As with human babies, young kittens and puppies need initial vaccines to protect them against diseases that can easily attack their developing immune systems.
And like human children, junior cats and dogs need boosters a bit later on to make sure their protection keeps going. Where our pets differ from us, however, is that many of these boosters will need to be kept up regularly throughout their lifetime.
There are also some vaccines you will need to give your pet under special circumstances, such as if you are travelling abroad with them.
Infant dogs are given a range of vaccinations against common diseases including parvovirus, distemper, parainfluenza, hepatitis, kennel cough and leptospirosis. These diseases are very nasty and, unfortunately, can be easily picked up by your dog from the outdoor environment – so it’s essential you protect them from the very start.
The first vaccine is required when your puppy is around seven or eight weeks old. The second is given approximately two weeks later. Because puppies are so vulnerable to the diseases they’re being vaccinated against, vets recommend that they don’t go outside or play with strange dogs until a week after the second injection.
Vets’ opinions do, though, sometimes differ on how long you need to wait between the first and second vaccination, and how long you should wait before taking your pet outside. So check with them and then be aware that it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
Of course this does mean putting down plenty of paper around the house, because there is nowhere else for your dog to go to the toilet! Some people do take their puppies outside into the back garden during the vaccination stage, but only if they’re sure there are no other dogs or wild animals that can access it. If you’re unsure whether to let your dog out, do ask your vet for the best advice.
Dog vaccines don’t last forever, so your vet will probably recommend a booster at 12 months after the initial course. Some, called core vaccines, can then be given every three years, while others including for kennel cough and leptospirosis need to be given every year (although the kennel cough vaccine is actually administered as a nasal spray, rather than via injection).
Your vet will probably keep a record and send you reminders of what needs to happen and when. Arranging for a quick yearly health check of your dog will help keep you up to date.
Having a vaccine isn’t dangerous for your puppy, although a small few can have a reaction. However vaccinations are essential to keeping your dog healthy, as well as for preventing the spread of infection.
Keeping up to date with dog vaccinations is also vital if you want to use kennels or go abroad (see below), and staying on tops of your pet’s vaccinations is usually a requirement for pet insurance.
Dog vaccinations for travel
Your dog must be up to date with all their usual vaccines if you are going to take them to a kennels. The proprietor will almost certainly ask for some evidence, so you’ll need to produce your vaccination record.
Rabies is not normally found in the UK, so the rabies vaccine is no longer given as standard but it is required if you are going to take your dog abroad.
This is part of a fairly complicated schedule of checks and medications (including blood tests and tick treatment), so do check with your vet what is needed. Not all ‘abroad’ is the same – different countries will need you to do different things at different times. Your vet will have a list of what’s needed where, but there’s also some very useful here.
The first kitten vaccines are given at around eight weeks old. A follow-up set is given about three to four weeks later. These protect against enteritis, cat flu and the leukaemia virus (not to be confused with cancer).
Even if you’re very certain your kitten is eventually going to be an outdoor cat, you need to keep them indoors and away from other cats (except for their litter mates and mother) until all their vaccinations have taken hold.
This is usually a week after the second set of vaccines, when they are around 13-14 weeks old.
As your kitten grows into adulthood, they should have a booster every 12 months, particularly if they are outdoor cats. Keeping their jabs up to date also helps protect the cat population in general, as it stops a wider spread of disease.
Having an annual health check (useful if you also want to deal with outbreaks of fleas) will help you keep on top of your vaccine schedule and your cat’s health in general. While most pet insurance does not cover the cost of routine treatments such as vaccinations, many policies will require you to keep your cat’s vaccination schedule up to date. If in doubt, speak to your vet and your cover provider.
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