Lifestyle Vaccines – what vaccines does my pet need?

At Pennridge, we like to divide our vaccines into core and lifestyle vaccines. Core vaccines are the ones that every animal should receive – in dogs this is rabies and the distemper combination vaccine, and in cats it is the rabies and the feline distemper or feline combination vaccine. The other vaccines fall into the category of lifestyle vaccines. We call them this because I truly believe they depend upon your lifestyle if your pet needs them or not! I do not think that every patient needs every vaccine, and I’m not a huge fan of over-vaccinating – it’s all about risk factors and choosing which ones your pet truly needs!!

If you tuned in on Friday to our ‘Ask a Vet’ we chatted about vaccines, and below is a summary of the lifestyle vaccines and the key points about each!


Influenza – This is the dog version of our flu vaccine. This is a respiratory virus, spread dog to dog, usually through direct or indirect close contact.

  • Symptoms: usually presents with respiratory signs like coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, or breathing changes in general

  • Most common risks of exposure: kennels or boarding facilities – closed air spaces w/ lots of dogs

  • Not that common, not typically needed unless boarding frequently!

Bordetella – the common cold of the dog world! This is a respiratory virus that is easily spread from dog to dog, usually through direct or indirect close contact.

  • Symptoms: usually presents with a honking cough, but can also have other respiratory symptoms like sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, or breathing changes in general

  • Most common risks of exposure: kennels or boarding facilities are still highest risk, but we can also see this from dog parks, or even traveling, or frequenting public spaces

Leptospirosis – spirochete (like a bacteria), spread in urine through ingestion/direct contact – this is typically spread by wild animals (foxes, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, rats, etc)

  • Symptoms: typically affects the liver +/- kidneys so can present as lethargy, inappetence, fever, vomiting, icterus (yellow mucous membranes), vomiting, diarrhea

  • Most common risks of exposure: dogs who spend more time outside – hiking, having a large yard adjacent to woods, dogs who like swimming, or go in creeks/streams, or drink out of puddles! – any exposure to ‘wild’ water that could be contaminated with urine

Lyme – this is a virus spread by the deer tick – an infected tick must bite a dog and transmit it over 24hours for them to be infected, SUPER common in our area (PA has been ranked the #1 state for lyme disease in the country!)

  • Symptoms: lyme can be a great pretender – it can have no symptoms at all, or can cause joint pain with lameness, or a shifting leg lameness, or generalized discomfort (a dog suddenly walking like everything hurts), or it can even cause just a decreased appetite and lethargy! In rare cases it can attack the kidneys and present like kidney disease – vomiting, inappetence, increased drinking and urination, etc.

  • Most common risks of exposure: similar to lepto, this is more common in dogs who spend more time outside! Hiking, walking in tall grass, having a larger yard with more wildlife present.

  • OF NOTE: the best protection for lyme disease is using the monthly preventative. If you only want to do ONE thing – give the preventatives! But if you feel your dog is higher risk and you want to add a second layer of protection, then the vaccine is a great second line of defense!

Feline Leukemia – this is a virus that is spread cat to cat through direct or very close contact – it is often found in feral cats, or outdoor cats that have exposure to other cats, and is most often transmitted through fighting, but can be spread through sharing food or water too, as it can be transmitted in saliva or nasal discharge, and even urine too!

  • Symptoms: This is similar to HIV in people – it attacks the immune system and weakens it, so it is unable to fight off disease over time. So it doesn’t typically make them directly sick, it more often indirectly causes they to be susceptible to other chronic diseases. So can present as weight loss, chronic respiratory signs, chronic dental disease, and so much more.

  • Most common risks of exposure: ANY cat that goes outside for any length of time should have this vaccine! This virus is easily spread and is very common in outdoor cats, so if they are going outside, they should be protected against this virus!

So there you have it – the summary of our lifestyle vaccines! All of these are given annually, and initially need a booster to make sure that they are fully protected. And it is important to note too, that vaccines should not be one decision and then that’s it – this should be revisited every year so we can discuss the vaccines, and add or subtract as needed to make sure our pets are protected, but also that we aren’t over vaccinating them! When in doubt, ask your favorite veterinarian to discuss which vaccines are right for you!!

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