What You Need to Know About Vaccinating Your Dog

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What You Need to Know About Vaccinating Your Dog

Vaccination is the quickest and most effective way to protect your dog from preventable diseases. We’ve all heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and that certainly pertains to canine vaccinations. Most diseases that we vaccinate against are viruses, which means there is no direct cure if your dog is infected. Some of these diseases are manageable with supportive treatments, but others can be fatal. Continue reading to learn about the most common canine vaccines and what you can do to ensure your loved one is protected.

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Distemper, Adenovirus-2, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza

Vets most frequently use combination vaccines for these four viruses, which means that with one injection, your dog is protected against several different diseases. Sometimes called DAPP or DHPP, this vaccine is recommended for puppies starting as early as 6 weeks of age. The second vaccine is then given 3-4 weeks later. Boosters should be continued every 3-4 weeks until the puppy is at least 16 weeks old.

Adult boosters are given every 1-3 years, depending on manufacturer recommendations. Boosters are essential because the body’s immune response naturally declines over time.

  • Distemper: a viral infection that has symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory and neurologic disease. It can be fatal.
  • Adenovirus-2 (also known as infectious canine hepatitis): causes severe damage to the liver and kidneys. It can be fatal. Fortunately, this disease is uncommon due to successful vaccination.
  • Parvovirus: a viral infection that causes painful and severe diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. Over 25% of cases are fatal. It mostly affects puppies although adult dogs can be infected. Parvo is highly contagious and hard to remove from contaminated environments.
  • Parainfluenza: a respiratory virus that is a component of kennel cough. Vaccination reduces the likelihood of contracting this infection and reduces the severity of the illness.


Leptospirosis is an infection caused by Leptospira bacteria. This organism is found worldwide and can be contracted through contact with infected soil and water. It can cause kidney and liver failure in dogs.

At-risk dogs, especially those who hunt, swim, or have contact with wildlife and rodents, should be vaccinated for lepto. starting at 8-9 weeks of age. A booster should then be given 2-4 weeks later. Lepto. vaccines are given yearly for dogs with continued exposure.


Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that causes severe disease of the central nervous system. It is most often transmitted through a bite or contact with saliva from an infected animal. Rabies is almost always fatal and poses a huge risk to human and animal health. Most states require rabies vaccination by 6 months of age. Check with your vet about local laws in your area.

Rabies vaccines can be given at 12 weeks of age. The vaccine is then boostered 1 year later. Depending on local laws and manufacturer requirements, your dog should then be vaccinated against rabies every 1-3 years.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is most commonly caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. Many other organisms can be involved in kennel cough infections, making it a complicated disease in dogs. Kennel cough is very contagious and causes tracheal irritation, coughing, gagging, and loss of appetite.

The Bordetella vaccine can be given at 8 weeks of age. Depending on the type of vaccine (injection, nasal drops, or oral liquid), your dog may need a booster in 2-4 weeks. The vaccine is typically administered yearly to dogs with continued exposure.

It’s never too late to start a vaccination program for your dog. If you have an older dog, or your dog’s vaccines are overdue, contact a vet for advice about appropriate vaccine protocols. Elderly (geriatric) dogs and puppies have a weaker immune system than adult dogs, so it’s especially important that they are fully vaccinated, and boosters are kept up-to-date. Additionally, most boarding kennels and groomers won’t accept dogs unless they have an up-to-date vaccination record.

What about titer testing?

While there is no scientific evidence that routine vaccination, when performed appropriately, causes health issues in dogs, many people remain worried about the vaccine’s effects on their pets. Some people prefer to check titers before boostering their pet’s vaccines. This involves taking a blood sample and submitting it to a specialized lab when the annual vaccine boosters are due. These tests look at antibody levels in the blood for distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis. If the antibody levels are acceptable, these vaccines can sometimes be delayed by a year. There are not titer tests available for all viruses, and some states do not accept titer tests as an alternative to rabies vaccination.

Read more:

Lyme Disease in Dogs

Canine Influenza Virus (Dog Flu)

Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC)

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Published: 10/4/2020
Last updated: 10/28/2021

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