What Vaccinations Does Your Dog Need?

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Introduction to What Vaccinations Does Your Dog Need

When you adopt a new puppy, one of the first things you’ll need to do is schedule a visit with your vet to get your new furry friend vaccinated.

This not only protects the puppy from illness, but it also helps to ensure that your new pet stays healthy.

As a new pet owner, it’s important that you understand dog vaccinations.

In fact, the most common mistake people make is not having their dog vaccinated regularly, or the wrong disease. 

Vaccinations are important because they stimulate your dog’s immune system to produce antibodies, proteins that attack and neutralize dangerous invaders like viruses and bacteria.

They also help to train your dog’s immune system to react quickly should he ever encounter those invaders again.

The length of time that your dog remains protected depends on the vaccination.

You may have heard that pet vaccinations are stressful for dogs, and that there are some that aren’t even necessary.

But what vaccinations does your dog really need?

While there is a lot of debate on this subject, in general, the answer is simple: all dogs need to be vaccinated against rabies.

And before you bring your new puppy home, it’s important to make sure he has all the vaccinations he needs. (Just like kids, puppies can get sick, and a little prevention is better than a cure.)

While there are some general rules about what vaccines are necessary, your vet will be able to tell you specific recommendations based on your puppy’s age, breed, and medical history.

This is one of the most important responsibilities you have as a dog owner is to make sure your dog is properly vaccinated to help protect against dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases.

Knowing what to vaccinate for and when can be confusing, so we’ve created this guide to help you take the best care of your dog.

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Core Vaccines For Dogs

In most cases, veterinarians recommend these vaccines to all dogs.

However, the AAHA says, “While there is often consensus on which canine vaccines fall into core and non-core categories and when they should be administered, in practice, the vaccination protocol should always be individualized based on the patient’s risk factors, life stage, and lifestyle.”

  • Canine distemper virus
  • Parvovirus
  • Adenovirus (canine hepatitis)
  • Canine parainfluenza
  • Rabies
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    When Should Dogs Receive Core Vaccines

    Core vaccines are considered vital to all pets based on the risk of exposure, the severity of disease, or transmissibility to humans.


    In most, but not all states, there are laws requiring rabies vaccination.

    These laws vary across the United States and Canada by state and by the local jurisdiction.

    Regardless of the laws in your state, the rabies vaccination is considered a necessary, core requirement under AAHA guidelines.

    Most vets recommend an initial dose for puppies at 16 weeks of age and no earlier than 12 weeks of age.

    In fact, many states and municipalities require administration for puppies 12-to-16 weeks.

    Revaccination of a booster is required within one year of the initial dose.

    However, many states allow discretion in the choice of a one-year or three-year initial rabies vaccine, in which case the timing of the booster will depend on the original vaccine’s specifications.

    In addition, some jurisdictions recognize only the three-year vaccine.

    Regulations vary, but your veterinarian will know the appropriate duration for the rabies booster.

    Distemper, Parvo, Adenovirus, Parainfluenza

    Vaccination for these diseases is usually administered as a combination.

    The combination vaccine for parvo and distemper may begin with puppies as young as six weeks of age, while the combination of all four vaccines is usually begun at 10-12 weeks, with boosters to follow every 2-to-4 weeks until at least 16 weeks.

    If your dog lives in a high-risk environment, your vet may recommend a final dose at 18-to-20 weeks of age.

    Of course, “high risk” is a subjective assessment, but would be applicable in areas where incidences of distemper and parvo are prevalent.

    It would also apply if your puppy has had significant exposure to other dogs or to potentially contaminated environments.

    Your vet will administer an initial booster one year after the initial vaccination.

    Subsequent boosters will follow at one to three-year intervals, depending on your vet’s recommendation.

    There may be specific cases where vaccines may be undesirable, such as in dogs that have other medical issues like immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) or encephalopathy (a brain disorder).

    In this case, your vet will most likely want to perform a titer test, which is a blood test that measures the level of antibodies the dog already has.

    However, titers are not a substitute for the initial vaccinations.

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    Non Core Vaccines for Dogs

    Non-core dog vaccinations are not mandatory except in areas where the specific illness or disease is rampant.

    Many vets will still offer these non-core vaccinations in areas where they’re not mandatory, but it’s up to the vet and the pet owner to decide whether the dog in question is a suitable vaccination candidate.

    Requirements for these vaccines depend a lot on your dog’s lifestyle: location; how much he travels; the prevalence of the disease locally; and time spent in communal environments like dog parks, daycare, and boarding kennels.

    These vaccines usually are not required, but your vet may recommend them based on lifestyle factors.


    This type of bacteria is found in standing water and mud and can cause liver and kidney damage.

    If your dog is at risk, your vet will recommend an initial vaccination and annual revaccination.

    Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease)

    Dogs living in or traveling into Lyme-disease-endemic areas are at increased risk for exposure and infection.

    The ticks that carry Lyme disease are especially likely to be found in tall grasses, thick brush, marshes, and woods.

    If a vaccine is indicated for travel, two doses should be administered, 2-to-4 weeks apart, so that the last dose is approximately 2-to-4 weeks before travel.

    Canine Influenza Virus-H3N8

    This vaccine should only be administered to dogs with a defined risk for exposure to this virus, such as those frequenting grooming facilities, daycare, dog parks, competitive events, and places where exposure to other dogs is common.

    The first dose of the vaccine may be administered to dogs 6-to-8 weeks old and a second dose follows, 2-to-4 weeks later.

    If there’s a continued risk of exposure, a booster should follow within one year.

    Canine Influenza Virus-H3N2

    Like the previous influenza vaccine, this should only be given if there’s potential exposure to the virus.

    The initial vaccine can be given to dogs younger than 16 weeks old and as young as 6-to-8 weeks. It’s administered in two doses, 2-to-4 weeks apart.

    If there are sustained risk, revaccination is administered within one year.

    The AAHA recommends that any dog considered at risk should be vaccinated against both strains of the virus. 

    Crotalus atrox (Western Diamond Rattlesnake)

    This should only be administered to dogs that are at clear risk of exposure to the venom of this type of rattlesnake.

    The dose and frequency depend on the dog’s body weight and exposure risk.

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    What Happens if Your Dog is

    Not Vaccinated?

    Your dog may have a higher chance of getting diseases that can be fatal to your dog if left untreated.

    There are a number of studies that show vaccines are effective at protecting dogs that are purposefully exposed to diseases in a controlled situation.

    The wider the community your dog is in, the higher the risk of your pet getting exposed to unwanted sickness.

    A study in Poland in 2002 shows that vaccinated dogs have a lower chance of getting Distemper compared to unvaccinated dogs.

    66% of the infected dogs have never been vaccinated while 22% of the infected dogs were vaccinated at some point.

    Nowadays, the government requires certain vaccinations for your dogs. One example of this is rabies.

    Rabies is not only harmful to your pets but also to humans.

    This is why most places around the world require pets to have rabies vaccines to reduce the risk of rabies infection on humans.

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    What To Consider When Vaccinating Dogs

    You may want to consider some factors before allowing your vet to give your dog vaccinations.

    Things like your dog’s age, overall health, and allergies are key factors.

    You also want to know your dog’s vaccination history and the other vaccinations your dog is receiving at that time.

    Puppies And Elderly Dogs May Have Different Vaccine Needs

    Vaccinations have minimum age requirements, and it’s important to stick to them.

    Puppies receive protective antibodies through their mothers’ milk during the first few weeks of life, so they don’t need vaccines right away.

    It is only after puppies are old enough to stop nursing that they need disease protection from vaccines.

    Elderly dogs often suffer from compromised immune systems, so vets may be hesitant to give them unnecessary vaccines.

    There are times when a vet may recommend a longer period between vaccinations for elderly dogs, or they may even skip those vaccinations completely.

    How Many Vaccinations Can Be Administered At Once?

    Giving a dog too many vaccinations at once can increase the probability of side effects.

    A vet recently told me she would not recommend giving a healthy dog more than five vaccines on any given day.

    This is why it’s important to space your vaccinations out. Your vet may wait to administer any non-core vaccines due to the core vaccines given at your annual checkup.

    Allergies To Vaccination Ingredients My Dog’s Medical Records book

    Most dogs do just fine after vaccinations. However, like people, some dogs can have allergic reactions to vaccinations.

    In most cases, these allergic reactions involve mild symptoms, such as mild discomfort at the injection site, mild fever, tiredness, and possibly a few vomiting or diarrhea episodes.

    These symptoms will last for about 12 to 24 hours after vaccination and will frequently resolve on their own.

    Rarely, dogs can experience severe allergic reactions to vaccinations and have symptoms such as facial swelling, difficulty breathing, hives, and collapse.

    Severe allergic reactions happen within minutes to a few hours after vaccination and require immediate veterinary care.

    You may want to consider talking to your vet beforehand about giving your dog a mild antihistamine, such as Benadryl, the morning of your appointment to help reduce the chances of an allergic reaction.

    Vaccination History

    My Dog’s Medical Records book.

    If a dog has had a bad allergic reaction from a previous vaccination, it’s important to note this so you’re aware of future vaccinations that may cause the same reaction.

    If this is the case, your vet may decide not to administer this vaccination to your dog. Keep track with a log like My Dog’s Medical Records.

    Your Dog’s Health Status

    You don’t want to vaccinate your dog when she’s ill.

    Vaccinations can put a strain on the body and the immune system.

    You also never want to vaccinate your dog when she’s recovering from an illness, surgery, or medical treatment unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    Your Dog’s Lifestyle

    Particularly for non-core vaccines, your dog’s lifestyle can determine which vaccines your dog will need.

    For example, dogs that spend a lot of time by the water are good candidates for the leptospirosis vaccine because dogs can become infected by drinking contaminated water.

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    Vaccines for your dog increases its protection against harmful disease and reduces the risks of contracting one.

    It’s important for you to talk with your veterinarian and discuss what vaccines are needed for your dog’s health and lifestyle.

    Veterinarians administer some vaccines annually, some every 3 years, and others every 6 months.

    Getting your dog vaccinated may help keep your dog away from potentially deadly diseases.

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