Pet health: Annual vaccination generally not necessary

05/14/2014 3:00 PM

05/14/2014 3:01 PM

Q: Do all pets really have to be vaccinated every year? Do animals really need to be vaccinated that much more often than humans, or is it just because the government wants to charge pet owners more licensing fees?

A: You raise two major questions here: 1) Are annual vaccinations for dogs and cats medically necessary? 2) Are municipal vaccination policies science-based? Let me tackle them one at a time …

So why force pets to undergo such frequent vaccines? Are they so biologically different from us?

As it turns out … they’re not. After a couple of rounds of most of what we call their “core” vaccines pets probably are protected for life.

Note: These include rabies, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus for all dogs; all cats require rabies, panleukopenia, calicivirus, and herpesvirus. Note that “noncore” vaccines, like those against kennel cough for dogs and feline leukemia for cats, must be administered annually only to at-risk individuals.

Trouble is, “probably” is a statistical term that doesn’t always play out in a pet’s favor. Which is why veterinarians swear by an every-three-year schedule for core vaccines (after the initial puppy and kitten series).

Though few independent studies exist, three years is the shortest interval for which core vaccine protection has been definitively confirmed. In other words, beyond that time frame there’s no hard proof the immunity will last. Which is why manufacturers label vaccines for three years.

To recap (emphatically): Yearly vaccination is no longer considered a medical necessity for all adult dogs and cats. Every three years is acceptable for core vaccines in adults.

The rabies vaccine is the only vaccine typically mandated by law. Indeed, in no South Florida municipality is a one-year vaccine required.

As to the license fee conspiracy: Despite all the science refuting their annual necessity, some municipalities still require one-year rabies vaccines. (Which is why some manufacturers continue to market vaccines labeled for annual administration.) But their motives? That’s anyone’s guess.

Note: go to for canine vaccine guidelines and for feline vaccine guidelines.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to

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