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Vaccinating Your Pets 101

Updated on January 10, 2015
Morgan leFae profile image

Elizabeth has been an EMT for a year, a writer for 10 years, and an artist all her life. She pulls inspiration from her favorite authors.

Not as Daunting as it Seems

For the pet owner who has always taken their animals to the vet for their yearly checkup, thinking about vaccinating your animals at home can be a little daunting. After all, your vet is trained and knows what they are doing. They also have your pet's health records on file for quick checks and updates.

The very first thing you need to do is find out exactly which vaccinations you are planning to give each animal. Some vaccinations are required by law, like rabies, and some are HIGHLY recommended, while others may be optional depending on what area you live in. The common vaccinations are listed below.


  1. Distemper
  2. Parvovirus
  3. Rabies
  4. Canine Adenovirus-2 (CAV-2)
  5. Parainfluenza
  6. Bordetella (kennel cough)
  7. Leptospirosis
  8. Coronavirus
  9. Lyme

If you buy vaccines for your dog online or at a farmer's co-op, you will find that most of the time you can buy a pack that covers 5-7 vaccines. Commonly, these types of "5-way" vaccine packages cover bordetella, distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza, and CAV-2. The "9 way" vaccines cover all of the aforementioned in addition to four types of leptospirosis. Occasionally, you can find a package that is 5 or 9-way PLUS....and will usually include the vaccine for coronavirus at an additional cost.

Lyme is one of the vaccines that is considered optional. If your dog has been exposed to Lyme before, or is an outside animal exclusively (or even mostly) and you live in an area with a lot of ticks, you may want to consider vaccinating them against Lyme disease. Flea and tick medications work wonders, but my husband and I do still pull the occasional tick off our dogs because we live in a wooded area and there are just so many.

Rabies is required in most states and is HIGHLY recommended regardless of the law. However, you will find that this is the one vaccination that you will likely need to pay for. Most states require by law that a licensed veterinarian or vet tech administer the vaccine in order for your pet to receive a rabies vaccination certificate or tag. If you take your dog to doggie day care, the groomer, or board them, this may become a big deal for you as a lot of these places will not accept dogs that do not have proof of vaccination (it's a safety risk). However, if you live in one of the few states that has no law on the books regulating rabies vaccines, or you do not need a certificate (still keep a record of all vaccines given and in the case of rabies keep the bottle and label just in case), you can purchase the rabies vaccine online. For more information about the laws in your state, visit this page.

If you are considering eliminating one or more of the vaccines from your regimen, do your research. Know what diseases your dog is most vulnerable to. If you adopted your dog from a shelter, or if your dog is frequently around other dogs outside the home, or if you plan on boarding your dog, DO NOT skip the bordetella vaccine. Bordetella is highly contagious to dogs and is airborne. It's very common in animal shelters and kennels, and there is always the chance that your next door neighbor doesn't know their dog has it.

Make sure you research when each vaccination should be given, and how often. Keep a detailed record of when you gave each vaccine. Vaccination record books are available here or you can make your own.

Dog and Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Begin Giving
How Often
6 weeks old
3 doses between 6-16 weeks, a second vaccination after a year, then a booster every 3 years
6 weeks old
3 doses between 6-16 weeks, a second vaccination after a year, then a booster every 3 years
Canine Adenovirus
6 weeks old
3 doses between 6-16 weeks, a second vaccination after a year, then a booster every 3 years
3 months old
comes in 1-year and 3-year lengths. Read the label to be sure.
6-8 weeks old
Every 3-4 weeks until 12-14 weeks old, then a booster after a year, then every 3 years
3 months old
Every year, or every six months if in high risk environment
12 weeks
Second dose 4 weeks later, then once a year
6 weeks
Second dose 3 weeks later and then yearly
9 weeks
Second does 2-4 weeks later, then annually before the start of tick season


  1. Panleukopenia
  2. Rhinotracheitis
  3. Calicivirus
  4. Rabies
  5. Feline Leukemia
  6. Chlamydophila
  7. Feline Infectious Peritonitis
  8. Bordetella
  9. Giardia
  10. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Once again, I reiterate that the Rabies vaccination is regulated by law in most states and you will need to refer to your state laws regarding this. DO NOT skip the rabies vaccine for your pets.

Just like with dogs, there are many ways to purchase vaccines for cats. They come in 2, 3, and 4-way packages as well as plus options. 2-way packages vaccinate against rhinotracheitis and calicivirus. 3-way packages include those as well as feline distemper. 4-way packages cover all those plus Chlamydophila. The plus packages are the base package plus feline leukemia.

Bordetella is not a common respiratory problem in cats, and if you are a cat and dog home, your cats should be safe as long as your dogs are vaccinated. Thus, this is one that you can skip if you so choose. Feline leukemia is recommended for all kittens, as well as cats that live partially or full-time outdoors. Feline infectious peritonitis is not a core vaccine for cats and is not recommended - this does not mean that it will harm your cats, it simply means that there is currently only one vaccine approved and available, and its effectiveness is shoddy. However, if you take care of your cat's litter box, vaccinate against feline leukemia, and have a healthy environment in general for your pets, the risk of infectious peritonitis is very low - and kittens that have it will show signs around 3 months-2 years old. Geriatric cats, kittens, and cats with weakened immune systems due to other diseases are the most vulnerable. If you wish to have the vaccine anyway, you will need to ask your vet if they offer it, and then have them administer it.

Finally, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is another that is optional. There is no evidence that the disease can spread to other mammals besides the cats, and the virus currently available is not 100% proven effective. Furthermore, an animal that has had the vaccine will test positive on the antibody test. FIV is usually transmitted cat-to-cat through bite wounds, as the virus is shed in the saliva. Keep cats that get along, be careful with cats in heat. If your cat is solely an outside animal, or even part-time, consider asking your vet about the vaccine. You simply do not know what other cats in the area have been exposed to.

Cat and Kitten Vaccination Schedule

Begin Giving
How Often
Combination Vaccine*
6 weeks
Second dose 4 weeks later, Third dose 3 weeks after that, Fourth dose 3-6 weeks after that, then annual booster
10 weeks
Second dose 3 weeks later, then annual booster
Feline Leukemia
13 weeks
Second dose 3-6 weeks later, then annual booster
12 weeks
Once a year or every 3 years, depending on label for vaccine
*combination vaccine includes distemper, rhinotracheitis, calicivirus. **This table is for the core recommended vaccines. Optional vaccines are also given yearly, and begin around 14-16 weeks of age. For more information, consult your vet.

Poll Time!

What pets do you have in your home?

See results
  1. Tetanus toxoid
  2. Equine Encephalomyelitis (Eastern, Western, Venezuelan)
  3. Influenza
  4. Rhinopneumonitis
  5. West Nile Virus
  6. Strangles
  7. Potomac Horse Fever
  8. Equine Viral Arteritis
  9. Rabies
  10. Rotavirus A

Most of these are core vaccinations and highly recommended. Rabies, once again, you will have to consult state law and your veterinarian about.

Equine Viral Arteritis is a vaccine for colts intended to be breeding stallions only. If you have a mare or filly or even a colt that you are not intending to use for breeding purposes, there is no need or real value in giving this vaccine.

Rotavirus A is not really recommended - there is not enough time to develop antibodies after vaccination for it to be effective during the period when foals are susceptible. Adult animals are not susceptible and vaccination is not necessary. If you still wish to vaccinate your foals, check with your large animal vet.

Another vaccine not listed above is Botulism. If your foal was born of a non-vaccinated mare, consult our vet before considering vaccination. If your foal's mother was vaccinated however, you can use the 3-dose series of the toxoid vaccination to prevent against Botulism.

Foal and Horse Vaccination Schedule

Begin Giving
How often
Tetanus Toxoid
From non-vaccinated mare: 3-4 months old. From non-vaccinated mare: 6 months old
From non-vaccinated mare: second dose at 4-5 months old, then once a year. From vaccinated mare: second dose at 7 months, third dose at 8-9 months, and then once a year
In high-risk areas or from non-vaccinated mare: 3-4 months old. From vaccinated mare: 6 months
Second and third doses at 30-day intervals after first dose, then once a year in the spring
Injectable; from non-vaccinated mare: 6 months. Injectable; from vaccinated mare: 9 months. Intranasal: 11 months
Injectable Second and third dose at 30-day intervals from first dose, then every 3-4 months. Annually for performance or pleasure animals. Intranasal: Every 6 months
4-6 months
Second and third doses at 30-day intervals from first dose, booster every 3-4 months. Optional for pleasure animals, every 6 months if uses
West Nile Virus
3-4 months
Second dose 30 days after first, third dose at 6 months old. Annual booster, every six months or more frequently in areas of high risk
Injectable: 4-6 months. Intranasal: 6-9 months
Injectable: Second dose 5-7 months, third dose 7-8 months, fourth dose 12 months, then every six months. Intranasal: Second dose 3 weeks after first dose then every six months.
Potomac Horse Fever
5-6 Months
Second dose 6-7 months, then every six months

Delivering Vaccines Correctly

After you've decided which vaccines to give your animals and purchased the required items (actual vaccines, syringes, needles, health record book), you will need to make sure that you know how each vaccine needs to be delivered. Research it to death, literally. You need to be sure that you are comfortable injecting your beloved pet with the vaccines, and if you are not of the medical profession, this can be very uncomfortable indeed.

Definitions you should know:

  • intramuscular - the vaccine is injected directly into the muscle tissue
  • Intranasal - the vaccine is squirted up the nostrils of the animal
  • topical - rubbed into the skin
  • subcutaneous - injected under the skin
  • oral - given by mouth
  • rectal - given through the anus of the animal
  • intraosseous - injected directly into the marrow of a bone.

Make sure you know the basic anatomy of your pet's species, and where exactly to deliver the medication. Pay attention to dosages, side effects, and needle sizes!

How To Draw Up Medicine From a Vial

Many vaccines for pets are delivered intramuscularly. Here is a picture reference for you.
Many vaccines for pets are delivered intramuscularly. Here is a picture reference for you.


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