Vaccinating Your Dog

Importance of Vaccinations

Vaccinations are a critical part of your dog’s preventive health care. Vaccinations today protect dogs from such diseases as:

  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Hepatitis
  • Parvovirus
  • Other diseases

Recent Thoughts About Vaccinations

There have been improvements in the type of vaccines produced, and recent studies have shown that today’s vaccines protect dogs for a longer period than previously believed. These facts, coupled with new evidence that the process of vaccinating a pet may not be as harmless as once thought has led a growing number of veterinarians to advocate for reduced frequency in vaccinations.

Deciding Whether to Vaccinate

Vaccinating a pet against disease is a medical procedure and, like all medical procedures, carries some risk. The benefits of vaccinating must be weighed against the risks. One of the key AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines is that all dogs are different and therefore vaccine decisions should be made on an individual basis for each dog. Issues to consider include:

  • Age
  • Breed
  • Health status
  • Environment
  • Lifestyle
  • Travel habits of the dog

Health threats vary from city to city and even in various sections of cities. You should work with your veterinarian to tailor an immunization program to your pet’s needs, risks, and lifestyle factors.

Types of Vaccinations

Core Vaccinations–These vaccines are generally recommended for all dogs to protect against diseases that are more serious or potentially fatal. These diseases are found throughout North American and are more easily transmitted. AAHA considers these the core vaccinations:

  • Distemper
  • Hepatitis
  • Parvovirus
  • Rabies

Noncore Vaccines–These vaccines are reserved for dogs at specific risk for infection due to exposure or lifestyle. AAHA considers the following noncore vaccinations:

  • Kennel cough
  • Lyme disease
  • Leptospirosis

Frequency of Vaccinations

Initial puppy series
1 year
Booster shots
Every 1 or 3 years depending on the area and the length of effectiveness of vaccine
Whenever the risk of disease overrides risk of vaccination
Can be administered up to every 6 months for dogs repeatedly kenneled or exposed to groups of dogs in dog parks, salons, dog shows, etc.
i.e. Kennel cough

Note: Some veterinarians recommend yearly vaccination boosters and feel it is imprudent to change from this regimen. However, the AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines reflect that there is growing support for extended duration of protection.

Reactions to Vaccination

Vaccine reactions, of all types, are infrequent. In general, most vaccine reactions and side effects (such as local pain and swelling) are self-limiting. Allergic reactions are not common, but if left untreated can be fatal. These can occur minutes or hours after vaccination. If you see such a reaction, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. It is also a good idea to document the reaction, severity and what vaccines were given; this information should always be in a pets medical record so that in the future vaccines may be preceded with a medication to decrease the severity of the reaction.

In rare instances, vaccines can result in a tumor developing at the vaccination site or diseases that affect the blood, skin, joints, or nervous system. Contact your veterinarian for more information.


Q.If my veterinarian recommends a three-year vaccination schedule, does that mean I don’t need to see the veterinarian except every third year?

A. Regular wellness examinations–at least once or twice a year–are the most important preventive measures you can provide for your dog. Vaccinations are just one component of the wellness visit. To help keep your dog in optimum health, regular wellness examinations are critical regardless of how often vaccines are administered. Remember, dogs age at a much faster rate than humans, so a once-yearly exam is similar to a human getting a physical every five to seven years. Plus, dogs don’t always show signs of early disease, and they can’t easily communicate discomfort to us. During the wellness exam, your veterinarian has the opportunity to detect and prevent problems at an early stage.

Q. Can my veterinarian conduct a test to see if my dog needs to be vaccinated?

A. Tests that measure protective antibody levels for diseases are called titers. In recent years reliable titer tests for some diseases, such as canine distemper and parvovirus, have become more readily available and economical. Veterinarians may recommend using these titer tests in some cases to determine whether or not vaccinations are needed. Your veterinarian can provide you with more information on titer testing.