As veterinarians, we pick and choose our battles with pet owners on certain things. For example, although we highly recommend microchipping your pets to avoid the heartache of not getting a lost pet returned to you, we would never force that on anyone. In the case of vaccinations, however, we can’t emphasize enough just how important they are to your pet’s wellness. Although Rabies is typically the only vaccination required by law in most states, we highly suggest that your pet and, in the case of this blog post, your dog gets as many vaccinations as their lifestyle warrants to keep them safe and healthy.
Just as in humans, dog vaccines stimulate an immune response without actually getting the animal sick so that when the dog is exposed to the naturally occurring virus or bacteria, the immune system is ready for it and can fight it off. Vaccinations are going to keep your dog from getting some preventable diseases, either diseases that are very common and contagious or those that may not cause severe illness but are still beneficial to protect your dog from. There are also vaccines against diseases that can cause severe illness and death, which is why getting your dog on a proper vaccine schedule as part of dog preventive care is a top priority for veterinarians.
Vaccines and Your Dog’s Lifestyle
As we just mentioned, your dog’s lifestyle and where you live will factor into what vaccinations they need to keep them healthy. There are certain dogs that don't need vaccinations for the different diseases that cause kennel cough, for example, because they don't go to dog boarding facilities, dog grooming facilities, or doggy daycare. Sometimes we still recommend vaccinating for these things because you never know when the lifestyle of the animal is going to change.
The dog’s location comes into play when deciding on whether to give them a vaccine against something like Lyme disease, as a city dog isn’t as likely to get bitten by ticks as a dog that’s in the country or other rural areas.
When to Get Your First Dog or Puppy Vaccination
Most veterinarians will start vaccines at eight weeks of age, although some breeders start even as early as six weeks. We start vaccinating for Distemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, and Bordetella at that time. The reason behind that is the dog is beginning to lose maternal antibodies that the mom gives to the puppy, and you need to start having the puppy build up their own antibodies. That's also why you have to booster in that time between maternal antibodies and the puppies’ own antibodies.
As mentioned, veterinarians typically start puppy vaccinations at eight weeks. We do the first Distemper and Bordetella at eight weeks, following that with Distemper, Lyme and Lepto at 12 weeks, Lyme and canine influenza at 14 weeks, and Lyme, Canine Influenza, Distemper, and Lepto at 16 weeks. Then we do Rabies the next year, and then that, as well as Distemper, goes to every three years. Everything else is an annual vaccine and that is, again, to remind those immune cells of their job.
We vaccinate against viruses and bacteria that can cause what we call kennel cough, which is a catchall term for upper respiratory infections that dogs can get from other dogs. We also vaccinate for Bordetella, which is bacteria in the upper respiratory tract, as well as parainfluenza, which is a virus that we vaccinate for. Canine influenza virus, H3N2, and H3N8 are recommended for all dogs who have contact with other dogs.
Wait to Socialize Your Puppy Until Fully Vaccinated
As veterinarians, we know this is a tough one—if you’ve got a new puppy at home, you want to show them off to the world, Lion King-style! However, allowing that puppy to socialize too early with other dogs and people before getting vaccinated could be a huge mistake. If you take them to dog parks or other places where dogs go and inevitably leave traces of urine and feces behind, your pup could get very sick from the bacteria and the viruses they may carry.
Typically, we recommend not socializing with any unknown animals, or in places where a lot of unknown animals or wildlife may congregate. You can socialize with your friends and family's dogs, who you know to be healthy and vaccinated, and that aren't having diarrhea, vomiting, or other symptoms of contagious diseases.
Make Sure to Avoid Skipping a Vaccination
Certain initial vaccines stimulate the immune cells, and then the booster reminds the immune cells of the disease that they need to be able to fight against. The initial puppy boosters that are done every few weeks are getting those cells ready to go, and then the boosters that are done annually or every three years are continuing to remind the immune cells of what they need to be on the lookout to fight against. If you’ve missed a vaccination, consult your veterinarian to find out if you can continue on with the series or if you need to start over to make sure your dog is protected.
Diseases Prevented by Dog Vaccinations
Rabies is a fatal disease with no cure, so we obviously want to prevent Rabies in our animals. It's also transmissible to humans (zoonotic). We give all of our companion animals Rabies vaccines because we can't vaccinate all the wildlife. Distemper is another disease that causes neurologic and respiratory conditions that can kill your dog. Parvovirus is a disease of the intestinal tract, causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and, again, it can be fatal. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that dogs can pick up from infected water sources, so if your dog were to drink from a puddle and ingest that bacteria, they could contract Leptospirosis, which causes liver and kidney failure. Lepto is zoonotic. Lyme disease can cause fever, lethargy, lameness, but in the long-term, it can also cause kidney failure, so we also recommend vaccinating for that.
What to Know About Core Vs. Non-Core Vaccines
Pet parents often ask veterinarians which vaccines are important for their dog. The answer has two important components—Core Vaccines and Noncore Vaccines.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccination task force provides current, non-biased, evidence-based guidelines for core vaccinations for all canine patients. Core vaccines are considered important for all dogs. Noncore vaccines are recommended by your veterinarian as regionally important or important for your dog’s lifestyle.
Core vaccines for canines include:
•Canine Distemper Virus
Some non-core vaccines are those recommended by your veterinarian according to where you live or where you may travel to and may include Lyme Vaccine and Leptospirosis. Other non-core vaccines are recommended by your veterinarian based on your dog’s social habits, such as walks in the neighborhood, doggie daycare, grooming, boarding, and playing with friends and family dogs. Those may include Bordetella bronchiseptica and Canine influenza virus—H3N8 and H3N2.
Whew! Overwhelmed yet? We know it’s a lot of information to take in but it is so vital to your dog’s wellness. It is important to partner with your veterinarian when making vaccine decisions to prevent disease and to keep your pet and your family members as healthy as possible! If you have any further questions or you'd like to get your dog on a vaccination schedule, please give us a call!