For dog owners our pets are very precious to us. One of the ways we protect them is by providing vaccinations for them against diseases. Starting when they’re puppies and continuing throughout their lives, we need to take proper preventive measures to ensure our pets are protected from diseases such as rabies, parvo, distemper and other health risks. But there can be some confusion about exactly which dog shots are needed and when. Here are some things you need to know about vaccinating your pet.

When should I start vaccinating?

The easy answer is that you should begin vaccinating your dog when he’s a puppy. From that point it gets a little trickier to be precise. There are some different theories about exactly how early to begin vaccinating. You might think that it would be easy to say you should start giving your puppy his shots when he’s X number of weeks old, but there are some things to consider.

First of all, puppies can get varying amounts of disease immunity from their mothers. Puppies gain this immunity by nursing and drinking colostrum in the first few hours after birth which contains temporary antibodies the puppies will need for the first few weeks. Some puppies in a litter get a lot of colostrum and some puppies get less. This means that some puppies even in the same litter can have more disease immunity that others. If a litter is exposed to parvo, for example, some puppies can have a mild case and some may die partly because of the amount of immunity they received at birth.

The other thing you should know about this early immunity is that it wears off at different times and no one — no breeder, no vet, no owner — can accurately predict when the immunity will disappear. For one puppy it may disappear around six weeks. For his sister it may last until nine weeks. For another littermate it may last a different length of time. There is just no way to know. This is why puppies are given a series of vaccinations. If you vaccinate a puppy at six weeks and he is still immune to a disease, the vaccination won’t “take.” But if you bring him back three weeks later when his immunity has worn off and vaccinate him, then the shot will provide him with the protection he needs. By the time the last in the series of puppy shots are given — usually around 15 weeks — you and your vet can be certain that all of the early, temporary immunity has worn off and your puppy is now protected by his vaccinations.

So, most vets and breeders recommend that you begin vaccinating your puppy between 6 and 9 weeks and continue until around 15 weeks, in three-week intervals. Your puppy then needs to receive a booster vaccination when he’s one-year-old. If there is any chance at all that your puppy risks exposure to parvo then you should definitely begin vaccinating at the earlier age. This will typically result in three sets of shots for your puppy, though sometimes it may result in four sets if you begin vaccinating very early.

Which dog shots are needed?

When it comes to which shots your puppy needs there is generally more agreement among professionals. There are a set of five “core” vaccines that every puppy and dog needs. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends the following vaccinations for all puppies and dogs: distemper, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis and respiratory disease), canine parvovirus-2, and rabies.

There are also a number of “non-core” vaccines for dogs. This means that these are important vaccinations but that, depending on where you live and your dog’s circumstances, you may not need to give your dog all of these shots for various reasons. For example, coronavirus typically affects very young puppies with adult dogs often having a natural immunity so there would be no need to continue to give the vaccine to adult dogs. On the other hand, if you live in an area where coronavirus is prevalent, you may wish to make sure you vaccinate your puppies for the virus.

The non-core vaccinations include: leptospirosis, coronavirus, canine parainfluenza and Bordetella bronchiseptica (both can cause kennel cough), and Borrelia burgdorferi (the cause of Lyme Disease).

Opinions differ on whether the leptospirosis vaccine is necessary or effective. Some veterinarians recommend it and some do not. Leptospirosis is a serious disease around the world and can be transmitted to humans, though it does not occur frequently. The disease is spread by contact with animal urine. The difficulty with leptospirosis vaccines comes from the fact that there are several strains of the disease and the vaccine only covers one strain. This means that animals can become ill from other strains even if they are vaccinated. It’s been estimated that up to 30 percent of vaccinated dogs may not respond to the vaccine. There can also be serious side effects from the vaccine.

Bordetella vaccines (either nasal sprays or injections) are commonly given to dogs who will be spending time in a boarding kennel or animal shelter — anyplace where there are lots of other dogs. This is a preventive measure since “kennel cough” — a collection of respiratory illnesses similar to colds in humans — often circulate in such places. It’s easy for a dog to pick up a respiratory infection in a boarding kennel, a shelter or at a dog show when he’s surrounded by lots of strange dogs. There are people who claim that these vaccines are over-used and that the chemicals in them are bad for your dog but they do provide some protection against potentially serious infections. However, they generally only protect your dog against a few strains of “kennel cough.” As with other common viruses, there are a number of respiratory viruses that are not covered by the bordetella vaccine so your dog can still develop a respiratory infection if he picks up the wrong virus.

The Lyme disease vaccine is another vaccine that has its naysayers. Many veterinarians claim that the Lyme disease vaccines do not work very well. Dogs that have been vaccinated can still become infected by a tick bite, though some people say they are less likely to be infected than an unvaccinated dog. For these reasons many veterinarians suggest that you do not vaccinate your dog for Lyme disease unless you live in an area with a high tick population.

How often should my dog be vaccinated?

Here again, this is not an easy question. First of all, you will need to know your state and local laws regarding rabies. Many people believe — erroneously — that they are required to vaccinate their pet for rabies annually. Actually, many states have a two- or three- year rabies requirement. Rabies vaccines are often good for more than one year. Ask your vet or your local animal control officer what the law is in your area about rabies vaccination. There is no need to vaccinate your dog more frequently than the law requires, especially for rabies. Vaccination does put stress on your dog’s immune system so we never want to vaccinate when it’s not necessary.

Secondly, your puppy will need to have a booster for all of his shots when he’s a year old. This is to make sure he still has the immunity he should have received from them as a puppy.

Third, after your dog has his booster shots when he’s a year old you should start spacing out your dog’s vaccinations. Not every shot has to be repeated annually. Some vaccine manufacturers actually recommend that their shots be given every two years or every three years. It’s really best for your dog if you don’t give him a whole load of shots all at one time each year. This places great stress on his immune system and can lead to adverse reactions. If you give your vaccinations separately you will need to stop giving your dog combination vaccines but that’s okay, too. There’s nothing wrong with giving your dog each vaccination separately at a different time.

So, you should consider rotating your dog’s vaccines and giving a different one each year, or simply putting your dog on a three-year schedule. There is really no need to give your dog boosters each and every year. There is plenty of evidence that shows vaccinations provide immunity to our pets longer than one year. If you have any questions about whether your dog has enough immunity to a disease you can ask your veterinarian to titre your dog for the disease. This will involve taking bloodwork and mounting a challenge to the disease. If your dog still has plenty of antibodies present he should have no problem.

These are some of the things to consider about what dog shots are needed. It is a complex subject but with just a little thought you can make sure your dog is protected and you won’t be overtaxing his immune system.


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