What are Core Vaccines?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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In the world of veterinary medicine, core vaccines are vaccines which are strongly recommended, and sometimes even required. Vaccine protocols for a wide range of animals including dogs, cats, and horses are typically divided between core and non-core vaccines so that veterinary practitioners can ensure that their patients get the vaccines they need. For pet owners, it is useful to know specifically that a recommended vaccine is a core vaccine, as this will emphasize the importance of receiving the vaccine, along with follow-up boosters.

In cats and dogs, rabies is probably the most common core vaccine, because rabies is viewed as a serious risk. In cats, the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is another common core vaccine, especially for cats which go outdoors. Other core vaccines may be added to a vaccine schedule, depending on where the animal lives. In horses, diseases like sleeping sickness, west Nile virus, and tetanus are commonly included on lists of core vaccines.

By contrast, non-core vaccines are simply recommended, and they may not be necessary in all cases. Typically veterinarians use the regional guidelines issued by a professional association to decide which vaccines to administer, and they may discuss the non-core options with their clients. For example, if an animal boards a lot, getting a non-core vaccine for bordetella, also known as kennel cough, is advisable, but if an animal stays indoors and never boards, a bordetella vaccine would not be necessary.


Some regions of the world specifically require that animals receive certain core vaccines. The most common required vaccine is rabies, due to a desire to control the incidence of rabies worldwide. In countries where rabies is not present, such as Great Britain, all animals entering the country must come with paperwork indicating that they have received the rabies vaccine, and been tested to confirm the presence of antibodies. When discussing vaccination options, a veterinarian will usually make sure that owners know which core vaccines are required, and which are simply strongly recommended.

When evaluating which core vaccines should be included on a vaccine schedule, officials usually perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the benefit of the vaccines outweighs the risk of vaccination. While vaccinations are constantly growing safer, they do carry some health risks, and this analysis is designed to take that into account. Pet owners should always report adverse reactions to vaccines as quickly as possible, both for statistical reasons and to allow companies time to recall vaccines, if they determine that a lot has been compromised.


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Post 1

I was a little annoyed that my indoor cat was required to have a rabies vaccine, since the chance of her meeting, say, a rabid raccoon are vanishingly small. Not only does she run *away* from open door, but we live in an urban residential area! But the vet said they couldn't treat her at all unless we got the rabies vaccine.

Our vet said that there is one other vaccine that they recommend for indoor cats: feline distemper. She said that this is highly contagious and that even an indoor cat who lives alone can sometimes get exposed; the virus can linger on surfaces that look clean for a surprisingly long time. And we do occasionally have a cat sitter or board the cat, so it seemed sensible to get the vaccine. I'ven noticed our cat getting a cold when we use a professional cat sitter, so I know that germs are coming in with her.

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