Dog vaccinations are critical to ensure the health and longevity of young puppies as they grow into adult dogs and become seniors. They are the safest and most cost-effective way to protect your dog from infectious preventable diseases.
The science behind canine vaccinations has progressed significantly over the past decade, enhancing both their safety and efficacy against existing and emerging pathogens.
Your veterinarian will develop a vaccination schedule and vaccination protocol based on your dog’s age, lifestyle, and medical history. Here’s a guide to which shots are necessary and how often you should get dog vaccinations.
What Are the Necessary Dog Vaccinations?
Dog vaccinations are separated into two categories: core vaccines (required) and noncore vaccines (elective, based on lifestyle).
Core Vaccines (Required Dog Vaccinations)
Here’s a list of the required canine vaccinations and what they prevent.
DA2PP, or DHPP, is a combination vaccine that is often required by boarding, grooming, and daycare facilities due to the highly contagious and dangerous nature of the viruses it protects against. It protects dogs against the following viruses:
Canine Distemper Virus
The canine distemper virus is a contagious and serious virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal (GI), and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. It can be spread through sneezing, coughing, and sharing food or water bowls, or passed through the placenta from a mom to her puppies.
It is often fatal, and symptoms include:
- Eye discharge
- Lethargy and fever
- Vomiting and coughing
- Neurologic signs such as circling, head tilting, seizures, and paralysis
- Hardening of the paw pads
Unvaccinated dogs and puppies are at highest risk for contracting this highly contagious virus. Parvovirus attacks the GI tract and leads to vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and dehydration. It is spread via contaminated feces. Even a small amount on contaminated surfaces such as dog bowls, leashes, human clothing/hands, grass, and other surfaces can result in infection. Treatment is often extensive, intensive, and expensive.
This virus is one of the reasons why dogs get “kennel cough.” It causes respiratory disease in dogs characterized by coughing, gagging, a fever, and nasal discharge. This vaccine also protects against CAV-1, which is infectious canine hepatitis.
This is another virus that is a cause of “kennel cough.” It is highly contagious and results in coughing and respiratory disease. This vaccine may or may not be contained within this combination vaccine; check with your veterinarian.
The vaccination schedule for the DA2PP vaccine is as follows:
- Start initial vaccine at 6 weeks of age and repeat every two to four weeks until at least 16 weeks of age. If dogs are 16 weeks or older when first receiving the vaccine, they will get the first vaccine followed by a second booster two to four weeks later.
- After the initial vaccination series, dogs will need to be revaccinated (boostered) one year later.
- Subsequent booster vaccines will need to occur at three-year intervals or longer. Measuring antibody levels can provide a reasonable assessment of immunity and could be evaluated prior to additional booster vaccines.
Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system. Once clinical signs appear, it is fatal. Clinical signs include sudden or severe behavioral changes and unexplained paralysis.
It is transferred from the saliva of an infected animal into the body of another animal, often through a bite. The rabies vaccine is often required by law because of its ability to infect people as well as animals. For more information on your state laws, check out the interactive map at RabiesAware.org.
The vaccination schedule for the rabies vaccine is as follows:
- The first dose should be administered between 12 and 16 weeks of age—this may vary due to local requirements.
- The second dose is required within one year of the initial dose.
- Subsequent booster vaccines need to be administered every one to three years, depending on the vaccine and local state laws.
Noncore Vaccines (Based on Your Dog’s Lifestyle)
Some dog vaccinations are not necessary but will be recommended by your vet based on their assessment of your dog’s need for them. You can use the American Animal Hospital Association's lifestyle-based vaccine calculator to help guide which vaccines your pet should get. However, your veterinarian will be the best source to determine this based on your pet’s medical history and lifestyle.
Kennel Cough (Bordetella bronchiseptica)
This is commonly referred to as the “kennel cough vaccine.” It protects against a highly contagious bacteria that can result in respiratory disease and cough in dogs. It is recommended for dogs that have a high risk of exposure due to coming into contact with a lot of other dogs, including dogs that go to dog parks and kennels. Many kennels and dog day cares will require dogs to have this vaccine.
There are three forms of the vaccine, which can be given as intraoral (in the mouth), intranasal (in the nose), or subcuticular (under the skin). Check with your veterinarian on which they supply and what they recommend.
The vaccine schedule and immunity duration will vary depending on the vaccine. Most puppies should receive this as early as 8 weeks of age.
Leptospira is a contagious bacteria found in soil and water. While it can occur anywhere, it is most common in warmer climates with higher amounts of rainfall. Dogs most at risk of exposure are those that drink from rivers/lakes/streams, roam rural areas with exposure to water sources and wild animals, or have contact with rodents or other dogs.
They become infected when a wound or mucus membranes are exposed to infected urine or urine-contaminated objects. It can result in kidney failure and liver failure.
This vaccine may be administered as early as 8 weeks of age. Two initial doses are required, given two to four weeks apart. The two initial doses are required regardless of your dog’s age. If your dog remains in an area with possible Leptospira exposure, they should get the vaccine boostered annually, because the vaccine’s immunity lasts about 12 months.
Canine Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi)
This bacteria is transferred most commonly through a tick bite. Both animals and humans can be affected.
Animals that live in or plan to visit areas where Lyme disease is prevalent are at higher risk of exposure. They should be on tick prevention and pet parents should consider getting their dog this vaccine. Check the CDC’s map of Lyme disease hotspots.
The canine Lyme disease vaccine may be administered as early as 6-8 weeks of age. Two initial doses are required, given two to four weeks apart. The two initial doses are required regardless of your dog’s age. If your dog is getting this vaccine
to travel, the second dose of the series should be administered two to four weeks prior to travel to ensure immunity.
Canine Influenza Virus: H3N8 and H3N2 (“Dog Flu”)
These are highly contagious viral infections that are transmitted through respiratory secretions from coughing, barking, and sneezing. Dogs that need this vaccine typically also get the Bordetella vaccine because they are often in situations where other dogs are around, such as day care, dog parks, and boarding, which increases their risk of exposure.
These are two separate vaccines, but they should be administered during the same visit. They may be administered as early as 6-8 weeks of age. Two initial doses are required, given two to four weeks apart. The two initial doses are required regardless of your dog’s age. If your dog is going to a boarding or day care facility, the series should be administered two to four weeks ahead of time.
Can Pets Have Adverse Reactions to Vaccines?
Dogs can have adverse reactions to canine vaccinations, medications, and even natural vitamins/supplements. These incidents are rare, but because they do occur, it is important to monitor your pet after their vaccine appointment.
It is common for animal vaccines to cause mild reactions, including discomfort or swelling at the injection site. Dogs may also develop a mild fever or have decreased energy and appetite for the day. If any of these signs persist for longer than 24 hours, contact your veterinarian.
More serious side effects can occur within minutes to hours of the vaccination. Seek veterinary care immediately if your pet develops vomiting and diarrhea, swelling of the muzzle around the face or neck, coughing or difficulty breathing, or itchy skin with hives.
These reactions are much less common, but can be life-threatening. Before your veterinarian administers any animal vaccines, alert them if your pet has had a reaction in the past.
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