Pet Vaccinations – Part 1


Your pet’s vaccination sticker may just seem like a jumble of letters. Let’s look at the ABC of vaccinations after clarifying what a vaccine actually does.


Tigger, a high-ranking neighbourhood cat, has noticed a problem: his local feline colleagues have become fat and lazy. There haven’t been any cheeky dogs in the suburb for ages and they’re getting complacent. Our hero is saddened to see that the fit and ferocious squad is out of practice and vulnerable. Ever resourceful, he decides to take the matter into his own claws. He visits a costume shop and hires the most hideous-looking dog suit he can find.


That night, under cover of his monstrous outfit, Tigger ventures into the neighbourhood. Growling and spitting like a rabid zombie dog, Tigger scares the local cats out of their plump wits. No cat ever likes being shown up, so despite their extra pounds, the group decides to teach the new intruder a lesson. Wisely, most of them admit that they couldn’t run ten meters without a wash and a nap these days. Claw sharpening outlets and boot camps pop up and the suburb becomes a feline frenzy of fitness—picture weight lifting with tuna cans and clawing at posters of mad dogs.

Tigger’s plan has worked. A new family moves into the area with a pet dog called Satan. He’s tricky as his name implies. He gets out at night and makes trouble with everyone. Our group is ready, fit and primed. Their training has equipped them with the strength to fight the intruder and, once Satan has been disciplined, peace returns to the felines of the neighbourhood. 


Why, I hear you ask, does this story have anything to do with vaccinations?


Well, the cat in the suit is like a vaccination. Hear me out. A vaccine is made up of millions of viruses or bacteria in a solution. But, like our wily Tigger, the viruses are not actually harmful. Because they look like the real thing, our immune system (the army of cats in this case) prepares itself for battle nonetheless (remember the tuna tins?). Introducing a modified virus or bacteria into your pet’s system prepares it for the threat of a real and dangerous virus. 

Now that the vaccine is understood, let’s look at those confusing letters on our vaccination stickers: D, A, H, P, Pi, L, KC, R, FPV, FCV, FHV, FiV, FelV, FiP. They can be a little confusing. What do they mean and what do they prevent?



D is for Canine Distemper virus (CDV): This is a highly contagious disease that attacks the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems. In some cases, pets can recover from an infection, but often the nerve damage leads to symptoms like seizures and paralysis that affect quality of life. 


A and H are for Hepatitis caused by Adenovirus 1 and 2: Both are easily spread by mouth contact. These viruses infect the lungs, kidneys and liver.


P is for Canine Parvovirus (CPV): Spread by contact with infected faeces (and flies that have landed on them), Parvo is typically seen in puppies because they have lower immunity. It infects the digestive tract and causes vomiting and diarrhoea. The virus is tenacious and can live in the environment for months. With supportive care, young dogs have been known to recover, but early vaccination is still the best option for prevention. 


Pi is for Canine Para-influenza virus (CPiV): Another highly infectious respiratory disease that affects the trachea and lungs, para-influenza infection on its own is not fatal.


L is for Leptospira: This is a bacterial infection commonly transmitted via rodent urine. It is usually present in warm and wet environments and standing water. It affects the liver and kidneys but symptoms range between vomiting, jaundice, diarrhoea, fever and weakness. 


R is for Rabies: This virus affects animals and people. In the Government Gazette No. 21045 of 7 April 20001, it states “All dogs and cats in the Republic shall be immunised with an efficient remedy by an official, veterinary or authorised person at the age of three months followed by a second vaccination between one and nine months later (before the pet turns 1 year of age) and then once every three years”. It is important to take note of travel regulations concerning Rabies vaccination protocols as they may differ from country to country.


KC is for Kennel Cough: Although KC is a term used for a respiratory infection caused by viruses and bacteria, this vaccine contains the modified Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. KC is generally administered to dogs that come into close contact with many other dogs e.g. kennelling.


FPV is for Feline Panleucopenia (or Parvo) virus: (Erroneously called feline distemper). This virus targets rapidly dividing cells, like those found in the bone marrow, intestines and foetuses. With similar symptoms to Canine Parvovirus, it affects kittens more severely. The virus is persistent and can survive in the environment for months. 

FCV is for Feline Calicivirus: This virus affects the mouth and respiratory tract and is therefore easily transferred where cats come into direct contact with each other. Symptoms like sneezing and mouth ulceration can be seen especially in multi-cat environments. 

FHV is for Feline Herpesvirus: This is another highly contagious virus that affects the respiratory tract and eyes (also called feline rhinotracheitis). Sneezing and nasal discharge make it easy to transmit between cats. 

FIV is for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus: FIV affects the immune system causing cats to become vulnerable to common bacterial and viral infections. There is no cure but often cats can live an average lifespan as long as they are not debilitated by other infections. There is no vaccine against FIV in South Africa at present.

FeLV is for Feline Leukemia virus: The Leukemia virus causes cancer, blood disorders and immune deficiency in cats. It is transmitted via saliva and blood and from mother to kittens in the uterus. 

FIP is for Feline Infectious Peritonitis: This is a disease caused by a mutating feline coronavirus (no relation to the human form). It can cause inflammation of blood vessels which affects the whole body as well as a form that causes fluid to build up in the abdomen. 

C is for Chlamydia: Chlamydia is a bacteria that affects the respiratory system in cats. It can often be found in the vaccination mix for cats. 

Now that we know about the myriad viruses and bacteria that can affect our pets, Part 2 of the vaccination series delves into the timing of vaccinations, the choice of vaccines for your pet and the symptoms of the infections. 



  1. Government Gazette No. 21045 of 7 April 2000                                                ©Liz Roodt 2023