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Dog vaccinations are essential to helping your pet live a long, happy life. Vaccines protect pets from serious illnesses or even fatal diseases that dogs are commonly susceptible to.

Here’s what pet parents should know about which vaccines dogs need and how the dog vaccination schedule works. Ultimately, it is important to consult with your veterinarian to identify the appropriate dog vaccination schedule specific to your pet.


Core vs. Noncore Dog Vaccinations

Vaccinations for pets are split into two general categories: core vaccines and noncore vaccines. 

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines are required for all dogs and puppies.

Core vaccines include:

  • Canine distemper/adenovirus (hepatitis)/parvovirus vaccine (given as one vaccine called DAP or DHP)
  • Canine rabies vaccine

Noncore Vaccines

Noncore vaccines (lifestyle vaccines) are considered optional and given based on factors such as your pet’s lifestyle and geographic location. Several noncore vaccines protect against highly contagious or potentially life-threatening diseases.

To determine which lifestyle vaccines are appropriate for your pet, your vet will look at a variety of factors, including:

  • Geographic location and risk of disease in these areas

  • Whether your pet goes to doggy day care, dog parks, boarding or grooming facilities

  • Whether your pet’s lifestyle includes traveling, going on hikes, or being exposed to wilderness or bodies of water

  • Overall health of your pet

Noncore vaccines include:

  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica vaccine

  • Parainfluenza vaccine (often combined with either the Bordetella or the DAP vaccines)

  • Leptospirosis vaccine

  • Lyme vaccine

  • Canine influenza vaccine (H3N2 and/or H3N8)

Which Vaccines Do Puppies Need?

Vaccinations in puppies should start when they are 6-8 weeks of age and end when they are 16 weeks of age or later. 

Dog vaccination schedules for puppies generally look like this:


Core Vaccines

Noncore Vaccines






Parainfluenza (often included in DAP combo vaccine)







Canine influenza



DAP (vets prefer giving final DAP vaccine at 16 weeks or later)

Rabies vaccine (may be

given earlier if

required by law)




Canine influenza

*DAP (Distemper, Adenovirus/Hepatitis, Parvovirus. Sometimes also referred to as DHP or DHPP

if parainfluenza is included)

In order for vaccines to provide the protection puppies need, they are given every two to four weeks until they are at least 16 weeks of age.

Your veterinarian will help determine the best vaccine schedule for your puppy.

Which Vaccines Do Adult Dogs Need?

Adult dogs need their core vaccines (DAP and rabies vaccines) in addition to any noncore vaccines decided upon between you and your veterinarian. A dog vaccination schedule for an adult dog may look like this:


Core Vaccines

Noncore Vaccines

Annual vaccines for


Rabies (initial vaccine)



Canine influenza

Bordetella (sometimes given

every 6 months)

Dog vaccines given

every 3 years


Rabies (after initial vaccine,

given every 3 years)

No 3-year noncore vaccines are available at this time.

Ultimately, your veterinarian will determine how long a vaccine will work for your pet.

If they are overdue or it is their first time getting a vaccine, your vet may recommend a booster vaccine or an annual schedule in order to assure appropriate protection for your pet.

What Diseases Do These Dog Vaccines Prevent?  

Here’s an explanation of the diseases behind the vaccines and the health issues they could cause for your pet.


Rabies is a virus that causes neurologic disease that is fatal for domestic pets, wildlife and people. It is most notably transmitted through a bite from an infected animal and can be transmitted to the owner through bite wounds as well.

The rabies vaccine is required by law in the US, and despite the excellent vaccination system we have, there are still animals and people that come down with rabies every year. 

Due to the fatality and zoonosis associated with rabies (nearly 100 percent), there are legal ramifications if your pet is not current on their rabies vaccine. Therefore, it is very important to keep your pet up to date.

If an unvaccinated or overdue pet is exposed to a potentially rabid animal, or accidently bites someone, it may result in health concerns, the need to quarantine your pet or euthanasia in certain circumstances.

Distemper/Adenovirus (Hepatitis)/Parvovirus (DAP)

The DAP vaccine protects against a combination of diseases that can spread quickly among dogs and have serious implications for canines, including severe illness and death.

  • Canine distemper is a devastating disease that is highly contagious in unvaccinated dogs and can result in severe neurologic signs, pneumonia, fever, encephalitis and death.
  • Adenovirus 1 is an infectious viral disease that is also known as infectious canine hepatitis. It causes upper respiratory tract infections as well as fever, liver failure, kidney failure and ocular disease.
  • Parvovirus in puppies is particularly contagious and can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, dehydration and death in severe cases.

Oftentimes, the noncore parainfluenza virus is also combined in this vaccine, changing the name to DAPP or DHPP.

Bordetella and Canine Parainfluenza

Bordetella and canine parainfluenza virus are two agents associated with a highly contagious cough commonly known as "kennel cough," or canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC).

Diseases from these agents typically resolve on their own but sometimes can lead to pneumonia or more severe respiratory disease. Because Bordetella is so contagious, boarding and doggy day care facilities across the US require your pet to have this vaccine.

Parainfluenza may or may not be included in a combination vaccine with Bordetella or the DAP.

Canine Influenza

Canine influenza in the US is caused by two identified strains of the virus, H3N2 and H3N8. It is highly contagious and causes cough, nasal discharge and low-grade fever in dogs.

Outbreaks in the US draw a lot of attention, as influenza viruses can give rise to new strains of influenza that have the potential to affect other species and possibly cause death.

Typically, the canine influenza vaccines are recommended for dogs that go to day care, boarding, the groomers or any place where they will be among other dogs. Discuss with your vet if this vaccine is recommended for your pet.

Leptospirosis Disease

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can cause severe kidney or liver failure in both dogs and people.  It is transmitted via the urine of infected animals and is found in both rural and urban settings.

This vaccine is considered “core” in geographic locations where leptospirosis occurs. Dogs can be exposed by licking or coming in contact with a contaminated puddle or body of water where an infected animal has urinated. 

Though traditionally, the leptospirosis vaccine was recommended to dogs in rural areas with outdoorsy lifestyles, leptospirosis has now been found to occur in suburban and urban settings, too.

The city of Boston experienced an outbreak in 2018 likely due to urine of infected city rats.

Leptospirosis can be transmitted to people as well. Talk to your vet about whether they recommend this vaccine for your pet.

The vaccine covers four of the most common serovars of leptospirosis, and the initial vaccine must be boostered two to four weeks later. 

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that can cause fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, shifting leg lameness and, in severe cases, kidney failure.

Lyme disease is endemic in various areas around the country, and the vaccine is recommended in these areas or for those traveling to those areas. Discuss with your vet if this vaccine is recommended for your pet. 

Like leptospirosis, the vaccine is initially given as two injections spaced three to four weeks apart, and then yearly after that.

It is important to discuss your dog’s lifestyle with your veterinarian so that they can make appropriate recommendations for which vaccines are necessary to protect your dog.

Apart from the necessary core vaccines, there is no one-size-fits-all protocol for vaccinating your dog.  Working together with your veterinarian is the best approach to developing the right dog vaccine schedule for your beloved pet.

By: Dr. Monica Tarantino

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