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What vaccinations does my pet need?

dog in sunglasses that has received its pet vaccinations

Keeping up to date with vaccinations is an essential part of owning a pet. Most pet insurance policies that offer routine care benefits will cover the full or partial cost of vaccines, though this will depend on the provider, and limits and exclusions may apply.

However, failure to keep up with your pet’s vaccinations could get your claim rejected if they come down with a preventable illness. 

So in the spirit of looking after our furry friends, here are the unmissable vaccinations for cats and dogs in Australia.

Puppy vaccinations schedule

Dog vaccine collage

When your puppy is six weeks old, your veterinarian will start their shots program. Vaccines help protect their naive immune systems from nasty bugs. 

‘Core’ vaccines are mandatory for your puppy’s health since they protect against life-threatening diseases worldwide. 

‘Non-core’ vaccines are administered based on lifestyle risk. For example, dogs who frequently meet other dogs or livestock receive different additional shots than indoor, solitary puppers. 

Many, if not all, of the vaccines your puppy needs get rolled into one shot given by your vet. Common shots include the C series of core vaccines, which protect against increasing groups of diseases. C3 is usually given as a minimum as soon as you book your puppy’s first vet visit.

Here are the standard dog vaccines in Australia:

  • C3: Canine distemper, adenovirus (hepatitis), and parvovirus.
  • C4: C3 diseases plus parainfluenza.
  • C5: C4 diseases plus varieties of kennel cough.
  • C7: C5 diseases plus leptospirosis and coronavirus.

A standard puppy vaccine schedule looks like this:

  • 6 to 8 weeks: first shot.
  • 10 to 12 weeks: second shot.
  • 14 to 16 weeks: third shot.

As a rule of thumb, your puppy should not come into contact with other dogs or explore public areas (especially park grass) until two weeks after their third booster shot. This way, they’re kept safe from germ exposure until their immune system can handle it.

Vets may also recommend you give your puppy another booster shot at six months, in case their immune system hasn’t already had a strong enough reaction. Titre blood tests can gauge how many antibodies your puppy or dog has developed after a vaccine.

Australia is a rabies-free country, so if your dog is born and raised here, there’s no need to vaccinate them against rabies. If you plan on taking them overseas, however, it’s recommended that you do since the disease is deadly for animals and humans.

Dogs who regularly engage in activities where they could receive a deep wound (like on a farm) may also receive a tetanus injection. However, this particular disease has a low incidence rate in canines.

Annual dog booster vaccinations

It’s recommended that your dog receives an annual C5 booster for kennel cough and a C3 booster every three years for the rest of their life. Regular doses help keep their immune system primed for these diseases since they’re prevalent in the natural environment.

Kitten vaccinations

Cat vaccine collage

Much like puppies, kittens start vaccinations from six weeks old. Shots can protect them from life-threatening diseases found globally. 

Core vaccines protect against the worst of the worst, while non-core vaccines offer additional protection based on your cat’s lifestyle (for instance, if they’re an indoor-only or outdoor cat).

The F3 vaccine is the most common core vaccine administered to cats in Australia. Unlike the C3 injection for dogs, the F3 doesn’t prevent viral shedding or symptomatic infection. It does, however, reduce the severity of illness. 

Diseases covered by the F3 vaccine include:

  • Panleukopenia.
  • Feline herpesvirus. 
  • Feline calicivirus.

The term “cat flu” usually refers to the latter two diseases. Specific F3 variants may also protect against feline parvovirus. 

Additional feline non-core vaccines vets may recommend include diseases such as:

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
  • Feline leukaemia.
  • Chlamydia.
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (a kind of bronchitis).

A standard kitten vaccine schedule looks like this:

  • 6 to 8 weeks: first shot.
  • 10 to 12 weeks: second shot.
  • 14 to 16 weeks: third shot.

Your vet may also recommend a rabies vaccine if you’re taking your cat out of the country or a tetanus shot if they live outdoors on a farm. Your kitten may also receive an F3 booster at six months if its first immune response isn’t strong enough.

Annual cat booster vaccinations

Adult cats who venture outdoors should receive yearly F3 and feline HIV boosters. If they live strictly indoors, they may only receive boosters every two to three years. 

Other boosters may apply based on your veterinarian’s recommendation.

FAQs about pet vaccinations

What are common vaccine side effects in pets?

Much like humans, sometimes pets experience side effects after vaccination.

These can include local soreness at the vaccine site, fatigue, poor coordination (they may appear ‘loopy’), stomach upset like vomiting and diarrhoea, temporary limping (especially in cats), loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing. 

Contact your vet if you’re concerned about any of these symptoms in your pet. Most are normal and will resolve in a day or two, but some can indicate a problem.

What happens if your pet misses a shot?

Contact your veterinarian to get back on schedule as soon as possible. Late is far better than never! 

There’s some flexibility on the vaccine schedule for adult animal boosters since they may or may not be necessary, but for puppies and kittens, it’s vital not to miss a shot. 

If you accidentally skip a scheduled shot and your puppy or kitten is under 12 weeks of age, they may need an additional booster to the usual three.

Can pregnant pets receive vaccinations?

Veterinarians usually won’t recommend vaccinations for pregnant animals. If you're concerned about your pregnant pet's risk of disease, talk to your veterinarian about your options.

How do you keep your pet calm during vaccinations?

Needles aren’t fun for anyone, let alone puppies or kittens. If your little furry bundle finds themselves anxious or sensitive when getting vaccinated, lots of soothing words, cuddles, pats, favourite toys, and treats can go a long way to calming them down. 

It’s important to stay calm as a pet parent, too. Sometimes your nerves can become theirs! But while they may cry or squeak, the sting is only temporary and they will be okay. 

Find ways to distract yourself and keep it light, such as going for a walk, playing with your pet, or listening to your favourite tunes.

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Evlin DuBose
Evlin DuBose
RG146
Senior Money Writer

Evlin, RG146 Generic Knowledge certified and a UTS Communications graduate, is a leading voice in finance news. As Mozo's go-to writer for RBA and interest rates, her work regularly features in Google's Top Stories and major publications like News.com.au.