Veterinary science, in conjunction with industry, has done a great job developing vaccines that are very safe and effective preventive measures. Vaccines keep your dog protected from serious infectious diseases. Diseases that, just a few years ago, were epidemics are now less common. It's not just a matter of more vaccines but also better vaccines that are more specific, provide longer protection, and allow your veterinarian to make recommendations appropriate for your pet.
Not all dogs need to be vaccinated for all diseases all the time. There are two general groupings of vaccinations: those that target “core” diseases and those that target “non-core” diseases.
Core vaccinations prevent diseases that are extremely widespread in their distribution and are easily transmitted. These diseases are commonly fatal or extremely difficult to treat effectively. One core disease—rabies, can be transmitted to humans with potentially deadly results. In summary, core diseases are the more contagious and severe diseases.
Core vaccines provide long term immunity, making yearly vaccination unnecessary. Core vaccines include:
- Canine distemper
- Canine parvovirus
- Canine adenovirus 1 infection
Historically, these vaccines were recommended yearly but this is no longer the case. Duration of immunity from these vaccines has been proven to be at least 3 years. Rabies vaccines are sometimes administered more often based on state and provincial regulations. While not all vaccines carry a label that indicates they are effective for 3 years, current recommendations for core vaccines are that after the completion of an initial series, dogs should be revaccinated every 3 years.
Non-core vaccines protect against diseases that do not meet the core vaccine description. While all dogs are at risk for core diseases and must be vaccinated--risk of exposure, likelihood of infection, and severity of disease should be evaluated when making non-core vaccine recommendations. The indication for these vaccines should be based on a risk assessment that looks at local and regional incidence of the disease. The risk assessment should also take lifestyle into consideration. Non-core vaccinations may include:
- Lyme disease
- Canine cough complex
- Canine influenza
These vaccines generally provide a shorter length of protective immunity, and dogs that are at risk for infection should be vaccinated every year.
How can you determine your dog’s risk of infection?
[Editor's Note: Having a conversation with your veterinarian is the number one way you can determine your dog's risk factors and which vaccines are recommended.]
- Lyme disease is no longer limited to the Northeastern United States. It is transmitted by deer ticks associated with white tail deer. The populations of deer are expanding and with them the incidence of exposure. While exposure and infection do not always result in disease, dogs considered at risk should be vaccinated and tested annually.
- Vaccination against leptospirosis should be considered for dogs who are exposed to wildlife environments like ponds, or when urban and rural wildlife share the environment with your dog.
- Vaccination against canine cough includes bordetella and parainfluenza vaccines. These diseases are respiratory infections and as such are transmitted from dog to dog. Boarding facilities, dog shows, dog classes, and parks where dogs play are all potential risks. Dogs exposed to these environments should be vaccinated yearly.
- Canine influenza is a relatively recently described disease and a relatively new vaccine. It should be administered yearly for dogs considered by your veterinarian to be at risk.
All dogs should be examined by a veterinarian at least yearly and a complete history and risk assessment should be performed. This will assure that your dog remains healthy and is appropriately vaccinated.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
DHPP Vaccination ($23)
The second most important vaccination that we recommend is the DHPP vaccination. This is also known as the DA2P vaccination, or Distemper/Parvo vaccine. It’s a vaccination that covers a combination of diseases:
Distemper and parvovirus, also known as parvo, are the two most important diseases that this vaccination covers. They’re still fairly common, especially in largely unvaccinated areas, and outbreaks are not at all unusual.
Both distemper and parvo are deadly, and even if caught in time, require hospitalization and large medical bills.
To give you an idea of how common parvo is, outbreaks have recently occurred in Lubbock , Amarillo , Polk County , Odessa , and many other locations across Texas, Oklahoma, and other states.
Distemper is spread by local wildlife. Dog’s chances of survival depend on the strain of the virus and your dog’s immune system , with older and younger dogs most likely to die from the disease. It’s not as common as parvo, but there have been recent outbreaks in Mesquite, TX , Henderson County and across states such as Ohio and California .
Until your dog has the DHPP vaccination, avoid public or grassy areas! Dogs can catch parvovirus from contaminated soil or from other dogs. In fact, parvo can stay in the ground anywhere from 6 months to over one year after exposure!
Distemper and parvo are the biggest threats to puppies, who don’t have the strength or immune system to survive the disease. Dogs who are around a lot of other dogs, are outside in grassy areas, who frequent dog parks, or frequent areas where dogs have been are also high-risk.
Certain dog breeds such as Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Pit bulls, and others are more at risk for Parvo than other breeds.
There is good evidence that the vast majority of dogs are protected against viral distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus for three years after the primary course of vaccinations. Similar data exists for panleukopaenia and feline leukaemia in cats, and for this reason our vets have carefully selected vaccines that allow extended intervals between vaccinations against these diseases.
For other diseases such as leptospirosis in dogs and flu in cats the vaccine protection does not last much beyond 12 months - that is why revaccination against some diseases is recommended on an annual basis.
This means if you look at your vaccination card you’ll see that, while your dog or cat has vaccinations every year, it won’t always be against the same diseases.
Titre testing (blood testing) is available for checking a dog's antibody levels against the core viral diseases at all of our clinics upon request (there is no effective test for leptospirosis). This carries an additional cost above vaccination and involves a blood sample being taken.
An annual visit to the vets also means a chance for a full top to tail health check, giving you and your vet the chance to spot any brewing problems early. Another great reason to get your vaccination appointment booked!
We strongly recommend annual vaccination against leptospirosis. Known as ‘Weils disease’ in people, this disease causes liver and kidney failure in humans and dogs and can kill. While there is always a very small risk of an adverse vaccine reaction this is hugely outweighed by the risk of leptospirosis in dogs. Even dogs which have a very small home range should be protected as the disease is carried by rats, which are found in and around even the tidiest gardens!
The first booster, given at around 15 months of age, is vitally important as it will catch any pet who has failed to respond to their primary vaccination course. Many of the modified live virus vaccines produce a very strong immune response that only needs to be boosted every few years. Other vaccines cannot produce the same level of immunity and require more frequent (often yearly) boosting. This is why your pet may receive a different combination of vaccines from year to year.
Testing antibody levels in the blood is a good way to assess an individual pet’s immunity level against a specific infection, although in dogs this is only reliable for parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus. If antibody levels are found to be high when a booster vaccination is scheduled, then your vet may advise you to delay the administration of the booster. Since this will be outside the licensed use of the vaccine, this deviation from vaccine protocol is termed ‘off-licence’.
Unfortunately it is impossible to fully protect your pet from exposure to diseases. Pets can escape some diseases can live in soil on boots and be brought into the house cattery or kennel stays can expose pets to other animals, and wildlife such as rats can enter homes.
While an indoor pet is safer from disease exposure than an outdoor pet there are advantages to outdoor access in terms of welfare and, while house rabbits and cats can do well indoors, all dogs need outdoor exercise as part of their regular routine.
Full vaccination provides protection in all circumstances – safest all round!
The number of diseases for which there are now licensed vaccines in the UK has increased significantly over recent years. Vaccines are considered either ‘core’ or ‘non-core’. Core vaccines protect against serious diseases that are likely to be widespread within a region, whereas non-core vaccines are only given to pets when there is a specific risk of infection.
Your vet will advise you on the risk of non-core diseases and if it would be beneficial for your pet to have them. This includes diseases such as kennel cough for dogs and Chlamydophila for cats.
A combination vaccine is available to protect rabbits against the three most common fatal diseases, myxomatosis, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 1 (RHD1) and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2).
Myxomatosis is a highly infectious and usually fatal viral disease that causes swelling and inflammation of the mucous membranes and discharge around the eyes. Both RHD1 & RHD2 are extremely contagious with a high mortality rate.
The only alternative to vaccination is to prevent exposure to disease. This means keeping your dog, cat or rabbit isolated from any other pet or animal that could be infected or be a carrier of a disease against which vaccination would normally have been given. Some infections, e.g. parvovirus, can enter the household on inanimate objects such as grooming implements, food materials, clothes, shoes and hands. Other diseases, such as myxomatosis, can be transmitted by biting insects.
While you may, technically, be able to limit your pet's contact with these diseases there may be welfare concerns with the lifestyle that would be required for your pet for this to occur.
Using titre testing to check levels of immunity annually after the initial vaccination course can reduce the need for vaccinations, but some diseases cannot be tested for in this way and so routine vaccination against these diseases is still recommended.
Whether to vaccinate elderly pets or not has more to do with their activity and likely exposure to disease than their age. For example, if your cat never comes into contact with other cats and you are not going to introduce any new cats or kittens into your household, then the benefits of vaccination may be limited.
It must be borne in mind that the immune system of an elderly animal is less robust, so if they are likely to be exposed to infection then continued vaccination is all the more important.
Vaccination has prevented serious diseases and saved the lives of thousands of dogs, cats and rabbits in the UK. However, any veterinary procedure, no matter how commonly it is performed, carries some level of risk. When deciding what is best for your pet it is vital to balance the benefits of vaccination against the risks. For the majority of pets the benefits far outweigh the risks. Your veterinary team can help you understand the benefits and risks, and help you to decide upon the best strategy for your pet as part of an overall preventative healthcare programme.
Vaccination is not a completely risk-free procedure. In the majority of individuals, however, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Vaccination reactions are thankfully rare, with adverse events being reported once every 200-250 vaccinations given.
The vast majority of these reactions are mild and short-term, and indicate that the vaccine is effectively stimulating the immune system. Common signs reported are swelling at the injection site, mild fever, tiredness and lack of appetite lasting 24-48 hours.
Given that illnesses can occur at any time, they may sometimes develop shortly after vaccination this does not mean that the vaccine caused the disease. There have been a number of studies investigating whether diseases in which the immune system malfunctions, such as haemolytic anaemia in dogs, may be more common in the months following vaccination (when the immune system is being stimulated), than at other times. To date these studies have not shown a significant link, but a previous history of immune-mediated disease should be taken into account when deciding on a vaccination schedule for an individual pet.
If you have any concerns about your pet’s wellbeing following vaccination, always contact your veterinary practice.
It is very rare for a vaccination to be associated with a severe side effect. One very rare side effect is the development of an ‘injection-site sarcoma’. These occur in up to 60 cases per million vaccinations.
An injection site sarcoma is a hard lump that develops where your cat has been injected, usually on the scruff of the neck. They are quite commonly reported in the US, but are very rare in the UK. The vaccines most commonly associated with sarcoma development are those protecting against feline leukaemia virus and rabies.
A concept that is widely circulated online is that ‘over-vaccination’ will cause disease, sometimes months or years later. This is termed ‘vaccinosis’. People who promote the concept of vaccinosis suggest over-vaccination is responsible for a wide range of conditions, from lethargy to lameness to kidney disease. However, there have been no published papers that support this theory and this view is not supported by the vast majority of veterinary professionals.
Pets cannot get autism, and there is no proven link between vaccination and autism in humans. Therefore there is no risk of your pet developing autism from vaccination.
It is very easy to become complacent about vaccination when diseases like distemper or feline infectious enteritis are now rare in the UK. If vaccination rates drop below a certain level, however, a disease outbreak can occur with disastrous consequences — for example the measles epidemic in Wales that resulted in the death of a child.
Owners should recognise that vaccination protects against unpleasant and severe diseases that, even with all our advances in veterinary care, can still be fatal.
Importantly some diseases, such as leptospirosis, are not just transmitted pet-to-pet and are picked up in the environment. For these diseases there is less ‘herd immunity’.
What vaccinations are available?
Your dog should be vaccinated as a puppy and then get regular boosters throughout their life.
Vaccinations for puppies
Puppies are vulnerable to serious diseases like parvovirus and canine distemper. Your puppy can start their vaccinations from around 8-weeks-old and will need a second set of injections, usually 2-4 weeks after their first set. For some high-risk puppies, a third injection may also be recommended by your vet.
Some breeders and rehoming centres may have started your pup’s vaccinations before you adopt them. You’ll need to check what they have already had and get your puppy booked in for their remaining jabs. If you’re not sure, bring your ‘puppy paperwork’ to your local vet practice who’ll be able to help you make sure your puppy is fully protected.
It’s important to keep your puppy away from unvaccinated dogs until they’ve had their full course of vaccinations and are fully protected. This is usually two weeks after their second injections.
Where you get your puppy from can have a huge impact on their health and happiness. If they have a vaccinated mum, new born puppies get some protection against diseases through their mother’s milk that can help keep them healthy before they are able to get vaccinated themselves. Unfortunately, puppies that have been illegally imported or that were bred on puppy farms could be much more likely to suffer serious illnesses like parvovirus as their mums won’t have been vaccinated so can’t pass on their immunity. If you’re thinking about getting a puppy, take a look at our advice on how to avoid these breeders.
Booster vaccinations for dogs
After having their initial vaccinations as a puppy, your dog will need regular booster injections throughout their life. This is to help keep them protected as over time their immunity could otherwise go away. If you do not keep on top of your dog’s vaccinations they will be more at risk of catching infectious diseases.
Booster jabs for distemper, parvovirus and canine hepatitis are usually needed every three years. Booster jabs for leptospirosis are needed every year.
Can my dog get a titre test instead of a booster?
For certain diseases, some vets may offer blood tests called ‘titre testing’ to check your dog’s level of immunity.
Titre testing isn’t an alternative to boosters, but it can give an idea of how well protected your dog is from vaccinations they’ve had in the past. It isn’t available for every disease and it can’t be 100% relied on to make sure your dog is protected.
Your vet might recommend a titre test if you’re unsure whether to vaccinate your dog or not, especially if you are avoiding vaccinating because of a specific worry (e.g. if your dog previously had an allergic reaction to their booster or if their immune system isn’t working properly). In these cases, titre tests can give an idea of if your dog will be able to fight off the diseases they have previously had vaccines for and help decide whether it’s safer to vaccinate your dog or miss a booster.
If you have general worries about vaccination safety, always speak to your vet or vet nurse who will be happy to discuss your concerns. You can also check out our myth-busting information on vaccines.
Vaccinations for travel
If you’re planning on taking your dog abroad, they might need extra vaccinations just like we humans do. They won’t be able to get a passport or travel abroad without having the right up-to-date vaccinations, which usually includes being vaccinated against rabies. Although rabies isn’t a problem in the UK, it can be common in other countries.
Depending on where you go, the vaccinations your dog needs may vary. It’s best to check with your vet before you travel to make sure your dog has the right ones and all the paperwork they need to travel. Also, make sure you know if there’s anything they need to get before coming back in to the country.
Vaccinations play an important role in protecting your dog from dangerous and potentially fatal diseases like parvovirus, canine hepatitis and kennel cough.
Vaccines work by giving your dog a small amount of the bacteria or virus to be vaccinated against this is usually a modified or dead strain, which is completely harmless.
Doing this exposes their immune system to the virus or bacteria and trains their system to recognise and attack it. This means, should they ever encounter it in the future, your dog’s immune system will be able to successfully fight it off, keeping them safe and healthy.
Vaccinations also help protect the wider dog community, as they reduce the risk of infection for all dogs in the area.
Read more about advice on being a responsible dog owner