Understanding Dog Vaccines and Vaccination Schedules

Make no bones about it -- most of our four-footed friends hate going to the vet. Who can blame them? No one likes being poked and prodded with needles and medical instruments, least of all our precious pups!

Vet visits are a painful, but necessary, part of dog ownership. Pups and people alike are truly lucky to live in the era of modern medicine, where diseases which once killed millions of humans and animals are now virtually nonexistent -- mostly thanks to vaccines.

With so much information out there, it can be hard to know when your dog should get vaccinated and why it’s so important. Feeling a little confused or overwhelmed? Don’t fret! We’ve done the hard work for you and combed through the veterinary jargon to provide you with the most relevant and trusted information about your dog’s vaccination schedule.

Why do dogs need vaccines?

Most people who surf the internet often are familiar with the recent “anti-vax” movement. Self-proclaimed “anti-vaxxers” choose not to vaccinate themselves and/or their children against deadly diseases like measles and polio -- largely due to a disproven study which claimed that vaccines cause autism.

Unfortunately, the “anti-vax” movement is spreading to pets. As of 2019, veterinarians around the world are reporting that more dog owners are choosing not to vaccinate their pets -- again, due to the false claim that vaccines cause autism. (By the way, there is no such thing as “canine autism”.)

The scientific evidence is clear: choosing not to vaccinate your dog will have deadly consequences. Core vaccines protect dogs from lethal diseases like canine parvovirus and rabies, which cause unfathomable suffering for dogs and almost always result in death.

Dogs infected with canine parvovirus usually die within 48 to 72 hours after the first sign of symptoms, unless they are diagnosed and treated immediately. Rabies is even deadlier -- there is no treatment or cure for rabies, and the disease can only be confirmed post-mortem. Even worse, infected dogs can spread rabies to humans. In countries where the rabies vaccine isn’t mandatory, the disease kills 59,000 people annually, on average.

Which core vaccines does your dog need?

According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) vaccination guidelines, all dogs, regardless of their age, breed or location, must receive the following core vaccinations to avoid contracting potentially deadly diseases. These include:

  • Canine distemper virus (CDV)
  • Canine adenovirus (CAV)
  • Canine parvovirus
  • Rabies*

*In the WSAVA’s vaccination guidelines, the rabies vaccine is listed as a core vaccine only in regions where the disease is endemic. While the rabies vaccination is, unfortunately, not mandatory worldwide, domestic pets in the USA and the UK must be vaccinated against rabies.

Which non-core vaccines does your dog need?

Non-core vaccinations are usually optional, but may be required or recommended depending on where you live. The WSAVA lists the following non-core vaccines in their guidelines:

  • Rabies (see above disclaimer)
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Lyme disease
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Canine influenza virus
  • Leptospirosis
What should your dog's vaccination schedule look like?

Depending on the type of vaccine being administered, puppies can receive their first vaccinations at the tender age of 3 weeks old. Most puppies will get their first shots between the age of 6 and 8 weeks.

Here’s a breakdown of when your dog should receive their vaccinations based on their age, courtesy of the WSAVA’s canine vaccination guidelines:

3 Weeks Old

Young puppies living in regions where bordetella is endemic may receive a single dose of the bordetella vaccine at the age of 3 weeks. Some bordetella vaccines are first administered at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the strain of bacterin used in the vaccine.

6 to 8 weeks old

Between the age of 6 and 8 weeks, your puppy will receive the first dose of the following vaccines:

  • Parvovirus vaccine (core)
  • Distemper vaccine (core)
  • Adenovirus vaccine (core)
  • Parainfluenza virus (non-core)
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (non-core)
  • Canine influenza virus (non-core)*
  • Leptospirosis (non-core)**

*Puppies must be older than 6 weeks of age to receive the canine influenza vaccine. A second dose will be administered within 2 to 4 weeks.

**Puppies must be at least 8 weeks of age or older to receive the leptospirosis vaccine. A second dose will be administered within 2 to 4 weeks.

10 to 12 weeks old

Depending on when your dog received their first round of vaccines, additional doses of the following vaccines will be administered every 2 to 4 weeks until the puppy is approximately 16 weeks old:

  • Parvovirus vaccine (core)
  • Distemper vaccine (core)
  • Adenovirus vaccine (core)
  • Parainfluenza vaccine (non-core)

If your dog was vaccinated for bordetella bronchiseptica, they will also receive a second dose between the age of 10 and 12 weeks.

At 12 weeks of age, your dog will receive their first dose of the following vaccines:

  • Rabies*
  • Borrelia burgdorferi, a strain of Lyme disease (non-core)**

*The rabies vaccine can sometimes be administered before 12 weeks of age. However, in these cases, dogs must be revaccinated at 12 weeks. In high-risk areas, a second dose will be administered within 2 to 4 weeks.

**Another dose of the Lyme disease vaccine will be administered at the age of 16 weeks.

6 months to one year old

Your dog will usually have all their initial vaccines by the age of 16 weeks. Then, it’s time for booster shots.

The following booster vaccines may be administered at either 6 months or 1 year old:

  • Parvovirus vaccine (core)
  • Distemper vaccine (core)
  • Adenovirus (core)
  • Parainfluenza (non-core)
Which vaccines should my dog receive annually?

The following booster vaccines must be administered annually:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (non-core)
  • Lyme disease (non-core)
  • Leptospirosis (non-core)
How often should my dog receive their core vaccine boosters?

Once your dog has received their first core booster vaccinations at either 6 months or 1 year old, they’ll be revaccinated once every three years.

The rabies vaccination may be administered once every year or once every three years, depending on the duration of immunity.

What should I do if I have questions or concerns regarding my dog's vaccines?

Always consult your trusted veterinarian with any questions specific to your dog’s health and vaccination schedule.

In this day and age, there’s a lot of misguided and downright false information regarding vaccines on the internet. Only trust information from reputable sources. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association are excellent resources for dog owners.

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