What vaccines does your dog really need?
This is a question commonly asked by dog lovers everywhere. Dog lovers want to do the right thing, protect their dog but at the same time minimize risk of problems to their dog and avoid unnecessary expenses.
In this article, I’d like to address this question. I’m the Irreverent Veterinarian. I give you my opinion and speak the truth regardless of if pet owners or other veterinarians like it or not.
The question that I’ll address today is…What Vaccines to Dogs Really Need?
Are Vaccines Safe?
Vaccines have a low rate of reactions but there are problems. Some of the problems can be life-threatening. Because there are issues with vaccine safety, it is ideal to give only what a dog really needs. I do not believe in OVER vaccinating.
What Vaccines do Dogs Really Need?
This is the answer. It depends upon the age and risk factors of a dog. I’ll tell you what I think and even tell you how I vaccinate my own dogs.
Puppies should receive a full series of vaccines beginning at 6 to 8 weeks of age and repeated every 3 to 4 weeks until they are 16 to 20 weeks of age to protect them against all the common diseases.
Unvaccinated adult dogs should also receive two full sets of vaccines spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart.
Adult dogs should received vaccines as required by law (rabies) and other vaccines at least every 3 years.
- Puppies – Puppies should receive immunity against some diseases through their mothers milk but this disappears during the first few months of their life. To protect puppies during this critical time, a well-researched approach is taken: A series of vaccines is given every 3 to 4 weeks until the chance of contracting an infectious disease is very low. The typical vaccine is a “combination” that protects against canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza, and canine parvovirus (the four viruses are commonly abbreviated DHPP).
Many veterinarians also recommend incorporating leptospirosis in the vaccination series (this combination is abbreviated DHLPP). Rabies vaccines are given between 16 and 26 weeks of age in most states (governed by law).
- Dogs between 20 weeks and 2 years of age
It is typical to booster the puppy shots in young adult dogs to ensure adequate lifelong immunity against deadly viral diseases. Your veterinarian will likely “booster” your dog to protect against canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza, and canine parvovirus (the four viruses are commonly abbreviated DHPP). Many veterinarians also recommend incorporating leptospirosis in the vaccination series (the 5 components are abbreviated DHLPP).
Many dogs are also immunized against bacterial infections (e.g. bordetella and leptospirosis). The immunization for these diseases typically do not persist for more than a year making yearly (and occasionally more frequent) booster vaccines advisable.
The bordetella protects against “kennel cough” and is often a requirement of boarding facilities. Bordetella is also recommended for dogs that attend dog parks, conformation shows or agility competitions.
There is currently a vaccination available for canine influenza virus. The vaccine is recommended for dogs “at risk”. Dogs that frequently interact with other dogs, participate in activities with other dogs or are boarded are considered at risk and can benefit from vaccination.
The rabies vaccines should be given as recommended by local law. Newer vaccines effective against specific forms of the bacteria leptospirosis may be important in some areas.
- Adult dogs (over 2 years of age)
Annual revaccination (boosters) is recommended for the first year after the “puppy vaccines”; thereafter, you should discuss the benefits and risks of annual vaccination with your vet.
In the past, the DHLP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus) vaccine was typically given each year. These recommendations are changing. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) came out with new guidelines in 2006 that suggests that adult dog vaccines boosters may be adequate if given every 3 years. Specific vaccine requirements for individual dogs should be discussed with your veterinarian.
The most appropriate vaccination program for your pet should be followed.
Again, if the risk of kennel cough or canine influenza virus is great, a vaccine against bordetella and canine flu is recommended. Both vaccines need to be given twice initially then each year. You and your veterinarian should assess whether it is required.
The rabies vaccine should be given as recommended by local law. Newer vaccines effective against specific forms of the bacteria leptospirosis may be important in some areas. The need for the vaccine should be determined based on the area of the country your dog lives in and his or her life-style. If given, they should be administered once to twice a year.
Other vaccinations that are sometimes given by your veterinarian include coronavirus, Lyme and giardia. These are not routinely given to every animal, and their use should be discussed with your veterinarian. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) came out with new guidelines in 2006 that suggests that coronavirus and giardia vaccines are not recommended for dogs at any age. The Borreliosis/Lyme disease vaccine is recommended for dogs that live in an endemic area where risk of exposure to the tick vector is high or dogs that travel to endemic areas.
Another option to determine what vaccines your dog needs is to do vaccine titers.
If your adult dog has an adverse reaction to the vaccine (fever, vomiting, shaking, facial swelling or hives) discuss the risk of annual revaccination with your veterinarian.
Should You do Vaccine Titers?
A vaccine titer is a blood test that determines the presence of antibodies that develop in response to the vaccine. Since varying amounts of antibodies can be detected in different animals, titers are expressed in terms of ratios. Adequate levels of vaccine titers indicate that the pet does not need a booster vaccination at that time. Low titers indicate that vaccination will be necessary to provide immune protection. This is a method to determine if a dog needs vaccines.
Historically, the cost of doing this test is far greater than giving the vaccine and therefore most veterinarians and pet owners did not do them. However, with the increased risk of vaccine complications, this is a reasonable option.
How I Vaccinate My Dogs?
This is what I do. I understand the needs, benefits, and risks of vaccines.
- For puppies – I give them a full vaccine series as described above and booster vaccines when they are one year of age. They are vaccinated for rabies as required by law (yearly or every 3 years depending on the state/county law). I do the minimum required by law.
- For unvaccinated adult dogs – they receive two sets of vaccines 3 to 4 weeks apart including bordetella and the canine flu vaccine. They are vaccinated for rabies as required by law depending on the county/state law.
- Adult dogs that were full immunized as puppies or young adults. Adult dogs receive vaccine booster every 3 years. They have yearly examinations and after they age of 7 –they have yearly blood work as well (which has nothing to do with vaccination – but is a way for me to evaluate their overall health). They are vaccinated for rabies as required by law (yearly or every 3 years depending on the state/county law). I do the minimum required by law.
- Senior dogs in good health (large breeds over the age of 7 or small breeds over the age of 10) – receive vaccine booster every 3 years, yearly exams and yearly blood work. They are vaccinated for rabies as required by law (yearly or every 3 years depending on the state/county law). I do the minimum required by law.
- Senior dogs with illnesses and on medications – For my senior dogs that are in poor health or on medications – to be honest – I don’t vaccinate them except for Rabies (as required by law). They do receive exams and blood work twice a year (at least or more if needed depending on these health). I asked 5 other veterinarians with dogs – how they deal with their own dogs and they do essentially the same as outlined here
My Final Thoughts – What Vaccines Do Dogs Really Need?
You should discuss all vaccination programs with your veterinarian. Follow their recommendations based on your dogs risk. If you are not sure what your dog needs, consider vaccine titers. There is no real disadvantage of doing the titers other than the expense of doing them.
The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to PetPlace.com. The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can’t say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another view. All opinions are those of the Politically Incorrect Vet and not the views of PetPlace.com and are not endorsed by PetPlace.com.