One of your key responsibilities as a pet parent is to organize timely dog vaccinations that protect your canine companion’s health. With both core (highly recommended or required by law) and non-core (recommended based on lifestyle) vaccines available, your veterinarian can help you decide which immunizations your dog should receive, depending on disease prevalence, geography, and many other factors.

How often do dogs need the parvovirus or distemper vaccines? How often do dogs need a rabies shot? In this guide, we get into the details of canine vaccines, based on recommendations from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

Why Vaccines Are Important

Dog vaccinations prep your pet’s immune system to repel attacks from harmful organisms. Vaccines can contain either weakened, live particles or killed/inactivated organisms, which stimulate the immune system in a controlled way without exposing your pet to the active pathogen. After successful vaccination and upon future exposure to the disease, your pet’s body will recognize the pathogen and have the tools to combat it, thanks to protective antibodies and other immune cells. Vaccinating your pet prevents them from developing serious illnesses or, at least minimizes disease severity. 

Following your veterinarian’s recommendations is your best strategy for keeping your pet safe and healthy. They will help you determine which vaccines your pet requires, and which ones are optional based on considerations like exposure risk or lifestyle. For example, pets who use canine daycare facilities or grooming salons may require specific dog vaccinations to keep them healthy. 

Some particularly dangerous diseases, such as rabies, are zoonotic (spread from animals to people), making up-to-date pet vaccinations vital in protecting both your furry friends and your family.  Abiding by your veterinarian’s canine vaccine recommendations not only helps prevent disease but may also save you from dealing with expensive medical treatments, should your pet or a family member contract a vaccine-preventable illness. 

Core Vaccines (Highly Recommended or Mandatory)

All dogs will require core vaccines—either due to the prevalence of the disease or because they are required by law. However, the vaccination protocol varies according to the pet’s life stage, risk factors, and other considerations. Core dog vaccines include protection against the following diseases:

  • Rabies Virus
  • Canine Distemper Virus
  • Adenovirus-2 (canine hepatitis)
  • Parvovirus
  • Parainfluenza Virus

Rabies Vaccination

Rabies is a deadly viral disease affecting the central nervous system. Dogs typically contract rabies through the bite of an infected animal, whether it is another dog or a wild animal, like a coyote, skunk, or bat. The rabies virus can be transmitted from animals to humans and is almost always fatal in affected mammals once clinical signs emerge.

There is no available treatment for rabies, so prevention through vaccination is crucial. Rabies vaccination is mandatory for dogs in most states and across Canada. Laws vary according to local jurisdiction, but independently of the state legislation, the AAHA considers the rabies vaccination a core requirement for pet health and safety.

Does my puppy need a rabies vaccine? How often?

Most puppies will receive an initial rabies vaccine between 12 and 16 weeks of age. The following year, an additional vaccine will be administered to boost immunity. Subsequent booster vaccinations occur every one to three years, depending on your pet’s health status, individual vaccination history, and local laws. 

If you are unsure whether your puppy requires a rabies booster, consult your veterinarian for guidance. If you believe your dog has been exposed to a rabid animal, contact your veterinarian or public health official immediately, regardless of your pet’s vaccination status. Never approach or attempt to capture a potentially rabid animal.

Distemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza (DA2PP) Vaccination

Combination dog vaccinations like DA2PP address various diseases in one injection. The DA2PP vaccination protects against Canine Distemper Virus, Adenovirus Type 2, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza Virus. All of these viruses are capable of causing serious disease, especially in younger dogs.

Does my dog need the DA2PP (Distemper-Parvo) Vaccine? How often?

Veterinarians typically administer the initial DA2PP vaccine to puppies at around 8-weeks-old with booster vaccines every 2 to 4 weeks until the young dog is about 16-weeks-old.

If the puppy is at an increased risk of contracting one of these viruses, your veterinarian may recommend an additional booster at around 18 to 20-weeks-old. The following year, your pet will receive another booster, with subsequent boosters following every one to three years thereafter, according to your dog’s individual needs.

Non-Core Vaccines (Recommended Based on Lifestyle and Other Factors)

A veterinarian may advise you to include certain non-core dog vaccinations into your pet’s vaccine protocol, depending on their health status, lifestyle, and geographic location. Other factors include how often your dog travels (and where) and how often your dog encounters other canines. 

There may also be contraindications to certain vaccinations in susceptible pets. For example, dogs that suffer from immune disorders or other chronic diseases may be good candidates for some immunizations but not others. Your veterinarian will provide recommendations for your individual dog.

Bordetella Bronchiseptica Vaccination

This vaccination helps pets develop immunity to the primary bacterial agent that causes kennel cough. The illness, also known as tracheobronchitis, causes characteristic upper respiratory signs such as a honking cough, hacking, or gagging. Veterinarians usually recommend the Bordetella vaccine for dogs that are in frequent contact with other dogs including at parks, dog shows, training classes, or at canine facilities such as kennels or daycares.

The Bordetella vaccine is available in intranasal, intraoral, and injectable forms. It is usually initiated in puppies around 8-weeks-old and is boostered every 6 to 12 months through adulthood. Depending on the type of vaccine your pet receives, they may require a booster two to four weeks after their initial dose.

Canine Influenza H3N8 Vaccination

The canine H3N8 influenza virus began in horses and later jumped to dogs, with the first documented cases of H3N8 in dogs being a group of racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004. The disease transmits rapidly and can easily infect dogs that frequent communal canine spaces when an outbreak is present.

Puppies as young as six weeks can receive their first dose of the canine H3N8 influenza vaccine. A booster dose follows within two to four weeks. Depending on your pet’s continued risk and the individual requirements of local boarding and other canine facilities your pet may frequent, your veterinarian may recommend annual revaccination.

Canine Influenza H3N2 Vaccination

Originally a bird virus, H3N2 influenza first infected dogs in 2007. It appeared in the United States in 2015 and rapidly spread over thirty states. As with the H3N8 strain, your veterinarian may recommend this vaccine depending on your dog’s risk of exposure and other requirements.

Puppies 6 weeks of age and older can receive the initial dose of the H3N2 influenza vaccine, with the second dose given two to four weeks later. Annual revaccination is recommended for dogs with sustained risk. Currently, a combination vaccine is available for dogs that provides protection against both canine H3N8 and H3N2 influenza viruses. 

Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) Vaccination

Your dog may contract Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) if they suffer a bite from an infected blacklegged tick. Ticks are most commonly found in grassy, wooded, or marshy areas, but they can easily be found in your backyard, depending on your region. 

If you live in a region endemic to Lyme disease, your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating your pet to prevent this debilitating disease. If you plan to travel to an area with a high risk of exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi, you may also consider this vaccine for your dog. An initial Lyme vaccine can be given as early as 9-weeks-old with a booster given two to four weeks later. If you are planning to travel with your dog, aim to finish the second vaccine two to four weeks before your trip.

Leptospira Vaccination

Leptospira are a type of bacteria that cause the disease, leptospirosis—an infectious disease that attacks the canine liver and kidneys. Dogs may contract leptospirosis through contaminated soil, standing water, or exposure to an infected animal’s urine.

If your veterinarian recommends the Leptospira vaccine, your dog will receive a dose each year after the initial vaccination series, which can begin at 8 to 9 weeks of age.

Crotalus Atrox Vaccination

If you live in an area rife with Western diamondback rattlesnakes (particularly the southwest regions of the US), the Crotalus Atrox vaccine may be a good option for your canine companion. As a toxoid vaccine, this immunization helps susceptible dogs mount an appropriate immune response to the toxin found in the rattlesnake’s venom, decreasing morbidity and mortality from exposure. Veterinarians will only recommend this vaccine for dogs with a high chance of exposure to these snakes. A recommended dose and vaccination frequency will be determined based on your dog’s weight, risk of exposure, and other factors.

Do Canine Vaccines Have Side Effects?

Vaccination causes a controlled stimulation of the immune system by mimicking the disease it is meant to protect against. This process could lead to mild symptoms of that disease, along with fever, soreness at the injection site, or other minor reactions. In rare cases, dogs may suffer from serious adverse effects, including injection site tumors, vaccine-associated immune disease, or anaphylactic reactions. 

It is important to note that the risk of a serious vaccine reaction in a healthy pet is negligible compared to the risks associated with vaccine-preventable illnesses. Before canine vaccines became commonplace, diseases like rabies and distemper caused widespread disease and death among dogs. Today, these diseases are much less common in the US and are entirely preventable through vaccination.

Discuss your dog’s medical history with your veterinarian so you can decide on the best vaccine protocol for your pet. Pet owners should also closely monitor their pets after every vaccine. Watch for warning signs of a problem and contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Facial swelling
  • Hives
  • Swelling, redness, or discharge at the injection site
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing

Titer Tests

A titer is a test that measures a patient’s antibody levels to a particular antigen. For instance, a distemper virus titer will assess how many antibodies are present specifically for the distemper virus in a blood sample. The theory behind titer testing is that if a pet has adequate antibody levels, a vaccine booster may not be necessary. While this is a valid idea, problems arise when there are no reliable reference ranges for specific diseases that dictate what a sufficient antibody level may be. 

Antibody titer testing can be useful for monitoring immunity to certain diseases in pets, particularly those that have a history of vaccine reactions or underlying immune disease. However, it may not be wise to use titers as a substitute for routine vaccination in healthy pets. Further research is warranted to establish more dependable data before veterinarians can rely on titer testing as a measure of immunity in their patients. 

Dog Vaccinations Tips and Guidelines From Penny Paws Animal Clinic 

Any pet parent thinking about dog vaccinations should consider the following recommendations from our veterinary team at Penny Paws Animal Clinic

Keep Unvaccinated Puppies Safe

Like a newborn baby, bringing an adorable new puppy home is a beautiful experience. It can be extremely tempting to show them off to other people and pets but allowing a puppy to socialize with other animals—especially those with an unknown vaccine status—before they’ve received their initial vaccinations is highly risky. Avoid taking your puppy to dog parks or other areas where they may come into contact with unknown pets or animals.

Ensure Timely Dog Vaccinations

A puppy’s vaccination schedule involves multiple different vaccines and boosters throughout the first few weeks of life and staying on top of your puppy’s recommended vaccine schedule is essential. Delaying puppy vaccines—or, administering them too early may hinder your pet’s ability to mount an appropriate immune response. Initial vaccines and boosters work together to “remind” the immune system how to deflect a specific pathogen, and timing is important. Follow your veterinarian’s recommended plan to ensure your puppy is protected during their vulnerable first year of life. 

Protocol for a Missed Vaccination

Missed vaccine appointments can happen due to unforeseen circumstances. If your pet misses an appointment in the middle of a  booster series, the next vaccine should be administered as soon as possible. Additional boosters may be warranted depending on where your pet is in his series. In some cases, a dog may need to restart the vaccine series to build proper immunity, so check with your licensed veterinarian.

Minimizing Stress: Before, During, and After Your Dog’s Vaccinations

Vaccination is a routine procedure, but if a visit to the veterinarian is stressful for your pet, help promote a calm atmosphere during your pet’s next appointment:

Before the appointment

  • Keep calm. Pets are amazingly attuned to their owner’s moods, so easing your own tension and stress may help alleviate theirs.
  • Acclimate your dog to the car and their dog carrier before the trip to reduce any anxiety associated with these items.
  • Consider packing a favorite toy, blanket, or special treat for your pet.

During the appointment

  • Speak softly and calmly to your pet, offering words of encouragement.
  • Distract your pet from anything that may induce fear or discomfort.
  • Offer extra affection and a treat.

After the appointment

Some dogs feel tired or sore after a vaccination. If your four-legged companion needs an opportunity to recover after a vaccine, consider offering them:

  • A cozy and relaxing spot to rest and sleep.
  • Extra affection, being mindful not to touch the injection site.
  • Plenty of food and water. But don’t worry if your pet’s appetite decreases slightly in the hours after vaccination.

Keep an eye on your pet to catch any alarming symptoms in time, and contact your vet if you feel it is necessary.

Is There Value in Dog Vaccinations? The Penny Paws Animal Clinic Professionals Say, “Yes”

Absolutely—vaccines save lives. Canine vaccinations are vital in protecting your dog’s health and giving them a great quality of life. The reliable and caring veterinary team at Penny Paws Animal Clinic is all you need to ensure an optimal vaccination plan for your dog or puppy.

Penny Paws Animal Clinic prioritizes your canine companion’s health with affordable in-clinic and weekend mobile vaccination services in all of our Texas locations. Contact us today to learn more about dog vaccinations or to book an appointment with one of our skilled veterinary team members.