Just like our human babies, our puppies need vaccinations to protect against their “childhood” diseases.  Vaccines help to build the body’s immune system so that an appropriate immune response can be initiated if a disease in encountered.  Without vaccinations, they are susceptible to several different and often deadly diseases upon exposure to other dogs or wildlife that may be carriers of these diseases.  Therefore, it is important to know what is available, what is necessary for your particular dog and what may be mandatory to protect your dog and keep him/her as healthy as possible.

What Vaccines Are Available

Most veterinarians today follow the guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) for what vaccine schedule to use.  AAHA divides the vaccines into two categories:  Core and Non-core.  Core vaccines are generally what all dogs need and noncore vaccines are not necessary for all dogs, but depend upon risk factors for each individual disease.  In other words, risk vs benefit is very important for each patient.

Core vaccines are distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus and rabies.

One type of distemper combination vaccine.

Distemper is a very contagious viral disease spread via discharge from the eyes and nose of infected dogs.  It attacks the respiratory and nervous system (puppies usually progress to seizures quickly) and can be fatal if left untreated.  Parvovirus is a contagious disease that invades the GI tract and sometimes the heart muscle.  It is spread through infected feces and the virus can remain in the environment for many months.  This virus destroys the lining of the intestinal tract and is often fatal if left untreated or treatment is delayed.  Canine Adenovirus, also known as Infectious Canine Hepatitis, can be spread from dog to dog through infected saliva, urine or feces.  It can cause liver failure, eye damage and respiratory problems.  Rabies is an incurable viral disease that attacks the central nervous system.  It is spread through contact with clear body fluids (saliva, urine or semen) although saliva from bite wounds is the primary source of infection.  Vaccination for this disease is very important for your dog and most states have legal requirements as to how often these vaccinations must be given.

One type of Rabies vaccine.

Non-core vaccines include Kennel Cough, Lyme disease, Leptospirosis and Canine Infuenza.  Kennel cough is really a misnomer, as it is actually Canine Tracheobronchitis, which is a respiratory tract infection which can be spread via close contact and can be caused by a variety of airborne bacteria and viruses including canine parainfluenza, canine adenovirus and Bordetella bronchiseptica.  Most “kennel cough” (KC) vaccines are only for the Bordetella bacteria as parainfluenza and adenovirus are included in most of the distemper combination vaccines.  These KC vaccines can be injectable, intranasal (squirted into the nostrils) and oral (by mouth).  This vaccine is needed if your dog is boarded, exposed to play groups, obedience training or dog shows (anytime that exposure to a group of different dogs is possible).  Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick and should be used in situations when dogs are exposed to these ticks (hunting or farm dogs).  If you would like more information on this disease, please refer to my previous post https://ourhealthyanimals.com/lyme-disease-in-animals-how-it-occurs-detection-treatment-and-prevenion.  Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that attacks the liver and kidneys (often leading to kidney failure and death).  This vaccine is important for those dogs exposed to wildlife and farm animals as they are often carriers and can spread the disease through their urine (pollution of creeks, ponds and other water sources).  Canine influenza vaccine is the newest one available to us and is important in some areas.  This virus is spread through direct contact with coughing and sneezing from infected animals.  Certain areas of the country have experienced an upswing in the number of new cases this year, although the cause of this is not yet known.  Like the KC vaccine mentioned above, this one is important when close contact between dogs is anticipated.

One type of KC oral vaccine.

Who Needs What and What’s It Going to Cost?

Are all the above vaccines really necessary for all dogs?  There is actually no “one size fits all” approach for all dogs.  Consult with your local veterinarian as what vaccines are needed for your dog.  Factors such as age, environment, travel plans and lifestyle (is grooming being performed regularly and does this facility also do boarding) are important as to what is really necessary for each individual dog.  Costs can vary tremendously ($50-$150+) depending upon what you need and what part of the country you are in.

Vaccine Schedules for Puppies/Dogs

First vaccinations for puppies (DAPP) should begin at 6-8 weeks of age, unless you have a facility that has experienced parvovirus in the past.  With the latter situation, parvovirus vaccine can be administered as early as 5 weeks if deemed necessary.  Vaccines are given every 3-4 weeks with the last booster being given after 16 weeks of age at which time a rabies vaccine can also be given.  Booster vaccines are generally given one year later and after this it depends upon what vaccine is given and the factors discussed above.  Again, consult with your local veterinarian for specifics for your area.

Are There Risks with Vaccinations

Vaccines stimulate the dog’s immune system to create long-term protection against diseases.  As with any medical treatment, there can be reactions.  Most vaccine reactions are mild such as slight fever or injection site soreness and recovery is uneventful.  There can be life-threatening (anaphylactic reactions while rare can cause throat swelling and lead to death) especially without quick treatment (most I have had respond to antihistamine-Benadryl-very rapidly).  Less commonly, injection site tumors (more common in cats) and immune disease problems can occur.  Some of these reactions can no doubt be caused by the additives within these vaccines (I’ve had some react to one brand of rabies vaccine and not to a different companies rabies vaccine!).  Additives may include thimerosal or gentamicin.  Thimerosal is a mercury based additive commonly used as a preservative in many vaccines and gentamicin is an antibiotic used to prevent bacterial growth within the vaccine vials (allows for longer shelf-life).  Some have proposed over-vaccination as a cause of the immune system problems that we are seeing more of now.

In Conclusion

I hope that my discussion hasn’t caused too much confusion for you.  What is important is protecting your dog from potentially deadly diseases without causing too many side effects in the meantime.  This is why it is important to work with your veterinarian to get a tailor-made program for your dog.  For example, an apartment Yorkie doesn’t need the same program that a free-range (with the farmer’s sheep) Great Pyrenees does.  Risk vs Benefit is of the utmost importance.