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. The information is based on the latest guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).
The AAHA classifies vaccines as core vaccines and noncore or lifestyle vaccines. Core vaccines should normally be administered to every dog. Lifestyle vaccines, while not required, are strongly recommended depending on geography, lifestyle, and the current prevalence of the disease. Noncore vaccines may also be required for dogs who go to doggie daycare, grooming facilities, a kennel, or other communal canine facilities.
According to Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer of the AKC, “Because exposure risk to vaccine-preventable disease varies, your veterinarian may recommend selected noncore vaccines as core. Your vet is best able to assess risk factors and the needs of your dog. By following the protocols for dog vaccinations, you’re taking an important step in keeping your dog healthy and safe.”
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 noncore 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.”
When Should Dogs Receive Core Vaccines?
In most, but not all states, there are laws requiring a rabies vaccination. These laws vary across the United States and Canada by state and by 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 — 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.
Noncore, Lifestyle Vaccines for Dogs
Requirements for these vaccines depend a lot on your dog’s lifestyle: location; how much he travels; 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.
- Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus: The vaccine is typically administered into the nose with a spray when the puppy is between 8 and 16 weeks of age. Immunity generally lasts 12-14 months.
- Leptospira: 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, day care, 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 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’s 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. Dr. Klein notes, “Vaccinated dogs may still become infected following exposure, develop mild clinical signs, and transiently shed virulent virus and be contagious.”
- 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 depends on the dog’s body weight and exposure risk.
More Resources for Information About Dog Vaccinations
This is a lot of information to take in, but understanding it is important to the health of your dog. Our guide to first-year puppy vaccinations has a handy table to help you keep track of the shots your pup should receive, as well as more information on canine diseases and vaccinations.
If you’re unsure of your state’s rabies regulations, take a look at this chart, which shows each state’s laws on rabies vaccinations.
Finally, click here to find the AAHA’s recommendations about what to do if your dog is overdue for vaccinations.