What Vaccines Do Cats Need?

Group of small striped kittens in an old basket with balls of yarn

Written by: Allison Ward, DVM

Maybe you just adopted a sweet little kitten from the shelter, or your adult cat hasn’t been to the vet in a while. Perhaps your perfect purrbox recently had her yearly wellness exam, and you’re wondering, “what vaccines did my veterinarian give my cat? Did she really need them?” Here, we’ll answer the most commonly asked questions about cat vaccines and the diseases they protect your kitty against! Spoiler alert: follow your veterinarian’s personalized recommendations for your cat—and congratulate yourself on providing your cat with the best, most effective preventive care possible! 

Vaccines for Indoor Cats

The Rabies Vaccine

If you’re not familiar with what vaccines your cat needs, then chances are you have at least heard about vaccinating your cat for rabies. The rabies vaccine is given once during kittenhood (generally between the ages of 12 weeks and 16 weeks), boostered one year later, and then given every one to every three years for life. The rabies vaccine is the ONLY legally required vaccination for pet dogs, cats, and ferrets in the United States. 

Why is the rabies vaccine required? You may be surprised to learn that the government requires all eligible pets be vaccinated for rabies to protect PEOPLE! 

Rabies is easily transmitted between species, and is common among such wild animals as raccoons, foxes, bats, and other mammals. (Birds and reptiles CANNOT carry or transmit the rabies virus.) Once a rabies-infected animal bites another animal, that animal then becomes infected…and goes on to bite other animals to infect them, if given the opportunity.

Sadly, there is NO cure for rabies once an animal shows symptoms of infection—and this includes humans. Around the world, over 50,000 PEOPLE die each year from rabies. Tragically, most of them are children who receive bites from rabid dogs and cats with whom they interact. The reason why we see so few human deaths from rabies in the United States is precisely BECAUSE of the government mandate for pets to be vaccinated against rabies, and doctors emergently treat humans that have been bitten and potentially exposed. 

In addition to receiving a fine from your local government if your cat is not current on her rabies vaccine, there are other legal consequences if you do not vaccinate your cat for rabies. Local public health departments have rules for quarantining pet dogs and cats who bite a person. If your beloved cat is not current on her rabies vaccine, and bites a person (even out of fear or pain)—that can lead to a long, expensive quarantine…or even worse.

To make sure you are complying with the law, it is essential to keep your cat up-to-date on the rabies vaccine. You might be wondering, “my cat always stays inside! Why in the world would anyone think she should be vaccinated for rabies when she doesn’t come in contact with other animals?” 

Unfortunately, life is unpredictable—and indoor-only cats can accidentally escape outside, leading to interactions with wild animals. It’s a bit unnerving to consider, but wildlife can also make its way INTO your house—have you ever heard of someone finding a bat in their attic, or battling one that flew down the chimney? There have even been cases of raccoons and other animals coming inside our homes! ANY of these possibilities mean a potential tussle between your indoor cat and either a wild animal infected with rabies, or an unvaccinated stray cat. 

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The FVRCP (aka “Distemper”) Vaccine

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the FVRCP vaccine (also referred to as the “distemper vaccine”) is strongly recommended for all cats—even those indoors. This vaccine protects your cat from common viruses that are transmitted between cats, including some that can potentially be transmitted by YOU if your clothing comes into contact with an infected cat’s outdoor habitat! A kitten’s first FVRCP vaccination is ideally given at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, and repeated every 2 to 3 weeks until the kitten is at least 16 weeks of age (see below). As an adult cat, the FVRCP vaccine is given once a year to once every three years. 

Panleukopenia (the “P” part of the FVRCP abbreviation) is also known as feline distemper virus. This is a HIGHLY contagious virus that causes serious illness and has a high fatality rate in cats who start to show symptoms of this disease. It is spread via all sorts of body secretions from infected cats (respiratory droplets, saliva, urine, feces/diarrhea) and is unfortunately a very hardy virus. In fact, the virus can survive indoors for over a year at room temperature, and freezing temperatures outside will NOT kill the virus! Tragically, even dogs who wander around areas where outdoor unvaccinated cats spend their time can bring this virus into your household on their fur, and you can bring it inside on your shoes. Then, if your kitty sniffs your pup or your shoes, they can become infected if enough virus particles are breathed in or ingested by your cat. Symptoms of this virus include sneezing, pneumonia, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and eventually death. Fortunately, the FVRCP vaccine is extremely effective at preventing illness from panleukopenia (distemper).

Other diseases protected by the FVRCP vaccine are feline herpes and feline calicivirus. Both of these viruses are common and affect the respiratory tract. They are transmitted from cat to cat via nasal droplets (sneezing) and grooming behavior. Both herpes and calici infections can cause sneezing, runny eyes, and a loss of appetite. A high-grade fever (even up to 107 ℉) is more often associated with some strains of calicivirus. For some unfortunate cats with herpes, the virus can even infect the surface of the eye and create a painful scratch, also known as a corneal ulcer. 

While a cat is battling either of these viruses, their busy immune system and the inflammation of tissues in the respiratory tract make it likely for the poor infected kitty to develop bacterial infections as well, which usually require antibiotics to treat. With severe viral and/or opportunistic bacterial infections, pneumonia can develop, possibly leading to a  life-threatening illness. The FVRCP vaccine will not completely prevent ALL infections from these viruses, but a vaccinated cat’s symptoms from an infection will be much more mild than the symptoms of a cat who is unprotected. 

The FVRCP vaccine can be administered via injection (just like the rabies vaccine), given as a nasal drop (intranasal vaccine), or its components can be split and protection from the respiratory viruses given intranasally, with the panleukopenia vaccine given by injection. Discuss more with your veterinarian for any concerns regarding common cat vaccine reactions. 

Vaccines for Outdoor Cats

The Feline Leukemia Vaccine

There is one more additional vaccine that ANY cat who spends time outdoors—or who is an “escape artist” known to bolt out of the house, given the opportunity—should receive on a regular basis: the feline leukemia vaccine! 

Most people have heard of leukemia in humans as a devastating type of blood cancer. In cats, one form of leukemia is actually caused by a contagious virus (called, appropriately enough, the feline leukemia virus, or “FeLV”). It is spread through close social contact, such as grooming, licking, bite wounds, or sharing food and water bowls. It is also commonly spread to kittens either before birth or while nursing from an infected mother cat. Unfortunately, infection with feline leukemia virus can be (but is not always!) devastating and deadly. 

The feline leukemia vaccine is very effective at preventing infection in a cat who has not been exposed to the virus. Once a cat has been infected with the virus, however, there is no treatment or intervention that can prevent that cat from potentially spreading the virus to other cats. Kittens are more vulnerable to feline leukemia infection, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that EVERY kitten who has a negative blood test for feline leukemia receive two doses of FeLV vaccination two to three weeks apart. Adult cats should be boostered with this vaccine every year IF they are at risk of coming into contact with other cats outside of the household (i.e, outdoor cats). 

Just like indoor cats, outdoor cats should be kept up-to-date on their rabies and FVRCP vaccines as well.

Why Do Kittens Need So Many Vaccines? 

Finally, you may be wondering why kittens need repeated vaccines every two to three weeks? The answer—as you might expect—lies in your kitten’s immune system and how it matures! 

After your baby kitten was born, he nursed from his mother cat (the “queen”) for several weeks. During the first two days of his life, your kitten was receiving colostrum—a special kind of milk produced by the queen just after birth. The colostrum contains valuable antibodies against all kinds of infections, and your kitten’s intestines were able to absorb these antibodies. These antibodies provided him some immunity from any infections the queen has successfully fought off in the past! 

By receiving colostrum, your kitten is able to fend off some infections thanks to this special protection from the queen! However, this antibody protection does not last long, and fades at any time from 14 weeks of age to 20 weeks of age. Some queens who are malnourished during their pregnancy or sick from other reasons may not be able to pass many antibodies through their colostrum, and kittens can receive different amounts of antibodies based on their birth order and other factors. You can probably appreciate that the timeframe that maternal protection lasts is VERY variable, and the amount of protection your kitten receives in those first few days can fade as early as six weeks! 

While the queen’s antibodies are circulating in your kitten’s bloodstream, any vaccines given during this time  will be overridden by these “maternal antibodies”—and essentially deactivated. Why, then, do we even bother vaccinating young kittens—especially at such young ages? 

Well, in any individual kitten, there’s no telling how well-protected he is from any particular disease at any given time. We administer a series of vaccines to protect your kitten while the maternal antibodies are fading, and continue vaccination until we can be sure that his own immune system is mature enough to take over the protection against those specific contagious diseases. That’s why we continue to vaccinate until at least 16 weeks of age! Two weeks after the final kitten vaccine is given, the immune system is primed and ready to protect him all year long until it’s time for his adult booster vaccines. 

The Bottom Line

While the rabies vaccine is the ONLY vaccine that is required by law for your cat, follow your veterinarian’s recommendations on the appropriate vaccine schedule for your kitty. After all, we want your cat to live a long, healthy life and vaccination is a wonderful and easy way to avoid some very common infections! 

If you’d like to know more about feline infectious diseases, or what cat vaccines to discuss with your veterinarian, chat with our AskVet veterinarians 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. We are always here to help you and your pet!

Dog Vomiting 101: Common Causes & When It’s Normal

Sick Dog

Vomiting is not fun for anyone involved! The worry, the mess, the unknown – it is no mystery why vomiting in dogs is often accompanied by pet-parent-panic. Deciphering the cause of your dog’s vomiting can be tricky as there are seemingly infinite causes of vomiting in dogs. These can range from eating too fast, car-ride-induced motion sickness, and tummy upset from pizza stealing — to more serious issues like liver disease, kidney failure, intestinal inflammation, and viral and bacterial infections. … and the list goes on and on!

How do you know if your dog’s vomiting is serious and needs veterinary intervention? Here, we’ll take a practical approach towards vomiting in dogs and explore which situations may indicate that your dog needs veterinary care.

Vomiting or Regurgitation?

First things first – we need to make sure your dog is indeed vomiting and not regurgitating as both actions can result in a puddle of goo on the floor! Vomiting is when your dog performs a “heave, heave, heave … BLEHHH!!!” and forcibly expels contents from the stomach and intestines. On the other hand, regurgitation is more like a passive and quiet “burp” – there is no dramatic heaving process, but a large amount of undigested food is returned to the floor. 

Why does it matter? Distinguishing vomiting from regurgitation can give hints for different conditions, so it is important to know which is affecting your dog. Causes of regurgitating food is a subject for another day, but if you suspect your pup may be regurgitating, a visit to the veterinarian is recommended!

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Is Your Vomiting Dog Acting Normal or Lethargic?

Not all vomiting is created equal! Here we will describe some of the common scenes you may encounter in your home and break down when vomiting may be no big deal versus a more serious situation that needs veterinary support.

The “Puke and Rally”

Sometimes dogs just vomit randomly, and that is okay! Single occurrence, transient vomiting is just something that dogs will do from time to time, and it is often no cause for panic. Many times, the exact cause is not even determined — and sometimes a dog will even consume the evidence by gobbling it back up right away (EW!). A dog who vomited once but is otherwise feeling fine, eating and drinking normally, having normal urine and bowel movements, and otherwise carrying on with his day like normal sounds like he is doing just fine! Keep an eye on this guy though, as repeated vomiting or a change in appetite and attitude may indicate that there is more going on.  

What might be some causes of the “puke and rally” in dogs? Being the curious scavengers that they are, dogs are not shy about putting things in their mouths and swallowing them! Dietary indiscretion can affect both old and young dogs (especially the curious youngsters!) due to the sampling of plants, seeds, dirt, bugs, toxins, human food, and more. All of these bear the potential to cause a transient upset stomach. Also be aware that changing dog treats and food brands, varieties, or even opening a new food bag can also cause an upset stomach in some dogs.

AskVet Tip: Dogs can be very sensitive to diet changes! When changing your dog’s diet to a new brand, variety, or even opening a new bag of food, a slow transition is recommended to help your dog’s stomach and digestive tract adjust to the new food. A gradual transition over 1-2 weeks, adding the new diet to the old, can help alleviate some of the possible tummy upset that can occur from introducing a new food. It is recommended to introduce the new diet by offering 25% more every 2 days, and simultaneously phasing out the old.

Puppies will sometimes eat their food very fast (often not even taking the time to chew it up!) and engorge themselves, causing a prompt return of their undigested food to the floor shortly afterward! Slowing down their eating habits using food puzzles and timed feeders can help delay the consumption, aiding in proper digestion.

Puppies and young dogs are also often victims of motion sickness, frequently vomiting in the car every time they are out for a ride. Your veterinarian can recommend some medications to help this issue, and thankfully puppies do tend to grow out of motion sickness as they age and mature!

Repeated Vomiting, But Still Feelin’ Fine

Unfortunately, there are times when dogs will vomit more than just once, which is more concerning and requires some close monitoring at home. Dogs that have vomited a few times, but remain active and happy, have an appetite, are drinking water (and holding it down), and continue to pee and poop normally may recover on their own in a short period. However, if that vomiting continues or other conditions change, keep a close watch as they may need some follow-up care and diagnostic testing at the veterinary clinic.

What are some causes of multi-episode vomiting, but remaining pretty normal otherwise? Again, dietary indiscretion (eating random stuff, people food, toxins, new diets, etc) might kick off more serious stomach and intestinal upset that lingers and does not rectify itself quickly. Dietary Intolerances and food allergies can also cause multiple episodes of vomiting, too, since the food is causing repeat daily irritation. An intestinal parasite could be the culprit too, and sometimes you even see some wriggly worms in the vomit, indicating that your pup needs some testing and treatment. Some medications can irritate the stomach and intestinal lining too, causing some vomiting after administering it.  

A condition called bilious vomiting can cause some puppies and senior dogs to experience occasional vomiting of yellowish liquid due to their stomach being empty for a prolonged period of time during the hours in between meals. This long period with no food allows stomach acid to build up and make your dog nauseous! If your dog suffers from this condition, you may see vomiting first thing in the morning before breakfast, or sometimes in the  late-afternoon, hours after the last meal. Dogs with bilious vomiting typically do not have any other symptoms of illness, have a good appetite, and are otherwise feeling fine. 

Prolonged vomiting is always something to closely monitor as it could represent the tip of the iceberg to come. If a vomiting dog changes from feeling fine to acting more quiet or even lethargic and also develops additional signs like diarrhea or passing up a meal, this could be an indication that things are worsening instead of improving. These pups need an appointment with their veterinarian for some testing, support, and treatment.

AskVet Tip: If you have the knowledge or suspicion that your dog has ingested a bone, string, toy, ball, sock, corn cob, plants, potentially toxic materials, or has overdosed on medication (hers or someone else’s), please consult with your AskVet Veterinarian immediately so they can triage the severity of the exposure and direct any necessary action. With these ingestions, the sooner treatment is received the better the outcome! 

Repeated Vomiting, With Lethargy

This is the most worrisome group. Dogs who are vomiting and lethargic, not wanting to eat or drink, with or without diarrhea, need urgent veterinary care and support. To narrow down causes and assess the severity of your pup’s condition, the veterinarian will likely run some blood and urine tests, and also may recommend an abdominal x-ray or ultrasound. Some other specialized tests may be warranted too, in order to determine the underlying cause and tailor the treatments. Vomiting with lethargy could be the symptoms of many many issues and health conditions, all needing some testing in order to discriminate between causes. The list below is not exhaustive but includes some of the more common causes of prolonged vomiting with lethargy and decreased appetite…  

-Stomach or intestinal foreign body obstruction (swallowing a bone, toy, sock, string, corn cob, etc that can become stuck in the stomach and/or intestines and cause a blockage)

-Parvovirus (young and unvaccinated dogs)

-Pancreatitis (usually preceded by eating something abnormal)

-Medications (some can cause stomach and intestinal ulceration, alter the bacteria, or cause inflammation and adverse reactions)

-Enteritis/Colitis (inflammation of the intestines and colon)

-GDV/Bloat (stomach filling with air and twisting)

-Kidney and Liver Failure (acute and chronic)

-Heat Stroke, Dehydration (usually preceded by heat exposure, activity)

-Bacterial and Viral infections (intestinal upset)

-Addison’s Disease (Adrenal glands not producing enough hormone)

-Pyometra (uterine infection)

-Cancer (rule out the other stuff first!)

When To Worry 

Dogs do tend to vomit quite a bit! Thankfully it is typically more of a one-and-done situation and does not need any follow-up care. If your pup does have an episode though, keep a close eye on him that day, just in case things progress or you detect other signs. 

The dog that is feeling sick, not eating, and continuing to vomit is very concerning and meets the criteria for seeking veterinary care urgently. Keep in mind too that some dogs are very stoic (Labradors and Boxers specifically) and may discreetly hide their pain, maybe even tricking you with bursts of energy. If you suspect something may be wrong, consulting with your AskVet veterinarian, calling your family veterinarian for an urgent appointment, or seeking emergency care are all appropriate actions. Treatments for vomiting in dogs are based on the cause and level of severity, so once your veterinarian gathers information and narrows down a diagnosis, they will advise the best treatment plan to get your pup feeling better again!


Cat Vaccine Reactions

Cat sniffing flowers

Written by: Allison Ward

After discussing your cat’s vaccination recommendations with your veterinarian, you may be wondering, “what about vaccine reactions? What are the potential side effects that can be seen with vaccination?” Vaccine reactions in dogs, cats, and other pets can sound scary to any pet owner. Fortunately, true allergic reactions to a vaccine are very rare in cats. There are, however, some common side effects from cat vaccination, and certain cat-specific vaccine considerations to discuss with your veterinarian. 

AskVet Tip: If your cat has collapsed, is having difficulty breathing, or has facial swelling, seek emergency veterinary care IMMEDIATELY—these patients need life-saving treatment as soon as possible!

Normal and Expected Side Effects from Vaccines

A cat vaccine reaction can sound scary but is normal for the most part. As you might expect, some mild soreness at the site of vaccination is common—after all, a needle injected the vaccine under the skin! Most cats don’t display any signs of significant discomfort after receiving vaccines. A special few, however, will have obvious soreness. This can be detected by cat parents as vocalizing when the area is lightly touched or when the kitty is picked up, excessive grooming over the site of the vaccine (to help soothe the “ouchie”), and, in rare cases, limping or favoring the leg where a vaccine  was administered. For cats who are a bit extra-sensitive to vaccine injections, your veterinarian can prescribe some pain medication to help relieve their symptoms. 

It’s also common for cats to be tired and a bit more lethargic for the first 24-48 hours after vaccination. This lethargy may or may not be accompanied by a fever—which, again, is to be expected! Fever and lethargy occur because your kitty’s body is busy formulating an immune response to the vaccine components, which prepares their immune system to battle the actual pathogen in the future. Sometimes cats may eat less in the 24 to 48 hours following a vaccination, too.

Keep in mind that being tired or having an “off” appetite may be partly due to exhaustion from the unexpected adventure of a car trip and vet visit. Usually, lethargy is nothing to worry about—as long as your kitty is eating and comfortable, this stage should pass within 48 hours. If it does not, contact your veterinarian or chat with one of our AskVet doctors to determine if your kitty should be seen by a vet in person. 

If your cat received an intranasal vaccine (drops given directly into your cat’s nose), then you may see some sneezing over the next few days. This is not a concern unless you notice milky discharge from your cat’s nostrils (white, green, or yellow) or any pink-tinged fluid. 

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Allergic Reactions

Mild allergic reactions are possible in cats, though these occur even more rarely than in dogs. Most allergic reactions are noticed within a few hours of receiving a vaccination, but cats are at risk of developing these symptoms up to 48 hours after injection. 

Signs of a concerning (but not immediately life-threatening) allergic reaction in cats can include vomiting, swelling/puffiness of the face (especially around the eyes and lips), and hives (red, itchy bumps on the body). If any of these symptoms are seen, contact your veterinarian (if they are open) or a local emergency hospital right away. These patients need medical treatment before their reaction potentially gets worse and becomes dangerous for your kitty’s overall health. 


Any time an animal comes in contact with a foreign substance, there is a very low—but never zero!—chance for a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. In cats, this can be seen as sudden weakness and collapse, severe vomiting, or sudden difficulty breathing. Anaphylactic reactions occur within minutes of receiving a vaccine—and fortunately, they are EXTREMELY RARE in cats. If this happens to your cat, chances are you’ll still be at the vet’s office, where lifesaving care can be provided immediately for any severe reaction.  

What About Lumps where a Vaccine was Given?

Some cat owners notice small bumps where a vaccine was given in the weeks after vaccination. Most of the time, these bumps are nothing to worry about—they merely indicate the body’s immune system is responding to the vaccine as it is supposed to. A small bump at the site of a vaccine that shows up within a few days is usually not a concern. Most of the time, these will go away on their own within a few weeks. 

However, there ARE some bumps occurring after vaccination that can be concerning. Any bump that shows up where a vaccine was previously given (even if it has been over a year!) should be evaluated right away by a veterinarian. The reason? About 1 in 10,000 cat vaccines administered will result in a type of cancerous tumor called a Feline Injection Site Sarcoma (FISS). Although this is exceedingly rare, it can be an aggressive type of cancer if it affects your cat. For this reason, most cat vaccines are now given on the cat’s legs (instead of between the shoulders, or “scruff”) to make it easier to detect and treat a lump when it is small. 

However, there is good news: recent advances in vaccine technology have ALMOST COMPLETELY ELIMINATED the risk of developing these tumors altogether! Research has shown that vaccines without adjuvants (additional ingredients that provoke more of an immune response to the vaccine) are significantly safer than the older, adjuvanted vaccines. In fact, “adjuvant-free” vaccines have NEVER been linked to a case of FISS! The adjuvant-free vaccines are more expensive for veterinarians to buy (and thus more expensive for cat parents), but the reduction in risk of developing FISS is worth it—ask your veterinarian if they offer adjuvant-free (or “non-adjuvanted”) vaccines.

What About Vaccines My Cat Needs in the Future?

If your cat has EVER experienced an allergic reaction to a vaccine, make sure to let your veterinarian know! True allergic reaction symptoms include vomiting, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, hives, and collapse. This information should be part of your pet’s permanent medical record.

Depending on your cat’s symptoms during the reaction and what vaccine(s) seemed to be linked to the event, your veterinarian may recommend:

 –“Pre-treating” your cat with a Benadryl injection prior to receiving future vaccines

— Scheduling future vaccination visits as a “drop-off” vaccine appointment so that your kitty can be monitored in the hours after receiving a vaccine 

–Avoiding certain vaccinations altogether 

The Bottom Line

After receiving a vaccine, some side effects are to be expected—like mild muscle soreness and lethargy (or being more tired than normal). Fortunately, true allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare in cats. For almost all individual cats, the benefits of cat vaccinations to prevent common diseases far outweigh the risks of a vaccine reaction. Keeping an eye out for symptoms of an adverse reaction is very important as well. 

If you have questions regarding your cat’s vaccination schedule, expected side effects from vaccination, or are concerned about vaccine reactions, reach out to your AskVet veterinarians any time. If you’re also wondering, “what vaccines do cats need?”, we’re here 24/7 to help you answer that question and any other questions about your cat’s healthcare! 

Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM

Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.

Physical Exam Checklist for a Dog


Have you ever wanted to perform your own physical exam on your dog? Examining your pup at home can help you discover what is physically normal, in turn making it easier to detect when something may be abnormal. Since dogs don’t communicate with words, we humans need to look for physical signs and changes that give us hints that something may not be quite right.

To prepare for a physical examination, find a quiet part of the day and grab a few treats for positive reinforcement. Many dogs like the attention and treats, but if at any point during the exam they become jittery or irritated, stop the exam before anyone gets upset or injured. Some dogs love their exams and others use their body language to tell you that they do not appreciate it! Your veterinarian can always pick up where you left off, as they are seasoned in the swift and pointed physical exam, especially with tense and stressed dogs. 

The Body Condition Score

Since they are so cute, it is easy to over-feed dogs causing weight gain! Keeping dogs thin for the length of their lives results in better long-term mobility and overall health, so always keep an eye out for weight gain. This handy Body Condition Score (BCS) Chart can show where to look to assess how your pup measures up.

Did you know it is possible to weigh your dog at home? Periodically placing your pooch on your home scale is a great way to keep track of their weight. Keeping your dog in an Ideal Weight Range for the length of their life is very healthy for them (your vet can help with designating an IWR for your pup).

AskVet Tip: To weigh dogs on a home scale, first weigh yourself alone and then again holding your dog; then subtract for their weight. Sometimes large dogs will cooperate and sit nicely directly on the scale too! No luck? Most veterinary hospitals will allow you to bring your big dog in for a weight check on their scale — just call ahead to see when it’s a good time!

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Movin’ It! 

How is your dog moving around the house? A healthy dog will be alert and respond when you call them. They will walk or jog freely around the house with long strides and not a care in the world! They will stand up and lay down easily and move around willingly as they please — including jumping on and off furniture (if they’re allowed!). Healthy dogs will generally eat and drink the same amount daily, and their bathroom habits usually follow the same patterns too.

Assessing Breathing and Heart Rate

Don’t have access to a stethoscope? No worries, you can still count respirations and feel for your dog’s pulse and heart rate!

Respiratory Rate

The respiratory rate is best taken while the dog is relaxed and even better if asleep! Grab a timer, set it for 1 minute, and count the number of times you see your resting pup’s chest rise and fall (or count for 30 seconds and multiple by 2!). Typically, dogs will have a resting respiratory rate of less than 30 breaths per minute and their breathing will be passive, smooth, soundless, and easy.

Throughout the day, it is normal to see pups panting while engaging in activities and during warm weather. This is how they release body heat, keep up with the oxygen demand, and regulate their temperature. Typically, they should return to a nice slow breathing rate shortly after concluding an activity and the addition of rest, shade, and water.

Heart Rate

There are a couple of ways to feel your dog’s heart rate. With your dog standing still and relaxed, place your fingers on either side of the lowest 1/3 of the chest, just behind the front legs. Apply gentle pressure with your fingers between the ribs and you likely will feel the heartbeat. Set your timer for 1 minute and count the rhythmic beats. The normal heart rate/pulse for a dog is between 70 and 140 beats per minute. Smaller dogs will have faster heart rates and larger dogs will be on the slower end!

AskVet Tip: Another way to take a heart rate is to feel for the femoral pulse. While your dog is quietly laying down or standing, place your fingers up in the highest point where the groin/inner thigh area meets the body. Gently press against the inner thigh so you feel the large femoral artery pulsing along with the heartbeat, set your timer, and count the beats.

Full Body Massage Time!

This is the part that dogs usually love because it is like a full-body massage! Always monitor their body language though, as they may have sensitive or painful areas. As you go through the massage, always remember that animal bodies are normally symmetrical. If you are not sure if a bulge or area of thinning hair is normal, check the opposite side and see if it looks or feels the same!

Starting at the head, run your fingers down the underside of the jaw and neck, feeling for any swelling or lumps. Next, use your hands to apply light pressure starting up by the ears and slowly running your hands down the back of the neck, over the shoulders, along the back and sides, ending at the tail. The body contours should feel symmetrical, and the coat should be healthy, full, and growing evenly. Gently place pressure on either side of the abdomen, and your dog should remain relaxed as you press on his soft belly (some dogs are sensitive and may tense up, but should not react with pain).

Moving our attention to the legs, large dogs have calluses on their elbows of all shapes and sizes, but they should be fairly symmetrical. Run your hands down each of the legs, feeling for swelling, symmetrical muscle development, lumps, and skin abnormalities. The toenails should be kept trimmed and the skin between the toes and pads should be a uniform healthy color. The presence of dewclaws (extra toes on the front and sometimes back legs) are normal and occasionally the loosy-goosy ones can get hung up and cause issues. Some dogs even have “double-dews,” typically on the hind legs. 

Lastly, don’t forget to check that tail area! For breeds with a cute nubbin or curly tail, be sure to check that those tail skin folds are free of any odor and debris. Also, while you are back there, check the skin and hair around your dog’s rear end. There are 2 little glands lurking just below the skin on either side of the anus, called “anal glands”, that sometimes cause painful issues.

The Private Parts!

For male dogs, the penis should be stored inside the pocket of skin called the prepuce, usually only coming out when they urinate or during some arousing activities (especially for dogs that are not neutered… the penis can swell and get very large!). A small amount of yellowish discharge from the prepuce is normal. The skin on the scrotum should be fairly smooth with a uniform color, and each testicle (if present) being a similar size. For females, the vulvar area should look like folds of regular healthy skin, absent any redness or discharge. The anus area should be a uniform color of pink or pigmented with grey or black.

AskVet Tip: All dogs, male and female, have 2 rows of nipples going down their abdomen (for a total of about 8 usually)! They should be fairly uniform in size and color. Sometimes the mammary glands are large and developed in females that have carried litters of puppies, other times very very small.

Checking Those Big Beautiful Eyes

In a well-lit area, gaze into your pup’s face and check for symmetry of the eyelids, corneas (the clear surface of the eyeball), and pupils (the black circles at the center of the eyes). Both eyes should look similar to each other, with the eyelids wide open, eyeballs facing the same direction, and pupils a symmetrical size. In a dark room, the pupils will be very large, and in bright light, the pupils should be smaller. On the eyeball itself, the cornea (clear part) should be nice and smooth, clear, and shiny like a clean window. Dogs also have an additional eyelid, called the “third eyelid”, or nictitating membrane, that is usually tucked and hidden away in the corner of the eye next to the nose. Wiping the occasional eye crusty can be normal too! Some small breed dogs will have tearing called epiphora. Eye problems can be very painful and endanger vision, so immediate examination is recommended if the eyes appear abnormal.

Say Ahhhh!

Staying in the head region, shift your focus down to the nose and mouth. Starting with the nose, it should look moist, smooth, and symmetrical, and the skin should be a uniform color (usually black or brown). An occasional small amount of clear discharge out of the nostrils is normal, but if you notice any milky yellow, green, or white discharge from the nostrils, schedule a vet visit.

Next, flip up the lips and check the color of the inside of the lips and the gums. All of the surfaces you see should be bubblegum pink and a bit slimy with saliva. Some dogs have black pigment on their gums, which is usually normal if it is flat and does not change in appearance.

To check the “capillary refill time”, find a pink area of the gums and gently press with your thumb to blanch the area to white. Lift your finger and the pink color should return in 1-2 seconds. This is an indication of your dog’s hydration level. If it takes longer than two seconds for the color to come back to your pup’s gums, then contacting your AskVet or family veterinarian is advisable.

And finally, how are those chompers looking? Take a nice sniff near the mouth and check for stinky breath! Teeth problems and gingivitis/periodontal disease (infection of the gums and structures around the tooth) are extremely common issues in dogs. Healthy adult teeth should have nice white crowns, be firmly seated in the jaw bone, and the gum line should be a healthy pink color at the base of each tooth. With a healthy bite, both layers of teeth should fit together like a puzzle.

CAUTION: Not all dogs are fond of the oral exam! If your dog does not appreciate you messing with their mouth, just leave that part to the pros. Do not put your fingers between the upper and lower rows of teeth as you will get bitten! Lifting the lips and looking at the outside of the teeth and gums will suffice for your at-home oral exam.

Can You Hear Me?

Next, shift your attention up towards your pups’ ears, and start by feeling the ear flap itself. Both erect and droopy ear flaps should be nice and thin consisting of skin, fur, and cartilage. Check the underside of the ear flaps and look for smooth skin that is cool to the touch, white or light tan in color, with varying amounts of hair. There should be no smell present in healthy ears. The ear canal itself dives deep into the skull forming an “L” shape and measures 1-2 inches long, so there is quite a lot of ear that you cannot see! The deep end of that ear canal contains a very delicate eardrum that is subject to issues too. Leave examining your pup’s ear canal to the pros — it’s impossible to assess deep into a dog’s ears at home.

Thermometer Time!

Veterinarians will often save the most uncomfortable part of the physical examination for last since the rectal temperature tends to irritate some of our patients! If you wish to take a rectal temperature at home, we highly recommend having a helper to hold your pup still for this procedure as it is often a 2-person job! Using an instant digital thermometer, lubricate the end with some water-based lubricant or a small amount of petroleum jelly. Raise your dog’s tail and gently insert the thermometer about 1-2 inches inside the anus, and then wait for the beep. It is important that the helper watches how your pup feels about this process and discontinue immediately if they are showing signs of grouchiness or aggression! The normal rectal temperature of a dog is 101-102.5°F. Unfortunately, even though it is undesirable, the rectal thermometer is the most accurate way to take a dog’s temperature (skin and ear thermometers are not accurate).

AskVet Tip: Be sure to clean the thermometer after use, and label it “DOG” so that it is not confused with the human thermometers!!!

Practice Makes Easier!

Can you believe your veterinarian is able to size up your dog so quickly as they are chatting with you during an exam? Veterinarians are so well-practiced and efficient with the physical exam, most pet owners don’t even notice that they are busy making important observations while talking with you and gathering information.

With more practice, the physical exam will become easier for you, too! The best way to get good at recognizing normal from abnormal is to repeat this exam periodically so you become familiar with the process and observations. If your dog starts out jittery but tolerant, use lots of treats and positive reinforcement when they stand nicely for you. With practice, your dog will likely become more and more willing to participate in your exam. You know your dog best, and early detection of problems makes them much easier to remedy!

As always, if any questions arise after performing your at-home physical exams, our AskVet veterinarians are available to check your findings as well and provide further information and advice about what you may be seeing. If anything is alarming, following up with your family veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian is always appropriate, too!


Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM

Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!


Home Remedies for Dog Vomiting

sick dog

Seeing their dog vomit is one of the most common reasons for pet parents to worry and seek veterinary care and advice. The act of vomiting is a reflex, and can be a symptom of a variety of medical issues. Vomiting can indicate a mild issue that may resolve all by itself, or it can be a symptom of a serious health problem. The causes of vomiting in dogs are so varied that the management and treatments need to be just as diverse! 

While one single isolated incident of vomiting may be no big deal, the worry sets in when a dog owner notices their pup vomiting repeatedly. When you see these signs, consider conducting a physical exam at home, possibly detecting other physical abnormalities like dehydration, pale gums, and a rapid heart rate — all indications that your sick dog might need veterinary assistance. 

Seeing your best buddy struggle in this way has pet owners wondering what they can do to help their poor vomiting dog feel better. Dog owners commonly ask, “Can I give Pepto Bismol and Tums? Do I take the food away? How long do I wait to seek veterinary care?” Since the cause of your dog’s vomiting remains unknown at the outset, veterinarians do not recommend giving any human over-the-counter medications, as these can further complicate or mask the underlying causes of the nausea and vomiting. There are some approaches at home that you can try, but ONLY if your dog seems to be otherwise stable and generally acting like his normal self.

AskVet Tip: Any vomiting dog that is also acting lethargic, not eating or drinking, or having diarrhea (with or without blood), is in need of urgent care. In addition, if pet parents have knowledge of their dog’s exposure to a potentially toxic substance, have witnessed or is suspecting that their pup may have eaten an object or toy that could cause a blockage in their dog’s stomach or intestines, or if a vomiting dog is on medication or has a chronic medical condition, please seek veterinary care immediately and contact AskVet or your family veterinarian urgently for advice.

What Can You Do At Home?

Dogs that have vomited a few times but are otherwise acting pretty normal, still have energy, and are interested in food and water may respond and benefit from some stomach-calming practices starting at home. Some dogs suffering from a mild and transient upset tummy may respond favorably and even recover over a short period of time! Always closely monitor them during this period and if symptoms do not improve, or even get worse, then to the vet you go!

AskVet Tip: Any young puppy that is vomiting has the potential to develop  hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or become dehydrated very quickly if their tiny bodies are deprived of the calories and fluids that are so important at this young age. It is recommended to seek veterinary care urgently for any small young puppy that is vomiting and not able to eat and drink so they can receive immediate treatment and support.

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Bilious Vomiting Syndrome

Sometimes puppies and senior dogs will experience some vomiting due to their stomach being empty for a prolonged period of time during the hours in between meals. This long period with no food allows stomach acid to build up and make your dog nauseous! If your dog suffers from this condition, you may see vomiting first thing in the morning before breakfast, or sometimes in the  late-afternoon, hours after the last meal. Dogs with bilious vomiting typically do not have any other symptoms of illness, have a good appetite, and are otherwise feeling fine. Since the stomach acids and bile are irritating their empty stomachs causing this vomiting, sometimes it helps to give them smaller meals more frequently; instead of 2 feedings a day, try to divide their food into 4 feedings and see if that helps! 

Resting the Stomach and Intestines

Dogs that are vomiting may be experiencing stomach and intestinal irritation, blockages, or other imbalances inside their bodies. If the issue is simply an upset stomach, continued feeding tends to perpetuate nausea and stomach irritation. Sometimes, a short period of time without food can help nausea subside and the stomach to calm down. Waiting several hours to reintroduce any food after the last vomiting episode may improve the situation. (Note: this may not be advisable for young puppies as mentioned above!)

The same principle can apply to water as well – while it is not recommended to withhold water completely, your nauseous dog may be inclined to rapidly gulp down bowls full of water and then return it all to the floor shortly after. Allowing your dog to drink small, controlled amounts of water and refilling the bowl periodically can help their body absorb the water more effectively. For more specific recommendations on how much water to allow your vomiting dog to drink, contact your AskVet veterinarian.

When might it be a good idea to introduce food again? Once some time has passed since the last episode of vomiting, try to see how your pup tolerates a small amount of a “bland diet”. Small frequent meals of a diet that is easily processed by the stomach and intestines are sometimes just enough to get your dog’s digestion back on track. 

AskVet Tip: For a bland and easily-digested diet, some veterinarians recommend boiling boneless skinless chicken breast/ground turkey/lean ground beef, absent of added salt or seasonings. With the cooked meat chopped into small pieces, combine with white rice in a 50/50 ratio. Start by feeding a very small amount initially – really just a taste –  since we want to avoid expanding the stomach and risk causing vomiting again. The amount fed initially depends on the size of the dog – offer a small dog just ½-1 tablespoon, and a large dog may tolerate ¼ cup. If your dog handles this amount favorably and it does not end up back on the floor in 1-2 hours, repeat the small feeding. Continue to feed small frequent meals through the day, and if well tolerated slowly increase the amount of food given.

If your dog is tolerating the small frequent bland diet feedings and they’ve been vomit-free for at least 24 hours, then you can then consider mixing her regular kibble back into her diet. Try slowly weaning off the bland diet and back to the regular diet by gradually mixing in your pup’s regular food over a period of several days until she is back to her normal routine. By this time, hopefully the vomiting will be a thing of the past! (Although she may be reluctant to give up that chicken!)

Through this whole process, it is extremely important to continue to monitor your pup closely. Some dogs with a mild and transient issue will respond well and return to their regular life in a short period of time! Other dogs with more serious issues may not be so lucky and the vomiting will continue, possibly accompanied by concerning signs like drooling, diarrhea, not eating or drinking, dehydration, and low energy. Some dogs can be very stoic, like Boxers and Labradors, so don’t let them trick you by hiding their pain and acting like they are fine! 

Also, always pay special attention to those cute pups with the smooshed faces (Pugs, Bulldogs, Frenchies etc) as they sometimes struggle more with complications from vomiting due to the anatomy of their throats and mouths. Smooshed-nose dogs are at risk for choking on their vomit, causing breathing issues and pneumonia. Unfortunately, any dog struggling with the above signs will need to see their veterinarian urgently for further testing and care.

Things To Avoid At Home

In the quest to help their sick dog, a dog owner will often wonder about these choices …

-Depriving dogs of water: Although monitored water consumption is recommended, it is never a good idea to remove all access to water

-Over-the-counter human medications: Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Miralax, Tums, Prilosec, Zantac, and Pepcid are all very tempting to try when dogs are having gastrointestinal issues, BUT until a veterinary exam and some testing is performed, these medications are NOT recommended unless authorized by your veterinarian

AskVet Tip: Dogs that have been vomiting likely will not poop due to very little nutrients moving through the GI tract! Not seeing a bowel movement for several days is not uncommon and does not necessarily mean the dog is constipated, so laxatives should be avoided. Straining to poop may indicate diarrhea or colitis, and occasionally constipation, but let your vet make that determination if you are concerned. 

-Feeding raw meat: Handling and feeding raw meat is a public health risk and can cause serious gastrointestinal issues in dogs and humans, and may possibly make the stomach and intestinal issues worse.

-Gatorade or Pedialyte: These drinks are formulated for humans and can often complicate vomiting, electrolyte, and dehydration issues in dogs, so we recommend simply offering clean water. Seek veterinary care if you suspect your dog is dehydrated.

-Sporadic diet changes: Dogs are very sensitive to food changes, and often a diet change can cause stomach and intestinal upset, especially if done suddenly without a gentle transition over several days.

-Continuing to feed a bland diet indefinitely: A diet consisting of chicken and rice is not nutritionally balanced for long-term use. Transitioning your dog back to a commercially prepared balanced diet is recommended once they seem to have recovered from their gastrointestinal issue.

If the Vomiting Continues…

If small, frequent meals of a bland diet have failed to help your vomiting pup, or she has developed more serious signs like low energy and lethargy, diarrhea, or avoiding food and water, it is time to seek veterinary care. What might the vet do to get to the bottom of your dog’s issue and help them return to their happy go lucky self?

Veterinary Care for Vomiting

Exam and Diagnostic Testing

Your veterinarian will examine your dog for dehydration, signs of abdominal pain, fever, and other classic physical signs of disease. They will likely recommend a blood and urine test to check on how those internal organs are functioning, evaluate for electrolyte imbalances, and check the levels of red and white blood cells. Vomiting can be a symptom of a wide range of issues taking place in the body, so an x-ray of all of those internal organs is helpful too, especially if a foreign body (non-food object) obstruction may be suspected in the stomach or intestines. Ultrasound is another tool that helps us evaluate each organ individually for signs of irregularity.

Fluid Therapy

Once initial screening tests are underway, your veterinarian will likely recommend giving fluids to replace those that have been lost through vomiting, in order to help support the vital organs. Some dogs that are not severely dehydrated and are well enough to be sent home may just need a small pouch of fluids administered under their skin (subcutaneous fluids), which are slowly absorbed over the following hours. Other dogs that are severely dehydrated or need additional observation will be hospitalized and receive intravenous (IV) fluids to normalize their fluid and electrolyte balance.


Treatment with medications largely depends on test results, diagnosis, and condition of the patient. Many vomiting patients will receive an anti-nausea medication like Cerenia or Ondansetron. Since these pups may be experiencing a good bit of abdominal pain, they may also receive some pain medication too, like Buprenorphine. Unless surgery is to be performed, introducing a specific prescription food may be recommended too. On top of these treatments, your vet may also reach for a variety of other medications that can be beneficial for gastrointestinal issues in helping to reduce gastric acid, enhance intestinal movement, or treat infections. All these treatments are carefully selected based on your dog’s needs.

Surgery or Further Specialized Testing

Sometimes surgery may be indicated for some vomiting dogs. Surgery is useful to remove objects that are obstructing or harming the stomach and intestines, untwist a bloated stomach, biopsy the stomach and intestinal wall, visually inspect and take biopsy samples of internal organs, remove a malfunctioning gallbladder or infected uterus, excise or biopsy a tumor, remove an enlarged spleen … the list goes on!

Specialized testing is also needed in some cases in order to diagnose specific diseases. Tests to rule out Addison’s disease, evaluate kidney and liver function, check thyroid hormone levels, and rule out fecal parasites and bacterial infections all provide valuable information- even if the result is negative or normal! Some issues call for advanced imaging like CT scan or MRI to characterize complicated conditions as well. Each of these tests will yield helpful results and further narrow down a diagnosis. 

Hoping For The Best!

While some cases of mild vomiting will resolve on their own with the above recommendations, always remain vigilant while your pup is not feeling well! Our veterinarians at AskVet are an excellent resource for triage and assistance with interpreting your pup’s condition and symptoms if you are not quite sure if he is at the point of needing help. If you are worried, consulting with a vet is always appropriate, and early intervention makes faster recovery too! 

Our AskVet team is available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


What Vaccines Does My Puppy Need?

two white puppy Jack Russell Terrier standing on tree stump among purple flowers

Written by: Alexa Waltz

 Congratulations on the new addition to the family in the form of a cuddly fuzzball puppy! Also, kudos for researching what he needs from the get-go to live a long and healthy life! Whether you’re a first-time puppy parent or not, you are willing to do anything to keep your canine companion happy and healthy, from ensuring they’re vaccinated to creating a pet emergency fund. Keeping puppies healthy and ensuring that we, as pet parents, pave the way for a healthy adult life starts when they are very young through puppy care.

Keeping up with a dog vaccination schedule can ensure your dog is staying the healthiest, whether it’s with core puppy vaccinations or non core vaccines. Vaccinating can make deadly diseases preventable diseases. Here’s a breakdown of some dog and puppy vaccines and when they occur on a vaccination schedule for the best pet health possible.  

What Vaccines Do Dogs Need?

Your puppy’s first trip to the vet should occur around 8 weeks of age, or when you first bring them home. This visit will include a full physical examination and also likely involve a discussion on when to start an important part of preventive care: vaccinations. This initial vet visit is followed by a series of additional appointments spaced out by several weeks, until the vaccine series is complete and your pup is ready to face the big wide world!  

For dogs, vaccines have been available for decades to combat some very common life-threatening diseases that affect dogs all around the country and even around the world! Dog vaccines are available to protect against other contagious diseases that are localized to certain geographic areas and which affect dogs with specific lifestyles. Your veterinarian will discuss what vaccines are recommended for your individual precious puppy based. 

For these reasons, vaccines are grouped into “core vaccines” and “non-core vaccines” according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Core vaccines are vaccines recommended for ALL dogs, since the diseases they prevent are ubiquitous in our communities and environment. Non-core vaccines may be recommended by your veterinarian based on which diseases are endemic to your area, and the activities and lifestyle you plan on having with your pup. 

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It is important that vaccines are given at a certain time in a puppy’s life, and that the actual vaccine itself is handled and administered correctly, too. It is safest to defer to your family veterinarian for the best advice on what your pup needs and when she needs it! Here’s a list of core dog vaccinations and non core dog vaccinations: 

Core Vaccines for Puppies


Since Rabies is a virus that can be transferred from animals to people (aka, “zoonotic”), it is required by law to vaccinate all dogs, cats and ferrets against the disease, and booster as appropriate. Rabies is a deadly virus that is spread by saliva and ultimately affects the central nervous system. The age at which puppies are required to receive the Rabies vaccine is determined by each state, typically being twelve to sixteen weeks of age. Only one vaccine is needed for a puppy to create the appropriate immune response. A Rabies booster vaccination is recommended one year from the date of the first puppy vaccine, and typically every three years through adulthood.


An infection with Parvovirus (aka “Parvo”) is so common that it tops the list of possible diagnoses for any young puppy with diarrhea and vomiting. Unfortunately, Parvovirus is very stable for long periods of time in the environment (dirt and surfaces of public places where dogs defecate). It spreads from dog to dog in the fecal/oral manner, meaning a dog consumes the virus orally to become infected. Parvo can be fatal and there is no specific cure, but fortunately many dogs do survive with proper hydration and medical treatment to support them through the disease process. Thankfully though, dog vaccination for Parvo is very effective against preventing infection and it is recommended to give puppies the first vaccine around 8 weeks of age. The vaccine is repeated every 2-4 weeks until the puppy has reached 16-18 weeks old, a concept that we will explain in detail later. To maintain healthy immunity through adulthood, Parvo boosters are given one year after the puppy series was completed, and again every three years thereafter.

Distemper Virus

Distemper is another viral disease that is severely debilitating and can be fatal in dogs. Distemper is spread by the secretions of infected dogs subsequently inhaled or ingested by other dogs. The virus will affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system, and even cause some changes in the skin and teeth. Dogs can survive a Distemper infection, but may have some permanent neurologic and physical changes. Fortunately, just like the Parvo vaccine, the Distemper vaccine is highly effective at preventing this disease. The Distemper and Parvo vaccines are usually part of the same “multivalent” vaccine (more on this later), and are given at the same time. Vaccination for distemper starts around 8 weeks of age and is repeated every 2-4 weeks until the pup has reached 16-18 weeks old. Distemper boosters are also given again one year later, and every three years thereafter.


Protection against Canine Adenovirus 1 and 2 are also included in most vaccines that also protect against Parvo and Distemper. These adenoviruses cause Infectious Canine Hepatitis and Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (aka “kennel cough). Dogs suffering from adenovirus infection usually are experiencing respiratory symptoms as well as intestinal and liver disease. This vaccine is often also combined in a vaccine vial with Parvo and Distemper vaccines, and therefore given at the same schedule starting around 8 weeks of age and repeated every 2-4 weeks until the pup has reached 16-18 weeks old. Boosters are also given one year later, and again every three years. 

AskVet Tip: Vaccines against multiple infectious agents that are contained in the same injection are called “multivalent” vaccines, and you may be more familiar with the initials designating distemper/parvovirus/adenovirus vaccination–DAPP, Da2PP, and DHPP are common notations for this combination vaccine!

Parainfluenza Virus

This virus is another component that can be responsible for Canine Respiratory Disease Complex, or “kennel cough”. By vaccinating your pup against Adenovirus, Parainfluenza, and Bordetella Bronchiseptica, he is protected against the most common airborne respiratory infections that infect dogs! The Parainfluenza vaccine is actually considered “non-core” but is usually combined with the Distemper/Parvo/Adenovirus multivalent vaccine, or the Bordetella vaccine, and therefore received on the same schedule.

Non-Core Vaccines for Puppies

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

The Bordetella vaccine is especially recommended for dogs with a packed social calendar, frequenting dog parks and beaches, and especially those that attend daycare and boarding. Bordetella Bronchiseptica is a bacteria that can be another key player in the Canine Respiratory Disease Complex mentioned earlier (“kennel cough”). This vaccine comes in several forms and can be administered orally, intranasally, or injected under the skin. For puppies, it is usually given some time between 6 and 16 weeks of age. The oral and intranasal vaccines only need one single dose, but if the injectable vaccine is given, a second dose is needed 2-4 weeks later. This vaccine is recommended for annual boosters if the risk of exposure continues. In some geographic areas with a high rate of Bordetella in the local dog population, your veterinarian may recommend boosters every six months–depending on your dog’s lifestyle.


Vaccination for Leptospirosis, a serious bacterial infection that affects the liver and kidneys, is highly recommended in certain areas of the country, and for dogs who travel. Traditionally, Lepto has been found in rural, wooded areas, and natural water sources, but it has also been found in urban environments (like New York City!) due to wild animal and rodent populations. 

Lepto is spread to dogs through the ingestion of material and water contaminated with urine from an infected animal. The bacteria itself can also penetrate skin cuts and wounds when swimming in contaminated water. Leptospirosis can be spread from an infected dog to humans in the household, so this vaccine is given in dogs who spend time in at-risk areas to protect both the pup AND their people! The Leptospirosis vaccine is given to puppies twice at 2-4 week intervals and boostered annually. It can be combined with the final two Distemper/Parvo vaccines or given by itself as a single vaccine.  


Lyme disease is caused by an infection with the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria. Just like in humans, the bacteria enters the bloodstream through a tick bite. Vaccination for Lyme may be recommended in areas where the Blacklegged Tick (aka, “Deer Tick”) is found, as it is only this type of tick that transmits Lyme disease. These regions consist of the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, north-central US, and the Pacific Coast. Lyme can cause a myriad of symptoms in dogs ranging from no signs at all, to a fever and decreased appetite, limping, and even severe kidney disease. Since ticks are so sneaky, monthly tick prevention products, routine tick checks after outdoor playtime, and vaccination are ways to prevent Lyme infection. The Lyme vaccine is given twice at 2-4 week intervals and boostered annually for dogs that are at risk.

Canine Influenza

Canine Influenza viruses are relatively new and outbreaks are becoming more frequent in areas around the United States. The Influenza virus is spread through exposure to sneezing, coughing and the nasal discharge of sick dogs as well as contact with contaminated food and water bowls. Your family veterinarian is familiar with the local prevalence of Canine Flu and can advise on the necessity of the vaccine in your area. Often, dogs that are social, attend daycare and dog shows, or are kenneled at boarding facilities may benefit from this vaccine. The Canine Flu vaccine is given twice at 2-4 week intervals and boostered annually. Puppies as young as 8 weeks of age can start to receive the Influenza vaccine. 

Puppy Series of Vaccines

Veterinarians get this question a lot: why do puppies need so many shots? Hopefully the above explanations clarified why the vaccines themselves are so important, and now to explain the reason they get so many shots again and again when they are sweet little tiny babies!

When a puppy is born and nurses on his Mama, she shares her immunity by passing antibodies in the early colostrum milk. The puppies ingest this antibody-rich colostrum and absorb the immunity through their intestine. These antibodies from Mom will work to temporarily protect them against all the diseases that she carries immunity to! If Mama was vaccinated, healthy, and well-nourished during her pregnancy, her puppies will likely inherit great immunity from her, protecting them during those first few months of life. If Mom was under-nourished, sick, unvaccinated, or the puppies nursed poorly (or not at all!), they will not have this immunity to protect them. It is very difficult to measure the amount of immunity that each pup received from Mom and it can even vary between littermates, so it is impossible to really quantify their level of protection!

Why is this such a big deal? When puppies receive this temporary antibody protection from Mom, unfortunately it does not last forever! Eventually puppies will need to create their own immunity by receiving a vaccine (the preferred and safest route!), or by getting infected with a virus (DANGER!)!

Here’s the kicker, though: the immunity gained from Mom can actually interfere with a vaccine doing its job! The trick is to time the vaccine administration perfectly in time with the decrease in Mom’s antibodies so the puppy’s own immune system will then take on the job of making antibodies that last. However, loss of Mom’s antibodies can take place anytime between a span 6-16 weeks of age! 

So, to bring it all together: in order to catch all puppies’ immune systems when they are ready to create long term immunity – but before they may meet any dangerous infections in their environment – it is best to start vaccinating around 8 weeks of age, and repeating with a vaccine dose every 2-4 weeks thereafter until they are about 16-18 weeks old. This will ensure that the pup’s own strong immunity is stimulated as Mom’s antibodies wane. Once their own immune system takes over and is stimulated by vaccinations, they will be protected from dangerous viruses like Parvo and Distemper.

Adult Dog Booster Vaccines

Since we established that puppies create lots of immunity early on due to the puppy vaccine series, why the need to give boosters? Over time, immunity will decrease, and the ability to mount a strong immune response will decline, creating a potentially dangerous situation should your dog meet one of these diseases in his environment. Some vaccines produce great immunity for years (like the Rabies and Parvo/Distemper vaccines) and some last for only one year. Vaccines are studied for the longevity of their protection, and boosters are timed so that the ideal level of protective immunity is always present, should the dog meet a disease in his environment. Just like people need a tetanus and whooping cough booster every now and again, dogs need a boost too!

AskVet Tip: If you have opened your heart to an adult dog in need of a loving home (thank you, that is wonderful!), defer to your family veterinarian for what vaccines and boosters he may need. Some (most!) adopted dogs may not come with a complete set of vaccine and health records, and it is quite possible they did not receive their vaccines as recommended. Your vet will advise on the important vaccines needed, and second doses needed a few weeks later, and then also when boo

Vaccine Wrap-Up

Hopefully, the importance and reasoning behind all of those vaccines has become a bit more clear! Dog vaccination can be a confusing yet routine and IMPORTANT part of disease prevention. Effective vaccine programs will ensure that puppies and adult dogs alike do not have to suffer from the contagious diseases that they are being protected from, and that is a wonderful thing! 

As always, it’s important to observe any vaccine reactions in dogs to ensure they are treated immediately if any vaccine reactions occur. If you still have concerns, please consult an AskVet veterinarian or your family veterinarian to find a program that works for you and your pup!

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!

Common Vaccine Reactions in Dogs

sweet pup

Written by: Alexa Waltz

 Vaccines are an integral aspect of preventive medical care for dogs and cats and have been administered safely and effectively for decades. Vaccines prevent the transmission of Rabies from pets to people and save countless canine lives from highly contagious and fatal infections like Parvovirus and Distemper Virus. Follow this link for more info about which vaccines are recommended for dogs (LINK: Puppy vaccines).

Just like in people, your canine companion may experience some undesirable and unintended side effects, aka “vaccine reactions”, after they have been given a vaccine. Thankfully though, the vast majority of these reactions are very mild and transient. Your favorite pup may only be down for a short period of time after the appointment before perking up to their happy-go-lucky self hours later or the following day. Dogs very rarely experience severe vaccine reactions. The following is a summary of how to tell what may be a mild vaccine reaction versus a more serious situation requiring immediate veterinary treatment.

AskVet Tip: If your dog has collapsed, is having difficulty breathing, or has facial swelling, seek emergency veterinary care IMMEDIATELY—these patients need life-saving treatment as soon as possible!

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Common Mild Vaccine Reactions

Discomfort at the Injection Site

Most dog vaccines are administered with a needle poke through the skin, OUCH! Thankfully though, most dogs will have no reaction at all while others may have some sensitivity at the site for 1-2 days. Your pup may feel sore, have a slight limp, or be protective of the area for 24-48 hours after they received the injection due to the local inflammatory reaction that is taking place. A cold compress, rest, and distractions with food or treats usually does the trick if your dog is feeling uncomfortable. Be especially careful when handling your dog near the shoulder or hip regions — these are the most common areas where vaccines are given and likely to be a bit sore. Typically, the day after the appointment most dogs are back to their normal selves and ready to take on the world!

A Lump at the Injection Site

Vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune system to create long lasting immunity against different viral and bacterial infections. Sometimes that can start with a local inflammatory reaction right at the site where the vaccine was injected. You may feel a small lump, some heat, or swelling in the area where your pup got his shots (usually the hip or shoulder areas). Similar to the discomfort described earlier, this swelling is usually temporary and will decrease after 1-2 days. Occasionally a lump will persist for about a week, but if you are still noticing it two weeks later or longer it is recommended to consult with your veterinarian. If there is any hair loss over the area, scabbing, pus, or fluid oozing, these are more indications that veterinary attention is needed. Skin infections, abscesses, and vasculitis are possible reactions that can take place at the location where the vaccine was given.

Decreased Appetite and Activity Level

Along the same lines as above, vaccines can cause both people and animals to feel a bit cruddy for a period of time following the injection. The activation of the immune system can be accompanied by a fever, fatigue, sore muscles, a decrease in appetite, and an increase in wanting to chill out in their dog bed all day! Sometimes dogs that are ignoring their regular kibble dinner may be enticed to eat a tempting meal of canned food or a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice (LINK: Diarrhea in dogs) during the recovery time. Thankfully, this decrease in energy and appetite is usually temporary and only lasts 1-2 days before they are bouncing around and as energetic and hungry as ever!

Sneezing and Respiratory Symptoms

The Bordetella (“Kennel Cough”) vaccine can be administered as a nasal drop or spray. Occasionally, sneezing, coughing and clear nasal discharge can be seen for a short time following the administration of the intranasal Bordetella Vaccine. Typically this only lasts a few days and the symptoms resolve on their own.

Uncommon Severe Vaccine Reactions

Vaccines are very safe and have been studied in-depth for decades. Occasionally though, a dog may experience a more severe vaccine reaction that requires follow-up care immediately at your vet clinic or even a visit to an emergency hospital if symptoms occur after-hours. The existence of these reactions do not minimize the importance of vaccines, but all dogs should be carefully monitored after vaccinations have been given. Use our guide to familiarize yourself with how to perform a dog physical exam at home and help assess if something may be physically wrong with your dog.

Allergic Reactions – Vomiting and Diarrhea, Hives, Facial Swelling

The vast majority of vaccines will be followed by no or very mild side effects as listed above. In the rare event that the following signs are noted, swift action is recommended.

Signs to watch for indicating a possible emergency situation:

  • Facial swelling
  • Skin hives and raised welts
  • Persistent vomiting and diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Collapse
  • Pale gums 
  • Weak pulse

If you are noticing the above signs within a short period of time after receiving vaccines, your dog may be having a severe adverse vaccine reaction. Depending on what symptoms your dog is experiencing, your AskVet veterinarian can help you assess the situation too, and determine if medical treatment may be recommended before the reaction worsens. 

Anaphylaxis – Breathing Difficulty, Weakness, Severe Vomiting, Collapse

Anytime an animal comes in contact with a foreign substance (foods, insects, plants, toxins, vaccines, medications, etc), there is a very small chance they may develop a severe and life threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Thankfully, anaphylactic reactions to vaccines are very uncommon in dogs, but it can happen. Typically, dogs will start showing signs of anaphylaxis within minutes of being given a vaccine injection, so careful observation for at least 15 minutes after the vaccine is given is always recommended. If your dog is having difficulty breathing, showing weakness, severe vomiting, has pale gums, or collapses onto the ground it is recommended to seek veterinary care right away or consult an emergency veterinary hospital. If your pup is displaying these concerning symptoms (or you are not sure!) your AskVet veterinarian can also help to triage and discuss the next steps. 

Treatment for Vaccine Reactions

Dogs that are experiencing an allergic reaction severe enough to need veterinary treatment may typically receive an antihistamine (like diphenhydramine), corticosteroids, intravenous (IV) or subcutaneous fluids, and additional treatments depending on the severity of the situation. It is important that this reaction is noted in your dog’s permanent health record. 

Regarding future vaccines, your veterinarian will take into account any past reactions in order to assess the safety of further vaccines. Some vaccine reactions can be avoided by giving a premedication dose of diphenhydramine just before the injections. This antihistamine will help prevent or dampen reactions that have been observed in the past. Drop-off appointments may be recommended for a longer observation period too, in case quick emergency care is needed. 

Consult Your Vet For More On Vaccines

Your veterinarian is the best resource to discuss the local risks for viral and bacterial diseases in your area, and the need for certain types of vaccines. They will recommend a dog vaccination schedule (LINK: Puppy Vaccines) appropriate for your pup based on their age, medical history, and environmental risks. For more information about vaccines in general, how your dog is reacting to their vaccines, and what to expect at an upcoming vaccine appointment, our AskVet veterinarians are ready to answer all of your questions!

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM

Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!