6 min read

These Non-Core Vaccines Could Save Your Dog's Life


By Emily Bayne

Published: 08/02/2022, edited: 10/07/2022

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Virtually every dog parent is familiar with the 2 core vaccines dogs get as puppies — rabies and distemper/adenovirus/parvo (also called DAP, DHP, or DHHP). These core vaccines protect against the most common (and some of the most deadly) canine contagions. The rabies vaccine is so important that federal law requires it for all pet dogs.

But many pet parents are unaware of the non-core, or optional, vaccines their dogs may need. These include Lyme disease, bordetella, leptospirosis, and giardia vaccines, which dogs may or may not need depending on where they live and their lifestyle.

Non-core vaccines can be just as important (and potentially life-saving) as rabies and distemper vaccines — especially if your pet doesn't have a strong immune system. Read on to learn about non-core vaccines that could save your dog's life, who needs them, and how often.

Does my dog need non-core vaccines?

Pets who spend a lot of time around other dogs or in boarding facilities may benefit from the bordetella vaccine, which protects against bronchitis caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica (a type of kennel cough).

Likewise, pet parents who live in areas where Lyme disease is common may also want to get their dogs vaccinated. Even if Lyme isn't typically a problem in your area, you may still want to consider getting it for your pet.

According to the Annual Pet Parasite Forcast, the ticks that carry Lyme disease are being found in more and more parts of the country. The forecast predicts that historically low-risk areas, like the Carolinas, will see many more cases of Lyme disease in years to come.

To help you determine if your dog might benefit from any of these non-core vaccines, let's take a closer look at each one.

a black tick on a person's finger with a golden retriever dog lying in the grass in the background

Lyme disease vaccine

Many pet parents don't realize that Lyme disease can affect dogs, or that there's a vaccine that can protect their pets against its debilitating effects. 

Lyme disease can cause joint pain, mobility problems, depression, and, in some rare cases, organ damage. The scary thing about Lyme disease is that it's spread by deer and Ixodes ticks, which are so small they often go undetected by pet parents, especially on long-haired dogs.

Many pet parents wonder, "Does my dog need the Lyme disease vaccine?" The answer depends on where you live. Getting your dog vaccinated is a good idea if you live in an area with large populations of black-legged ticks or a lot of Lyme disease cases.

Lyme disease rates are rising in Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Likewise, Lyme disease hotspots like the Northeast, Midwest, and Michigan seem to be getting worse, according to the Annual Pet Parasite Forcast.

Vets say that the vaccine isn't a substitute for tick preventatives but an added layer of protection to prevent your dog from contracting the disease. The average cost to treat Lyme disease is around $2,500, which is a considerable amount considering the vaccine to prevent it is only $20 to $40 per dose.

Types of Lyme disease vaccines

There are several Lyme disease vaccines, and they all work a little differently. 

  • Fort Dodge's vaccine: Contains an inactivated version of the virus and encourages the body to make natural antibodies against it. However, many vets avoid using this vaccine because it can cause a rare but serious form of Lyme disease. 

  • Merial's vaccine: Rather than using inactivated versions of the virus to create antibodies, this vaccine already contains antibodies to prevent the virus from attaching to the dog's cells.              

  • Intervet-Schering-Plough's vaccine: This is the preferred Lyme disease vaccine for most since it's low risk and protects against 2 different proteins that transmit the virus.       

How often does my dog need the Lyme disease vaccine?

Puppies will need their first Lyme vaccine at 10 to 12 weeks of age and a booster 4 weeks later. Dogs will need an annual booster every year after their second dose.

black and white dog standing in the grass at a doggy daycare facility

Bordetella vaccine

Pet parents often ask their vets, "Does my dog need the kennel cough vaccine?" If your dog spends a lot of time in boarding facilities, daycares, or dog parks, it's a good idea to get them vaxxed. Some facilities even require dogs to be protected against bordetella. Likewise, if you have immunocompromised puppies or elderly pets, vaccinating your whole pack is a good idea.

Kennel cough is usually a mild virus, but it is highly contagious, and dogs with a compromised immune system can face complications. The problem is that several different pathogens can cause kennel cough — but the vaccine only protects dogs against bordetella, the most common type. The vaccine will not protect your dog if they come in contact with parainfluenza or canine adenovirus type 2.  

Types of Bordetella vaccines and preventatives

There are 3 types of protection against bordetella:

  • Nasal spray                
  • Oral vaccine        
  • Subcutaneous injection   

The injectable vaccine is less effective, so vets typically only suggest that form if the dog is reactive. The nasal and oral vaccines have the highest efficacy rate, but they still aren't 100% effective.    

On average, the cost to treat kennel cough ranges between $300 and $3,000. On the other hand, the cost to vaccinate your dog is around $100 on average (including the vaccination and clinic visit). Those who want to save money can buy the vaccine over the counter from most pet supply stores but will have to give the shot themselves. All in all, it's far more cost-efficient to prevent kennel cough than to treat it.

How often does my dog need the bordetella vaccine?

Puppies will receive their first dose at the age of 6 to 8 weeks. Your vet will recommend boosters once every 6 to 12 months after that depending on your dog's level of risk.

golden dog drinking out of a puddle of water

Leptospirosis vaccine

Leptospirosis is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition caused by Leptospira, a type of bacteria that lives in water. Depending on the strain, this condition can attack a dog's vital organs, cause internal bleeding, or present no evident symptoms. Vet costs to treat organ damage and hemorrhaging due to lepto can soar well into the thousands, and treatment isn't always effective. 

The vaccine protects pets against the most common and most dangerous strains. Unvaccinated dogs can contract leptospirosis in several ways, most commonly by coming in contact with rodent urine or swimming in contaminated water. 

This bacteria is rare in most parts of the US, but those who live in rural parts of Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern states may want to vaccinate their pets, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors. 

Moreover, leptospirosis poses a risk to pet parents since the condition can pass between humans and dogs. Unfortunately, like most vaccines, the lepto vaccine is only effective in two-thirds of cases and doesn't protect against all strains.

How often does my dog need the leptospirosis vaccine?

Puppies 8 weeks or older are eligible for the first vaccine, but they will need a booster 2 to 4 weeks after the first dose and yearly thereafter.   

veterinarian in blue scrubs holding the paw of a black and brown dog

Giardia vaccine

Unlike the other conditions covered on this list, the giardia vaccine protects pets from parasites rather than bacterial and viral infections.

Giardia is a widespread intestinal parasite thought to affect 1 in 10 adult dogs and more than half of all puppies. A giardia infection may manifest as gastrointestinal symptoms, dehydration, anemia, dull coat, and unexplained weight loss.      

Most healthy adult dogs can fight off the infection naturally, though they can transmit it to other dogs. Immunocompromised dogs are at higher risk of developing complications from giardia, and the condition can be fatal in pups and elderly dogs.

Dogs can pick up giardia in a number of ways, from consuming contaminated food or water to being around a giardia-positive pooch. Vaccinating your dog against giardia is a good idea if your pet is very young, old, or has a weak immune system since the parasite is prevalent among dogs.  

A unique property of the giardia vaccine is it can both prevent giardia infection and help reduce symptom severity after cyst exposure.

How often does my dog need the giardia vaccine?

The vaccine is approved for dogs 6 weeks and older and may cause mild side effects, including skin irritation and localized swelling. Dogs will require a booster shot 2-4 weeks after the first dose and once yearly after that.   

Are non-core vaccines right for your dog?

The answer to this question will depend on many factors, like where you live, your lifestyle, and whether your dog is around a lot of other dogs in a close setting. You should also consider your dog's age and general health since puppies and elderly dogs may not have an immune system strong enough to fight off bacteria and viruses.

Never administer a non-core vaccine to your dog without consulting your vet first — they will be able to tell you the potential risks and benefits based on your dog's lifestyle and medical history.

Got more questions about non-core vaccines for dogs? Chat with a veterinary professional today to get the lowdown. 

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