Since its outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked widespread discussions about vaccinations. However, these discussions focusing on human vaccinations may overshadow those vaccines specific to our beloved pets. Like human vaccines, pet vaccines are essential for providing immunity against debilitating or lethal diseases. Getting your pets vaccinated and keeping up-to-date with them is crucial for maintaining their safety and even that of your family, as some animal diseases can be transferred to humans.

The RSPCA recommends owners schedule once yearly veterinary appointments for pets to have a general check-up and discuss implementing a vaccination program. Factors like what type of pet you have, and the pet’s age, medical history, lifestyle and habits may influence what, when and how often particular vaccines should get administered. Each animal is unique, so it is vital to consult your vet about vaccines that suit your pet’s specific requirements.

So, what are the core vaccines for common Australian pets?

Vaccines for Dogs

Core vaccines for dogs, commonly grouped in one injection called the ‘C3’ vaccine, are:

  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine adenovirus
  • Canine parvovirus

Non-essential vaccines include:

  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Leptospira interrogans

Vaccinating your dog can help prevent the following diseases:

  • Canine distemper – A highly contagious and often fatal viral disease that affects a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal (GI), and nervous systems.
  • Infectious canine hepatitis – A viral disease that targets the functional parts of a dog’s organs, including the liver, kidneys, eyes and blood vessels.
  • Canine parvovirus – A highly infectious DNA virus that primarily targets the rapidly dividing cells of the body, worst affecting a dog’s intestinal tract and bone marrow. 
  • Canine influenza (dog flu) – A mild yet contagious respiratory infection.  
  • Canine infectious respiratory disease (kennel cough) – A mild to severe and highly contagious respiratory disease causing a harsh cough. 
  • Canine leptospirosis – A bacterial infection that spreads through a dog’s bloodstream, reproducing in the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system.
  • Rabies – An often incurable (but preventable) and highly contagious (to all mammals and humans) virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord. Although Australia is free from this virus, the vaccine should be considered if your dog is travelling overseas. 

Vaccines for Cats

Core vaccines for cats include:

  • Feline parvovirus
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus

Non-essential vaccines include:

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Feline leukaemia virus
  • Chlamydia felis
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica

Vaccinating your cat can help prevent the following diseases:

  • Feline parvovirus (panleukopenia), also known as feline distemper – A viral disease that infects and kills rapidly dividing cells in a cat’s body, such as those in the intestinal tract, bone marrow and (in a pregnant cat) the developing fetus. 
  • Feline herpesvirus – One of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections or cat flu in cats.
  • Feline calicivirus – Another common respiratory disease in cats, affecting primarily the lungs, nasal passages, mouth, and occasionally even the intestines and musculoskeletal system.
  • Feline leukaemia virus – A retrovirus that can, among other effects, cause the development of cancers. The virus spreads through a cat’s body in white blood cells involved with immune responses and within a few weeks reaches the bone marrow. 
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) – Often referred to as cat HIV or cat AIDS, this retrovirus kills or damages cells (primarily white blood cells) in a cat’s immune system, leaving them vulnerable to other infections.
  • Rabies – Like dogs, this incurable, highly contagious and often fatal brain and spinal cord attacking virus affects cats and can be prevented. The vaccine for rabies should be considered if your cat is travelling overseas, but not necessary if remaining in Australia. 

Vaccines for… Birds?

Lesser known and spoken about are vaccines for birds. They exist but are not usually necessary, as most pet birds reside only in owners’ homes (mostly in cages) away from outside birds and other animals. Notably, there is a vaccine for polyomavirus, a deadly infection that affects many of a bird’s body parts and organs simultaneously. Species particularly susceptible to polyomavirus include budgies, members of the parrot family, and to a lesser degree, canaries, and finches.

Potential side effects of pet vaccines

Like human vaccines, pet vaccines have the potential to present minor side effects as they work to stimulate the immune system. The most common of these include allergic reactions, sensitivity of the vaccinated area, and fever, occurring within the first few hours following vaccination and generally passing within a day or two. However, if your pet is experiencing worsening symptoms, including weakness, breathing difficulties, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, or growths like tumours on the injection site (likely the result of an immune disease), take them to a vet immediately.

It is important to realise that the side effects your pet may experience from vaccination are much less risky than your pet contracting a debilitating or lethal disease. Vaccines have played a key role in preventing communicable diseases and wouldn’t get used so widely if they lacked benefit. On the flip side, it is also important to consider how many vaccinations are administered to your pet, as some vets suggest excessive vaccination could jeopardise their health.

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Molendinar QLD 4214


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