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Which vaccinations should your pets get and when to get them?

We all want our pets to enjoy their happiest and healthiest lives.

Taking your pet to the veterinarian for regular health checks and vaccinations is a simple but important way of helping to maintain their health, longevity and quality of life. Read on to find out more about vaccinations and how it’s an essential part of keeping your pet happy and healthy.

An essential part of your pet’s health plan

Vaccinations are one of the most common procedures undertaken by vets throughout Australia. Young puppies and kittens are particularly at risk of becoming unwell or even dying from some diseases if they are not vaccinated.

As an example of the importance of vaccinations, before the introduction of routine vaccinations in the 1960s, veterinarians regularly treated canine distemper, an often-fatal disease. Today, it’s virtually unheard of in Australia, thanks to the introduction of regular vaccinations by veterinarians.

Parvovirus, however, is still seen, particularly in unvaccinated puppies and dogs in areas where vaccination levels are low. It is highly contagious and spreads through faeces from an infected dog – virus particles can survive for long periods of time in the soil and be spread to your dog. In addition to being an incredibly serious disease, care of a pet with parvovirus can cost thousands of dollars and still sometimes results in the animal dying. Thankfully, there is a highly effective vaccination available to protect dogs from parvovirus.

Another key advantage in vaccinating our pets is the concept of ‘herd immunity’ – this means that whilst vaccination of individual pets is important in itself, we can also help to reduce the number of susceptible animals in the community and help prevent an outbreak.

Vaccination against deadly diseases is not only in the best interest of your pet’s health, but will also help to alleviate any emotional or financial concerns should your pet contract a preventable disease and get ill.

Which vaccines are most vital?

Vaccines can be divided into core vaccines and non-core or secondary vaccines. The core vaccines are considered essential for all dogs and cats (including indoor-only cats) because of the widespread and potentially life-threatening nature of the diseases being protected against. Decisions regarding the requirement for secondary vaccines may be based on your pet’s age, lifestyle and where you live. You should always discuss with your vet what vaccines your pet will require.

Your veterinarian can also advise you about ‘non-core’ vaccinations - such as those that protect against leptospirosis - based on your location and your dog’s risk of infection. Leptospirosis is a ‘zoonotic’ disease which means it can be spread from animals to humans.

Core and non-core dog vaccines

In Australia, core vaccines for dogs include protection against:

  • canine distemper virus
  • canine hepatitis
  • canine parvovirus

These vaccines are commonly grouped together in one injection called a C3 vaccine in Australia that is administered by a veterinarian.

Non-core or secondary vaccines to consider include:

  • parainfluenza virus
  • bordetella bronchiseptica
  • leptospirosis

Core and non-core cat vaccines

In Australia, core vaccines for cats include:

  • feline parvovirus
  • feline calicivirus
  • feline herpesvirus

These are often grouped together in a single injection called the F3 vaccine in Australia which your veterinarian will administer.

Non-core or secondary vaccines to consider for cats include:

  • feline immunodeficiency virus
  • feline leukaemia virus
  • chlamydia felis

In Australia, it is recommended that all puppies and kittens receive a course of core vaccinations: first at six to eight weeks of age, depending on veterinary advice, to be followed by additional booster vaccinations at 10-12 weeks and 16 weeks. Other vaccinations, such as the vaccine for feline immunodeficiency virus, may be given at a different frequency, such as fortnightly for three doses.

How to manage ongoing vaccinations

After receiving their initial course of vaccines, puppies and kittens will require a booster 12 months later and then progress to an adult schedule. Booster vaccinations in adult dogs and cats should then be given annually, or once every three years, depending on your pet’s location and lifestyle as recommended by your veterinarian.

The importance of annual check ups

Regardless of the vaccination schedule, yearly veterinary check-ups (at a minimum) are advised. It is easy to forget when your pet was last vaccinated or seen by a vet. If you are unsure about your pet’s vaccination status, make an appointment for a check-up with your vet and they should let you know if your pet is due any vaccinations.

Regular health checks are incredibly important as they allow your veterinarian to thoroughly examine your pet and advise on other important issues such as diet, desexing, parasite control, skin and ear conditions, behaviour concerns, training and disease prevention. As in humans, it is best to be alert to changes in your pet’s health and seek advice early for any concerns.

Vaccination is vital to prevent or reduce the severity of serious diseases in dogs and cats. Unvaccinated animals are particularly vulnerable to diseases which can be highly contagious and fatal. Your pet will likely need to have their initial course of puppy or kitten vaccinations after which your veterinarian will advise you on a recommended ongoing vaccination schedule.

Some peace of mind for you and your pet

Our pets' lives are often unpredictable, and when the unexpected happens such as accidental injuries and illness, it can cost thousands of dollars in veterinary expenses. Pet insurance can help ease the burden and means you may be covered for eligible veterinary bills. Ensure you check the PDS for any exclusions, including any regarding vaccinations and illnesses.

Plus, if you choose RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums will go towards supporting the great work of the RSPCA.

Dr Catherine Tiplady bio image

Dr Catherine Tiplady

Dr Catherine Tiplady studied veterinary science at the University of Queensland. After graduation, Dr Catherine worked in veterinary practice whilst undertaking postgraduate research in Animal Welfare, gaining additional degrees in Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Studies) (Hons 1) and a PhD. Dr Catherine has published widely in peer reviewed scientific journals and has also authored a book, ‘Animal Abuse: Helping Animals and People’. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Catherine also has her own business performing gentle in-home pet euthanasia and provides veterinary care and desexing services for animal welfare charities. Dr Catherine brings her passion for animal welfare, love of writing and scientific training together to contribute quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance’s Pet Care blog.