Whether you’re a first-time pet parent or an experienced dog mom or dad trying to stay up on the latest vaccines for your puppy, adult dog, or senior dog, we’re here to help you sort out everything you need to know about vaccines and recommended schedules.
Vaccine schedules can vary by your dog’s age, vaccination history, medical history, lifestyle, and the likelihood of exposure. Here’s a breakdown of the four core (required) vaccines that are necessary for a new puppy:
- Rabies: This is a viral disease that can cause headaches, hallucinations, anxiety, excessive drooling, paralysis, and death. It’s commonly transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal and is transmissible—and can be fatal—to humans.
- Canine parvovirus: This highly contagious virus attacks your dog’s gastrointestinal system and causes fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, and severe, bloody diarrhea. Puppies younger than 4 months old are more susceptible to the parvovirus. The virus can lead to extreme dehydration, which can cause a dog to die within 48 to 72 hours. There is no cure for parvovirus.
- Distemper: A highly contagious disease caused by a virus, distemper attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of dogs and other animals like skunks and raccoons. It can spread through the air (sneezing or coughing) or through shared food and water bowls. Symptoms include fever, coughing, discharge from the eyes and nose, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, twitching, paralysis, and death.
- Canine hepatitis: This highly contagious virus affects the kidneys, liver, lungs, spleen, and eyes of an infected dog. Symptoms include a low-grade fever, congestion, vomiting, and pain around the liver. The mild form of canine hepatitis can be overcome, but the severe form can be fatal.
In addition to the core vaccines, talk to a vet about getting your pup vaccinated for bordetella bronchiseptica, the highly infectious bacterial infection that’s the primary cause of kennel cough. Both injectable and intranasal vaccines are available.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection carried through the urine of mammals such as raccoons, opossums and rats. Dogs can be exposed to this by drinking out of standing water or licking the grass where these critters have urinated. Leptospirosis (Lepto for short) can cause kidney and liver damage but is treatable if caught early enough. Lepto is a zoonotic disease and is transmissible to humans through their dog’s urine. It used to be considered more of a disease found in dogs in the country but there have been many outbreaks in major cities due to rat populations. A vaccine for Lepto is available and often combined with the Distemper/Parvo vaccination.
Recommended Schedule / Timing for Vaccines
The recommended schedule for puppies should start when they’re around 8 weeks old. Giving vaccines at too young of an age is not effective due to the mother’s antibodies still being present in the puppy’s system. Pet parents should aim to have the series of vaccinations completed by the time the puppy is 16 weeks old. For older dogs, including seniors, take them to the vet to see which vaccines they’ve already received and follow the doctor’s recommendations for booster shots, which are usually administered annually or every three years.
Vaccination schedules can also vary by location. Vets and pet parents in the Los Angeles area and other cities across the US are on high alert after an outbreak of Canine Influenza H3N2. Experts recommend getting your dog vaccinated against H3N2 before entering a kennel, day care, dog park, and any social activities with other dogs. To avoid spreading the flu, take your dog to a vet if they are sick, stay away from dog parks, and wash your hands after handling pets.
Dogs that are going to be exposed to tick endemic areas (especially in the Northeast) may need to be vaccinated against Lyme disease. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s risk exposure with ticks.
Check with your veterinarian to see which vaccines are necessary for your dog. There are always some risks with any medications and treatments, but when it comes to vaccines, veterinarians agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Having to get all these shots might seem scary, overwhelming, and costly too—especially if you have multiple dogs. But vaccines are an important part of keeping your pet and the community healthy.