will not be necessary until three years later. The City of Houston and Harris County are both very strict on the 365-day rule. If your dog is even one day late in getting the rabies booster, he or she will have to be given another booster within one year.

Is the rabies vaccine protocol different for cats?

Yes. At Lakeside Animal Clinic, we use a different Rabies vaccine in cats. This vaccine, called Purevax, is safer for cats because it doesn't have an adjuvant (an additive that increases the effectiveness of the vaccine, but which has been found to potentially cause tumors at the injection site in cats). The downside of this vaccine is that it is currently only labeled for once-yearly administration because, without this adjuvant, it does not protect the cat as long. Thus, we currently vaccinate cats yearly for rabies.

Can vaccines cause my pet to have a reaction?

The vaccines that we administer to your pet are very safe. However, in rare instances, they can cause a reaction in your pet. These reactions can vary from mild to severe and potentially fatal. Small breed dogs are more likely to have a vaccine reaction than large breed dogs. Since reactions to vaccines are very uncommon, the risk of exposure to the potentially serious illnesses the vaccine is designed to protect against far outweigh the slight risk of a serious reaction. You should monitor your pet closely in the hours and days following the vaccination, and immediately report to us any fever, facial or limb swelling, vomiting, hives, or any other symptoms your pet is exhibiting.