Considering what vaccinations are right for your pet is an important part of caring for them.

For many people, pets are a part of the family and maintaining health and well-being is key to giving them a full and happy life.

So before you bring your new furry friend home, get to know which vaccines protect against serious diseases, and what risks are associated with vaccinating versus not vaccinating your pet.

Remember, when it's time to decide whether to vaccinate your pet or not, make sure you seek advice from your veterinarian who can provide you with all the information you need and discuss what is best for your pet’s individual circumstances.

Vet gives puppy labrador vaccine through mouth

Types of Pet Vaccinations

Many vets will recommend a set of core vaccines early on to protect against common illnesses. Others will also require non-core vaccines depending on their level of risk.

Core Vaccines

For dogs, core vaccines protect against three diseases known as canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus and canine parvovirus.

In Australia, vets combine these three vaccines into a single shot known as the C3 vaccine.

Cats also have a core vaccine known as the F3 which includes protection against Herpesvirus, Calicivirus and Parvovirus. [1]

Non-Core Vaccines

Vets can administer other routine vaccinations known as non-core vaccines depending on the animal's circumstances.

For dogs, a kennel cough vaccine protects against Bordetella bronchiseptica and parainfluenza virus, according to Kate Halloway from the veterinary-qualified breeder Goanna Labradoodles.

"There are other dog vaccinations available for protection against less common diseases, such as leptospirosis, and your vet can advise if these are necessary for your dog, depending on its circumstances," she said.

Outdoor cats might also get the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) vaccine if they're at risk of contracting the virus from stray or feral cats, according to Ms Halloway.

The specific vaccination schedule will depend on the lifestyle and surrounding environment of both the pet owner and the animal.

Fortunately, there's no need for a rabies vaccine in Australia as the country is free of the disease. [1]

But if you plan on taking your animal overseas, it's important to be aware that a rabies vaccination, among others, might be necessary.

Dog Diseases and Vaccinations

Canine Parvovirus (Parvo)

Parvo is a highly contagious disease that most commonly appears in unvaccinated dogs or puppies who haven't finished their primary course of vaccines. 

Parvovirus is passed through dog faeces and is easily transferable usually by other dogs carrying it on their paws or by humans on the soles of their shoes.

Dogs can experience an intestinal form of the disease, which is the most common, or a heart/ cardiac form - both of which progress quickly.

Symptoms of the intestinal form include:

  • Severe vomiting
  • Blood in stools
  • Loss of weight
  • Loss of appetite

Meanwhile, the cardiac form of Parvo attacks the heart muscles of very young puppies. If the symptoms aren't treated immediately, the virus can be deadly.

And while treatment is usually successful if caught in time, getting a dog vaccinated with its core vaccinations is the best way to protect against the disease. [2]

Canine adenovirus (infectious canine hepatitis)

Canine adenovirus targets a dog's organs including the liver, kidneys and eyes, and can be spread in faeces, urine, blood and saliva.

As it's one of the core vaccines, the high vaccination rate has meant cases of the disease are now fairly uncommon, although there are still some infections recorded. [3]

Symptoms of adenovirus can include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Enlarged tonsils

The viral disease can progress quickly and result in some dogs developing chronic hepatitis or painful eye conditions and even sudden death. [2]

Canine distemper (hard pad disease)

As the last of the core three vaccines, canine distemper is highly contagious and has no known cure.

It's spread through the air and can be contracted by dogs of all ages. With no antiviral cure available, any affected dogs who recover from the symptoms of the disease then become carriers and can shed the virus through secretions.

Initial symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Reddened eyes
  • Watery discharge from nose and eyes
  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy

If untreated, the virus will then attack the nervous system causing some dogs to experience seizures, paralysis and attacks of hysteria. [2]


Leptospirosis is most commonly shed in rat urine and can contaminate water, soil, mud, bedding and food.

Dogs can be at risk if they come into contact with the virus whether it's through broken skin or ingesting it by eating or being bitten by infected animals.

The key symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Sore muscles or reluctance to move
  • Shivering
  • Increased drinking and urinating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Jaundice
  • Eye inflammation

This disease is protected through one of the non-core vaccines which can be administered if the medical history and circumstances require it.

It's recommended for dogs who frequent high-risk areas such as stagnant bodies of water, or if they have contact with livestock or rodents. [4]

Infectious canine tracheobronchitis (canine cough or kennel cough)

Canine cough or kennel cough is a common term for this highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs that presents as a dry and persistent cough.

It spreads through inhalation and can be severe in young dogs, and overall distressing for other adult dogs where it can take up to six weeks to overcome.

The dog vaccinations for the bacteria and virus that contribute to kennel cough are non-core vaccines. However, some vets will combine them into the primary course.

The five-in-one shot is known as C5 and is usually recommended for dogs who spend lots of time around other dogs. [2]

Cat Diseases and Vaccinations

Herpesvirus and calicivirus (cat flu)

The first two of the three core vaccines for cats are related to two similar but different viruses that cause cat flu.

Cat flu can be transferred directly via cats or indirectly through contaminated areas such as food bowls or bedding.

Symptoms of cat flu include:

  • Problems breathing
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Discharge from eyes and nose
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ulcers in the mouth and/or eyes

Even after recovering from cat flu, many cats will become life-long carriers of the virus meaning they can still spread it even if they're not presenting symptoms. [5]

Vet giving black and white cat a vaccination

Parvovirus (feline enteritis)

The third vaccine in the core F3 vaccine protects against the highly contagious Parvovirus that's very difficult to treat and has a mortality rate of 90% in kittens. [6]

It's mostly spread through direct contact with faeces, litter trays, and food or water bowls. It can also appear through contaminated surfaces or even through people transmitting the virus on their hands or clothing.

Common symptoms of feline parvovirus include:

  • Sudden vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Parvovirus causes damage to the lining of the intestine and can lead to very severe gastroenteritis and often sudden death. [6]

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

The vaccine that protects against FIV is considered a non-core vaccine for cats but is recommended by many vets in the vaccination schedule for outdoor cats.

This virus suppresses a cat's immune system which means it can't fully protect against common bacterial and viral infections.

Symptoms of FIV include:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Mouth sores
  • Reoccurring infections
  • Being generally unwell

It's carried in the saliva and blood of an infected cat and is most commonly spread through fighting or mating, but also can be spread indirectly through shared food or water bowls. [7]

If I want to get my pet vaccinated, when should I?

Knowing when to get your pet vaccinated is vital before bringing your new puppy or kitten home. As each pet and its environment differs, it’s best to speak to your vet about what is suitable for your fur baby.

For core vaccines, the vaccination schedule for dogs and cats may look like:

  • First vaccination at 6 or 8 weeks of age
  • Second vaccination at 10 to 12 weeks of age
  • Third vaccination at 14 to 16 weeks of age

Puppies will then have optimal immunity two weeks after the final vaccine. [2]

A booster is recommended by some vets six months to a year after the primary course for dogs, while the kennel cough vaccination might be recommended yearly.

Similarly, cats may be recommended to have a booster every year following, depending on the specific vaccination recommendations and schedule prepared by your local veterinarian. [8]

Dr Michael Woodcock from Suncoast Vet said most pets will follow the same core vaccination protocol unless they're immunocompromised or they're unwell at the time.

"The reason they do that physical check over at the time is there’s no point in vaccinating an animal that’s unwell," he said.

"If they’re running a temperature or if they’re fighting any other disease process, the vaccine is like injecting water. There’s not going to be a reaction which causes the immune system to be able to fight."

Labrador dog and tabby cat sit together on couch

How to Get My Pet Vaccinated

Head to your local vet and arrange a consult to discuss the various vaccinations available and what is right for your pet. 

Some animal shelters also provide vaccinations for puppies and kittens but it's important to do your research beforehand.

Most vaccinations in Australia can cost around $170 to $250, with the price likely to vary depending on where you get them administered. [9]

Side Effects of Pet Vaccines

It's very rare for pets to have severe side effects from vaccines, according to Ms Holloway from Gonna Labradoodles.

Some pets might be slightly lethargic in the first 24 to 48 hours but it's fairly uncommon.

“Most puppies and dogs handle being vaccinated very well. Most won’t react at all to the needle, while a small percentage may squirm or yelp. If your puppy or dog does react to being vaccinated, it will only last a few seconds. A cuddle or treat usually distracts and overcomes any reaction very quickly,” she said.

Like humans, there's always a small chance of an anaphylactic reaction when getting vaccines.

But the chances of adverse reactions are very slim, especially with the vet doing a physical check prior and if the animal stays for 5 to 10 minutes afterwards to be monitored by professionals.

Check out more of our pet health guides to learn more about keeping your dogs and cats happy and healthy.