Dog Vaccinations

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

There is a growing concern among veterinarians and veterinary educators that people are choosing not to vaccinate their dogs due to concerns about the safety and cost of vaccinations. These are misguided concepts, because protecting your best friend is one of the most important things you can do to give your dog a long, healthy and vibrant life. You should follow the advice of your veterinarian when determining the preventive vaccines your dog should get.

New Puppy Vaccines

At birth and for a few weeks after birth, your dog received immunity through placental transfer and the mother’s milk. The level of immunity depends upon several factors including the immune status of the mother and the condition of the puppy at birth. These disease fighting cells, called antibodies, will protect the puppy for 6 to 12 weeks. Puppies should be vaccinated at six weeks of age and repeated every 2 to 4 weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks of age. After this initial vaccination procedure your dog should be vaccinated at regular intervals for the rest of its life. Your veterinarian will determine those intervals, and decide when repeat vaccinations are necessary depending upon your and your dog’s lifestyle. For instance, if your dog is a hunter or you live in a wooded area then your veterinarian may advise annual boosters to keep your dog’s immunity up to a high enough level to protect the dog from contracting a disease from potential carriers. If your dog frequently plays with other dogs in places, such as dog parks, hiking trails, day spas, grooming parlors or other public places then your dog will require frequent booster vaccine protection. There are some dogs that spend all their time in the home or in an enclosed yard. These dogs may not need to be booster vaccinated as frequently as those who lead a more social life.

Standard Vaccines

Vaccines stimulate antibody production by giving the dog a controlled dose of the virus that causes the immune system to develop antibodies. The condition of the dog at the time of vaccination determines the level of immunity it may acquire. There are altered live virus vaccines and killed vaccines that are developed for specific diseases in dogs. Your veterinarian will determine which vaccine works best for a specific disease. All dogs should be vaccinated against core diseases known to be infective for the canine species that are highly contagious and can cause serious illness or death. The vaccine for rabies is required by law in most municipal government laws across the United States. Rabies can transmit from wild animals to pet dogs and eventually to humans. It is not treatable once symptoms develop. Dogs and people, who are exposed to a known carrier of the rabies virus should be quarantined for a period of time to determine if the virus exposed them to the disease. Other virus diseases common in dogs include canine distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, canine parvovirus, Lyme disease and most recently canine influenza virus. As these viruses mutate and fight for their space on this earth, dogs will need to be vaccinated to protect them from serious illnesses.

The risks from vaccinating your dog are much smaller than the risks posed by these diseases. Like any medical procedure, there are sometimes side effects with vaccines. These are usually minor inconveniences and should not be limiting factors for vaccinations. Common side effects can be soreness or swelling at the site of the vaccination, fever, decreased appetite, sneezing or coughing and other upper respiratory signs may occur after a few days post vaccination. Occasionally, dogs will undergo an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This occurs within minutes after the vaccine is administered and may cause hives, swelling of the muzzle, face and eyes, and difficulty in breathing. This constitutes a medical emergency and you should seek veterinary care immediately if these symptoms are observed. Allergic reactions to vaccines are rare.

So, whether or not you vaccinate should not be a question. All dogs need their initial vaccination series as puppies to impart immunity against very serious dog diseases. The frequency of repeat vaccinations or booster vaccinations depends upon several lifestyle variances including geographic location and your dog’s social activity. Your veterinarian will be able to give you the best advice based on their education and experience.

For more information, go to: American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Guidelines

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