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What you need to know about pet vaccinations

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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Monday, 20 March 2023

An important part of being a responsible pet owner is to have your dog or cat vaccinated against preventable diseases by a qualified veterinarian. This is a simple and effective way to keep them protected against certain serious diseases.

Like in humans, vaccination works by training your pet’s immune system to recognise and respond to an infection, so that if your pet encounters the disease at a later stage, they’ll be better placed to fight it off.

Read on for more information about why vaccinations are so important and what you need to know. Remember that your vet is best placed to advise on what vaccinations your companion animal requires, so be sure to have regular check-ups and follow your vet’s advice.

Core vs non core vaccinations

There are two categories that pet vaccinations are divided into: core and non-core vaccines.

Core vaccines are vaccines which every dog or cat should receive, unless there is a medical reason why they cannot be vaccinated. Core vaccines help protect animals from key diseases, which are widespread and often life-threatening. All unvaccinated cats and dogs and those with an unknown vaccination history should receive core vaccinations.

For cats, the core vaccines protect against enteritis (feline panleukopaenia) and cat flu. This vaccination combination is commonly known as the F3 vaccination in Australia.

For dogs, the core vaccines protect against canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus, and canine parvovirus. They are usually combined within a single vaccine commonly known in Australia as the C3 vaccine.

Non-core vaccines are vaccines which should be administered based on an individual animal’s risk factors including geographical location, local environment, and lifestyle.

Remember to ask your veterinarian about which vaccines are most appropriate for your companion animal.

Timing is everything

Kittens under 16 weeks old need a primary course of core vaccinations, starting from six to eight weeks old. The vaccines are given every three to four weeks until your kitten is 16-20 weeks of age, with the final vaccination given no earlier than 16 weeks of age.

Puppies also need a primary course of core vaccinations, starting from six to eight weeks old. The vaccines are then given every two to four weeks until your puppy has had at least three vaccinations and is at least 16 weeks of age.

It is important to follow this schedule to ensure the vaccines are effective.

Cats and dogs over 16 weeks of age who have not been previously vaccinated, or who have an unknown vaccination history also need a primary course of core vaccinations but the schedule differs from that for kittens and puppies. The requirements for revaccination with core vaccines over your cat or dog’s life and for non-core vaccines vary so it is important to speak to your veterinarian to find out what your pet needs.

Remember, puppies should have completed their primary course of core puppy vaccinations before going to public places like the park, to reduce their risk of coming into contact with other dogs or an environment that could be a source of infectious disease. Check with your veterinarian when your puppy will be fully vaccinated and can safely go to public places. 

Book an appointment with your veterinarian.

The first and most important step is to book an appointment with your veterinarian so they can assess the individual needs of your companion animal and provide you with advice on what vaccines are appropriate.

Your veterinarian will always do a health check before administering a vaccination to ensure your pet is healthy to be vaccinated. In addition, this provides an excellent opportunity for your veterinarian to fully examine your pet and discuss any health issues. They can also assist you in developing a vaccination schedule – this is a great way to keep track of what vaccinations your pet has had and when.

Don’t forget that other companion animals, not just dogs and cats, also need to be vaccinated (e.g. rabbits), so talk to your veterinarian about what your pet's vaccination needs are and see the RSPCA Knowledgebase for more information.

By following these tips and keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date, you are on the right track to protecting your furry friend from infectious disease.  

For further information, you can visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase


This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers

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