Vaccines for Your Dog

Posted by  on June 8, 2010

We all know we have to vaccinate our human children against measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox, but what about our four-legged children?  Is it vital that they have their shots or is it just a way for my vet to make more money?

All dogs need some vaccines

Prior to the advent of modern medicine, dogs were generally left unprepared for the infectious diseases they would encounter in the environment.  The dog would contract one of these diseases and die a horrible death.  With advances in veterinary science, vaccines have been developed that can spare your dog from this fate, but only if you use them!

Even though most dogs are now vaccinated, making it hard for your dog to catch something from another dog, the germs that cause disease still exist in the wild, and your dog is still at risk of becoming infected.  However, if you properly vaccinate your dog, you can prevent him from becoming ill, or at least you can reduce the severity of the illness if he does get infected.

Will vaccines make my dog sick?

Vaccines are meant to sensitize the immune system to recognize a certain bug as a foreign invader so the immune system will respond appropriately when it meets the invader again.  The best way to do this is to give the dog a small dose of the actual bug.  Vaccines may contain modified live germs or killed germs.  The modified live vaccines have been altered to keep your dog from getting too sick from the vaccine, and provide strong, fast, and long-lasting protection.  Killed virus vaccines do not produce as much of an immune response, and must be reinforced by booster vaccinations throughout your dog’s life.

Although there are risks associated with vaccines, they are minimal and can be avoided by taking some precautions before vaccinating.  Your dog should not have any internal or external parasites like worms, fleas or ticks before receiving a vaccine.  In addition, your dog should not be pregnant when vaccinated.

Vaccines put stress on a dog’s immune system.  They should not be given to dogs who are too young or those who are sick or malnourished.  Dogs who fall into any of these categories should be isolated from other dogs and from wildlife until they are old enough and well enough to be vaccinated.

What diseases can my dog be vaccinated against?

Distemper is probably the most serious viral disease that affects dogs.  If your dog is not vaccinated and comes into contact with the canine distemper virus, he or she stands a 50% chance of getting sick, and once sick, he or she stands a 90% chance of dying.  The dog, usually a puppy, will stop eating and drinking.  Combined with diarrhea, these symptoms cause the dog to become dehydrated.  As the virus takes control of the dog’s body, he will show signs of respiratory distress, fever, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea before he passes on.

Parainfluenza is an infection of the respiratory system.  Although it usually runs its course in 5 – 10 days, it is common for a dog to get a bacterial infection while his or her immune system is busy fighting off the viral infection.  Parainfluenza is an airborne virus and is highly contagious.  It causes a bad cough which is made worse by excitement, drafts, and high humidity.

Bordetella Brochiseptica, known as “Kennel Cough”, is a bacterial illness that causes a dry cough followed by retching or gagging to clear mucus from the airways.  This disease is common among dogs who live or play with a large population of other dogs.

Infectious Hepatitis causes fever, enlarged tonsils, and liver and kidney problems.  The vaccine to prevent this disease is somewhat controversial as many dogs have ended up with lingering kidney infections following vaccination.

Coronavirus causes stomach upset, including vomiting and severe yellow-orange diarrhea which may contain blood or mucus.

Adenovirus may be of type 1 or type 2.  Type 1 causes the dog’s eyes to turn blue and opaque and affects the kidneys.  Type 2 is primarily a respiratory event, causing pneumonia, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and sore throat.  Currently, vaccinations are only routinely given against type 2.

Parvovirus causes the sudden onset of diarrhea and vomiting in puppies.  Vaccination must be done after the dog has been weaned, as the mother’s antibodies passed along in milk will prevent the vaccine from sensitizing the puppy’s immune system.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that causes congestion, fever, and loss of appetite.  The liver and kidneys may also become involved, causing jaundice, excessive urination, and excessive thirst.

Rabies is a viral disease passed in the saliva of infected animals.  If an un-vaccinated dog is bitten by a rabid animal, it is nearly always fatal.  The virus attacks the dog’s nervous system, causing disorientation, irritability, and paralysis.

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines are those which the American Animal Hospital Association has determined should be given to all dogs.  These include only rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis.  Non-core vaccines, such as those given for kennel cough, may be given to your dog if his living circumstances warrant.  For example, dogs who live on a farm may be susceptible to different diseases than those who never leave their Manhattan penthouses.  Dogs in the Rocky Mountains may be exposed to diseases that dogs in Peoria are not likely to see.  Non-core vaccines are given at the discretion of a veterinarian, based on the germs your dog is likely to encounter.

Other than the vaccine given for rabies, most vaccines come pre-packaged to include protection against several different diseases.  Five-way vaccines include distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, hepatitis, and parainfluenza.  Six-way vaccines are five-way vaccines that also provide protection against coronavirus.  Seven-way vaccines add 2 strains of Leptospirosis, but eliminate coronavirus from the mix.

When should vaccines be given?

Puppy shots can start as early as three weeks of age.  However, a puppy is usually given only bordetella and/or parainfluenza shots this early.  These shots should be boosted every 6 – 12 months to provide continuous protection.

At 6 weeks, a puppy is usually given a five-way, six-way, or seven-way combination vaccine.   Most of these vaccines are repeated every two-to-three weeks until the puppy reaches 12 weeks of age.

Your veterinarian will likely have a protocol he follows for dogs which includes vaccines for viruses common to your area of the country.  A sample schedule, appropriate for most dogs, is shown below:

  • 5 weeks:  parvovirus, if the puppy is at high risk
  • 6 and 9 weeks:  five-way, plus coronavirus if indicated
  • 12 weeks:  rabies
  • 12 & 15 weeks:  seven-way, plus coronavirus and lyme if indicated
  • Adult boosters:  seven-way, plus coronavirus and lyme if indicated, plus rabies

Small dog being vaccinated by a vet

All of these vet visits are  expensive!

Taking your dog to the vet for vaccinations may seem like it is draining your wallet more than protecting your dog, but there are two primary advantages to having your vet give your dog his or her shots:

  • each time the vet sees your puppy, it helps them to get familiar with each other, making future visits less stressful
  • vaccination time allows your vet to check your dog’s general health, an important step to catching diseases early enough to provide effective treatment.

However, you can give vaccinations at home, if you prefer.  Vaccines are given either subcutaneously (under the skin), intranasally (up the nose), or intramuscularly (in a muscle mass).

The subcutaneous route is the most common and easiest.  Using each syringe and needle only once, you simply insert the needle into a vial of the vaccine, draw out the desired dose, and inject it into your dog.  An easy way to give your dog a shot is to do it while he is eating.  Prepare the vaccine, set a food dish in front of your dog, grab a fold of skin over his shoulders or neck, and stick the needle in.  Pull out slightly on the plunger to make sure there is no blood (which would indicate you have entered a blood vessel).  Then depress the plunger to inject the vaccine.

Some vaccines will require mixing before they are drawn out of the vial.  To do this, liquid is drawn out of vial #1 as described above, then the liquid is injected into vial #2 containing a powder.  After removing the needle from the vial, the vial is shaken to mix the liquid and powder portions of the vaccine.  The needle is then re-inserted to draw out the desired dose of the mixture, and the same process is followed as detailed above.

For vaccines that require intranasal administration, the vaccine is drawn into the syringe using a needle, then the needle is removed from the syringe and an adaptor is attached in its place.  The adaptor is placed up the dog’s nose and one half of the dose is sprayed into each nostril.  Your dog will likely sneeze or shake his head after receiving a vaccine in this manner.

Intramuscular vaccines are somewhat more complicated.  If you will be vaccinating your dog at home, consult your vet for the best way to complete an intramuscular injection.

Vaccines for home use can be purchased online through sites such as Doctors Foster and Smith, but are not generally available through 1-800-PetMeds or