Dr. Debra Primovic answers questions about dog vaccination.

Ask Dr. Debra: What Happens If You Miss a Dog Vaccination?

This Week’s Question:

I’m fostering a Dogo Argentino named Glenda that is due for her yearly vaccinations. Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 crisis has made us reluctant to visit the vet’s office, both due to my autoimmune disorder and concerns for Glenda’s health. Can we hold off on her shots until this blows over or should we get them done ASAP?

Kim Palma

Dr. Debra’s Answer:


This is an excellent question and very timely considering the COVID-19 situation.

Concerning vaccination, there are a few questions to consider:

  1. What is the duration of immunity in a previously well-vaccinated dog?
  2. What are the rules and requirements of the foster group and laws regarding rabies vaccination in your county?
  3. What are your options for getting veterinary care during a pandemic outbreak or when immunocompromised?

These are all extremely important, and I’ll try to address each below.

Duration of Canine Immunity

If your dog has been adequately vaccinated to date and due for yearly vaccines, the question is “How long can you be overdue and still keep your dog safe?”

The answer is – that depends. The immunity for many diseases such as distemper and parvovirus may be good for at least 3 years and last up to 7 years. Immunity for other diseases like leptospirosis may last for a much shorter period of time, falling anywhere between 6 months and 1 year.

It is possible to have vaccine titers (a blood test) completed to determine if immunity is in place (i.e. the presence of antibodies) or get a booster vaccine if you have an inadequate amount of antibodies. Your veterinarian can help guide you through this process. Learn more about vaccine titers here.

Most adult dogs with a solid vaccine history are considered protected if less than 6 months overdue.

Rules and Laws Regarding Vaccinations

Some foster groups require very specific vaccine protocols based on threats of exposure. In addition, laws regarding rabies vaccination can vary from county to county. Most areas require vaccination in adult dogs every 3 years.

Options for Veterinary Care During a Pandemic

As we consider options for veterinary care during a pandemic or even during a personal health crisis, telehealth or “telemedicine” is an excellent option for vaccinations. Learn more about telemedicine here.

Telemedicine can come in several forms, including video or phone consults and curbside service. Due to the COVID-19 situation, some veterinary clinics only provide curbside service, while others are providing normal operations with some exceptions, including mask requirements, limitations to number of visitors, changes in access points (doors you enter and exit may be different), and strict disinfection standards.

Curbside service means a technician comes to your car and takes your dog into the clinic, where they perform a full physical examination, run tests (such as heart worm tests and fecal tests), and give any needed vaccines. They can also provide prescriptions if needed. Communication and payment can be handled over the phone or at the curb.

A telehealth visit with curbside service may be the best option for protecting your personal health.

My recommendations are:

  1. Find out exactly what vaccinations your dog needs. Is the legally required 3-year rabies shot due this year or was it given last year? Recommendations may vary depending on your dog’s exposure risk and your area in the country.
  2. Find out the requirements of your foster group.
  3. Call your local veterinary office or mobile vet clinic to learn about telehealth options. Many clinics will be flexible and may provide curbside service.

Best of luck to you and Glenda!

Dr. Debra

Please note: Dr. Debra’s guidance should not be considered veterinary advice like that provided by your veterinarian, since she is unable to personally examine your pet. If you have an immediate concern or emergency, contact a veterinarian or local veterinary hospital about your specific situation.