Written by Dr. Sarah Engbers

The occasional distemper outbreak at AARCS Safe Haven and kennel cough outbreaks in Calgary and Edmonton show how important vaccines are to our pets!

We are all aware more than ever the effect that a viral epidemic can have on our society. This is a good reminder about how important it is that our furry family members are vaccinated! While most people are used to taking their pets to the vet for vaccines, do you know what they are being vaccinated for and why it is important?

What is the DA2PP Vaccine?

This vaccine is the common “combination vaccine” given to puppies and adult dogs. Other versions may also be known as the DHPP or DAP vaccine. This is a core vaccine and is absolutely essential for all of the dogs at AARCS! Most of the dogs that come to AARCS have never had this vaccine before and may have been exposed to these 4 viruses. By vaccinating every single dog after their veterinary exam at AARCS Safe Haven in Calgary, we give them a huge boost in immunity against these diseases.

Here’s what is in the combination vaccine we give all dogs at AARCS:
D – Distemper
A2 – Adenovirus type 2. Protects against Canine Hepatitis, so some vaccines in this category are known as DHPP.
P – Parvovirus
P – Parainfluenza


Canine distemper is an old well-known virus, seen in dogs from the 1700’s. Distemper is extremely contagious and usually the symptoms start with watery discharge from the eyes and nose, similar to other common viruses. This is quite insidious because distemper travels to the nervous system and then causes seizures, twitches, and paralysis. This can result in irreparable nerve damage, and roughly half of dogs with distemper do not survive. Most people consider distemper to be uncommon in our cities, but don’t be complacent! Alberta’s vast rural areas are home to hundreds of dogs that have never been vaccinated, and at AARCS we see a few distemper cases coming into Calgary almost every year. Dogs that do survive infection sometimes have permanent symptoms. The good news is that the vaccine is extremely effective at preventing distemper virus!

Adenovirus type 2 vaccine protects against Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious Canine hepatitis is a virus that attacks the liver, causing liver failure and illness in other systems. The vaccine for canine hepatitis is included in the core DA2PP vaccine.


Most people have heard of Parvovirus. This extremely contagious disease is especially dangerous for young puppies and sends hundreds of puppies to Alberta veterinary hospitals each year. Diarrhea and intestinal infection lead to pain, vomiting and severe dehydration. For the DA2PP vaccine to protect against parvovirus, it needs to be boosted every 4 weeks starting at 6 weeks old, until 16 weeks old. At AARCS the Safe Haven Veterinary Clinic are always seeing our adorable wiggly foster puppies for their monthly boosters while they wait for their forever home!


Parainfluenza is one of the cluster of viruses that causes that nasty “Kennel Cough” we have seen on the rise. Most dogs can recover from the hacking cough of kennel cough, but sometimes pneumonia can develop from infection in the lungs. Thankfully, parainfluenza is a part of the combination vaccine too!

Rabies Vaccine for Cats and Dogs

We don’t hear about rabies often, but there are small numbers of animals across Canada that carry rabies. Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system of humans and animals. Bats, skunks and foxes are the most common animals that carry rabies in the wild. The disease is extremely dangerous to both humans and pets, and is fatal once symptoms start to show. It is the most deadly disease we vaccinate against at AARCS. The World Health Organization (WHO) says vaccination of dogs is the very best way to prevent people from getting the virus!

At AARCS, the rabies vaccine is first given to puppies and kittens at 4 months of age, followed by a yearly booster. Adult dogs get a rabies vaccine when they arrive, and a booster in 1 year. The more of our pets that are vaccinated, the safer our society is. The antibodies created by the rabies vaccine disappear after a while, so rabies vaccine boosters are important to remember.

People often wonder if “indoor-only” cats need the rabies vaccine. There have been cases of bats getting inside houses and buildings, and bats are a common carrier of the virus. Better to prevent than to worry!

What is the FVRCP Vaccine?

We see thousands of cats at AARCS and perform thousands of vaccines! Cats have a combination vaccine similar to the combo vaccine for Dogs. This combination is called the FVRCP. Cats and kittens at AARCS get this vaccine starting at 6 weeks of age, and a booster every 4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old! At the vet clinic at AARCS Safe Haven we love seeing kittens in for their boosters!

FV – FV just stands for “Feline Viral”
R – Rhinotracheitis – also known as Feline Herpesvirus
C – Calicivirus
P – Panleukopenia

Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus

Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus are upper respiratory viruses (affecting the nose, eyes, and throat) that are quite hard on a cat’s health but are usually not life-threatening. However, they are more than just the common kitty cold! Symptoms include runny nose, mouth ulcers, swollen painful eyes, decreased appetite, discharge from eyes, and sneezing. If the symptoms are severe, medications need to be prescribed to help the immune system fight these viruses and any bacteria that jumps onboard.

The cats we rescue from difficult situations typically were not vaccinated as kittens with the FVRCP vaccine and sometimes they are already sick from these viruses when they arrive at Safe Haven. The cat fosters at AARCS are experienced at managing these upper respiratory viruses and provide tons of TLC to the sick cats until they are well. The veterinary staff at AARCS are so happy to be able to provide the FVRCP vaccines to all of our incoming cats and stop the cycle!



Panleukopenia is sometimes called the feline flu, similar to the dog parvovirus. It causes severe diarrhea and intestinal infection, dehydration, and is life-threatening to kittens that catch it. While panleukopenia is less common than canine parvovirus, or the upper respiratory cat viruses, it is present in some unvaccinated cats in our province. The name panleukopenia means “low white blood cells”, and the immune system is prevented from fighting the virus properly. This virus is included in the FVRCP combination vaccine.

Are Vaccines Safe for my Pet?

We’ve already discussed the incredible benefits of vaccinations for our beloved feline and canine companions. Some people are concerned about possible side effects that could be caused by vaccines. Vaccines are extremely safe, and only a small number of pets may experience a side effect. Usually this is mild, like tiredness, decreased appetite, or swelling at the injection site. The benefits of vaccination vastly outweigh the possible downsides, just like in humans. Vaccines should always be discussed with a licensed veterinarian. If you are concerned, your veterinarian can answer any questions you have and help you decide which vaccines are best for your pet. The vets at AARCS have our patients’ futures in mind and we are thrilled to be able to provide these health benefits.

Dr. Sarah Engbers, DVM, BSc is a veterinarian at AARCS Safe Haven in Calgary, Alberta.

Want to learn more? Recommended link for further reading:

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association – Canine:
WHO – Rabies Fact Sheet:
AHAA – Animal Hospital Association of America – Vaccine Guidelines:

Cat Friendly Homes – American Association of Feline Practitioners – Feline vaccination guidelines: