Pet parents know that our furbabies​ are often as prone to illness as we humans are. Good pet health often requires that our animals are vaccinated against harmful diseases like rabies and distemper, as well as various lesser-known maladies. If you’re new to pet ownership, it can be difficult to know how to take care of a pet. Use this guide to navigate the world of animal immunizations and ensure that your dog or cat stays happy and healthy:

Dogs and Cats: Rabies and Distemper

Immunizations against rabies are vitally important to pet health. The rabies vaccine is considered a “core vaccine” by the American Animal Hospital Association’s Canine Task Force, meaning that it is one of the vaccinations that every dog should receive on a regular basis. Shots are available in doses that protect pups against rabies for more than three years–but if you’re interested in these long-term vaccines, you’ll have to shell out a bit of extra cash. Most immunizations only guard against rabies for about one year.

Rabies is also a concern for cat owners, as rabies occurrences in cats have increased dramatically within the past few years; the rate of infection in cats now outnumbers that of all other domesticated animals (yes–including dogs!).

Distemper is another disease for which a vaccine is considered mandatory by the AAHA. Canine Distemper will impact your pup’s nervous, digestive, gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, so this disease isn’t something to mess around with. Distemper is contagious among canines, so the best way to prevent infection is to have your pup routinely immunized.

Feline distemper (also called feline panleukopenia) is similar to its canine-inhabiting counterpart, and used to be the leading killer of domesticated cats. Thanks to vaccination becoming a priority for cat parents, the disease is now relatively uncommon–but vaccination is still strongly urged due to the life-threatening nature of the illness.

Dogs: Parvo, Leptospirosis and Bordetella

Canine parvovirus is a viral disease that is highly contagious among dogs. It causes digestive upset and can be life-threatening for puppies and other dogs with weakened immune systems. In fact, even healthy adult dogs can face life-threatening complications if parvo isn’t treated right away. Parvo is also very common–it is one of the most prevalent diseases found in animal shelters.

Two other frequently touted vaccines are those for leptospirosis and bordetella. These two vaccines, however, are not considered “core” vaccines by the AAHA. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted not only between dogs, but also to humans and other animals. Leptospires (the bacteria associated with the disease) spread through the infected host’s body, reproducing in the organs, urine and kidneys.

Cats: Feline Calicivirus, Herpes and Leukemia Virus

The American Veterinary Medical Association considers feline calicivirus and the feline herpes virus to be responsible for more than 80 percent of respiratory infections in cats. In fact, almost all cats are exposed to these viruses at some point in their lives. Getting your cat vaccinated against these illnesses will likely lessen symptoms should the cat become infected.

The feline leukemia virus is currently the leading viral killer within the cat population. Because it is easily spread between felines, it’s best to have your furbaby protected against this malady–especially if your cat is exposed to the outdoors or other furry friends on a regular basis.