Watch CBSN Live

Annual Shots For Pets

While most children already have their back-to-school shots, they're not the only ones in the family who need vaccinations.

The Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner says pets also require a range of shots to help ward off disease.

Everyone who has a pet knows that it requires certain vaccinations and immunizations but different animals may need various frequencies of different shots.

Vaccinating pets is the best and least expensive way to prevent disease. Vaccines are altered or killed versions of some of the most dangerous diseases that threaten dogs and cats. When administered, they cause the pets' immune system to create antibodies to those diseases. Therefore, if the pet is exposed to the actual virus, later in life, it will already have immunity to the disease and be less likely to contract it.

Plus, vaccinated pets don't spread these diseases to other animals. All states in the United States require pets to be vaccinated against rabies. Some states require annual boosters. Pets not properly vaccinated might require quarantine or even death if the pet bites someone and their rabies vaccination status was unknown. The first vaccine should be administered at 12 weeks old.

Turner says it is tough to recommend the same regimen for all pets because of varying age, health status, species and geographical locale. Before vaccinations are given, a complete physical exam should be performed by a veterinarian to assess the health and lifestyle of the pet. This is why owners should not administer vaccines to their pets themselves.


Cats have a few core vaccines. Feline panleukopenia (FPV or "distemper") affects the nervous system of cats and reduces their immunity — kind of like our AIDS for cats. Feline rhinotracheitis (FHV-1) is the name of the disease caused by herpes virus 1. It's like a cold and they get runny eyes and nose. The infection can develop into bronchitis or pneumonia or cause eye disease. It is highly infectious. Feline calicivirus (FCV) causes respiratory disease and rabies.

Other available vaccines for cats are feline leukemia (FeLV); feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) which is a disease of abdomen that causes inflation of lining of abdomen and can cause organs in abdomen to fail, like liver and kidney; a fungal infection called ringworm and a bacterial disease that usually attacks respiratory system called chlamydiosis.

Generally, the first vaccinations (FPV, FHV-1, FCV) should be given at six-weeks-old and repeated every three weeks until the kittens turns 12-weeks-old. Then, they should be given a booster at one year, then boosters every three years thereafter. If the kitten is more than 12-weeks-old when given the very first vaccination, then generally it is given one dose, then a booster at one year, then boosters every three years thereafter.

Feline Leukemia vaccine should be given to cats that are stray, outdoor cats, indoor/outdoor cats, multi-cat households, and FeLV positive households.

Turner says the FIP vaccine is very controversial and should only be given to cats in catteries.

There seems to be some link between vaccination in cats and development of tumors called fibrosarcomas. The vaccines that are most commonly linked to this occurrence are rabies and feline leukemia. This is most likely because both of these vaccines are created from "killed virus" to which the body doesn't seem to respond. So an adjuvant is added to "irritate" the immune system and cause a response. It is the adjuvant actually that has been implicated in causing the fibrosarcomas. The risk has been reported at 1 in 10,000 but this is significant.

These tumors don't seem to be a problem in dogs. But dogs can have an anaphylactic reaction (allergic reaction) or develop a blood disease called immune mediated hemolytic anemia. However these occurrences are remote enough that annual boosters are still commonly given to dogs.

Traditionally, revaccinations (boosters) have been given annually. Studies show that the effectiveness lasts longer. FPV, FHV-1, rabies, and FCV can be boostered every three years.


A dog should be given a rabies shot during its first 12 weeks, boostered at one year, then boostered every one or two years.

Dogs can be subjected to distemper combination. They include Distemper virus which can be either respiratory or neurologic — usually seen as seizures or paralysis with sudden onsets. Young puppies may experience gastrointestinal disease, Parvovirus, that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. Dogs can also contract Coronavirus that looks almost exactly like Parvovirus. Puppies may experience Adenovirus, a respiratory disease, usually with a dry hacking cough and this can be fatal. Puppies should also be careful of Parainfluenza virus that looks almost exactly like Adenovirus. Vaccinations against these should be given at 6-8 weeks, repeated every three weeks until the dog is 16 weeks old, then boostered annually (this is one shot that contains all these vaccinations).

Other dog viruses are Leptospirosis — a bacteria that affects the kidneys for which more than an annual booster may be needed; Bordetella (kennel cough) that is especially important in dogs that will frequent kennels, training class or groomers and for show dogs. In the latter case, it may be necessary to booster more frequently than yearly. A shot against Lyme disease is recommended in areas where the brown deer tick is prevalent. The first dose of Lyme disease is given twice at three-week intervals starting at 12 weeks old, then boostered annually.

There is a new breed of vaccines on the horizon created through recombinant gene technology. Perhaps this will eliminate risks and provide the adequate protection. There is only one on the market right now for dogs called Recombitek (for distemper).

Overall, pets need a series of vaccinations when they're young. Turner says people don't understand why they need to keep bringing their animals back for the same shots several times.

The reasoning is because the mother's antibodies protect the animal when they're nursing but then they start to decrease when the animal weans. The mother's antibodies inhibit the vaccinations so you do the series to help the animal build its own protection as the mother's protection is decreasing.