Vaccinations are an essential preventive care for your dog. Through vaccination, dogs can now be protected from numerous disease risks, including rabies, distemper, hepatitis and several others. Some of these diseases are zoonotic — can be passed from dogs to people — and so vaccinating your pet benefits public health too.
Recently, several studies have shown that vaccines protect dogs for a longer period than previously believed. There have also been many improvements in the quality of the vaccines produced. Pet owners are now also aware and concerned that vaccination is not as harmless a procedure as once believed.
To assist veterinarians with making vaccine recommendations for their clients’ dogs, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has now issued a set of canine vaccine guidelines. These guidelines were developed by a group of experts and practicing veterinarians together.
A key recommendation is that all dogs are very different and therefore vaccine decisions should be tailored to the individual dog. Factors including age, breed, health status, environment, lifestyle, and travel habits of the dog should be always be considered. Infectious disease threats differ from place to place and so you should work with your veterinarian to tailor an immunization program that best protects your dog based on his or her risk and lifestyle factors.
Am I Putting My Dogs Health at Risk When Vaccinating?
All medical procedures, no matter how routine, carry some inherent risk and so it would be wrong to say that vaccinating your pet is risk free. As with any medical procedure, the benefits of performing that procedure must be balanced against the risks. Veterinarians recommend that no needless vaccination risks should be taken and that the best way to go about this is to reduce the number and frequency of administration of unnecessary vaccines. These decisions should be made after considering your dog’s age, lifestyle, and potential exposure to infectious disease.
What are the risks associated with vaccination?
Vaccine reactions are infrequent in my experience. In general, most vaccine reactions are mild and the side effects — local pain, itchiness and swelling — are self-limiting. Allergic reactions are much less common, but if untreated can actually be fatal. These can occur soon after vaccination, usually within a matter of minutes to hours. If you think this type of reaction is occurring, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Also, in a very small number of patients, vaccines can sometimes cause the patient’s immune system to attack their own cells, resulting in diseases that affect the blood, skin, joints or nervous system. Such reactions are very rare but can again be life-threatening.
There is also a possible complication of tumor growth developing at the vaccination site, but this occurs most frequently in cats.
Please just remember, that if you have any reason to be concerned, just call your veterinarian for advice.
There are so many vaccines available. How do I know which vaccines my pet needs?
There are two general groups of vaccines: core and noncore vaccines.
Core vaccines are recommended for all dogs and protect against diseases that are more common and are more serious. These diseases are found in all areas of North America and are more easily transmitted than noncore diseases. The AAHA guidelines define core vaccines as distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and rabies.
Noncore vaccines are for patients at an increased risk for infection due to exposure or lifestyle. The AAHA guidelines define non-core vaccines as kennel cough, Lyme disease and leptospirosis vaccines.
How often should my dog be vaccinated?
It is essential that your dog has the complete initial series of puppy core vaccines, as well as booster shots at one year of age. The young dog is at high risk of contracting infectious disease and so every step should be taken to prevent illness. Following the one-year boosters, the AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines recommend that the distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus core vaccines be administered once every three years. Your state and local municipality govern how often rabies boosters are administered and so please contact them or your local veterinarian to get more information. (Some areas require an annual rabies booster whereas others only require a three-year-effective rabies booster every three years.)
Noncore vaccinations should be administered whenever the risk of the disease is significant enough to override any risk of vaccination. For example, a kennel cough vaccine may need to be given every six months to a dog that is repeatedly kenneled or exposed to groups of dogs at grooming salons or dog shows.
If my pet doesn’t need annual vaccines does this mean I only need to see my veterinarian every three years?
Regular health checks — once or twice a year — are a very important disease preventative for your dog. Vaccinations are just one component of a health check. Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your pet to ensure that all is well. Your veterinarian has an opportunity, therefore, to detect and prevent problems at an early stage. Just think: Dogs age more quickly than humans, so an annual exam equates to a human getting a physical every 5-7 years. Plus they don’t always show signs of early disease, and they can’t easily communicate discomfort to us.
Can my veterinarian do tests to see if my dog needs to be vaccinated?
The answer is yes. Tests that measure protective antibody levels for diseases are called titers. Reliable titer tests for canine distemper and parvovirus now exist. Your veterinarian can provide you with more information.
Dr. David Brooks is part of the online veterinary team at WhyDoesMyPet.com. Veterinarians, Vet Technicians, Nurses, Trainers, Behaviorists, Breeders and Pet Enthusiasts are here to answer your pet questions and concerns… Our dedicated community of caring experts are waiting to offer you advice, second opinions and support.