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
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
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
There is also a possible complication of tumor growth developing
at the vaccination site, but this occurs most frequently in
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
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
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
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
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
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