Vaccinations for Dogs

In 2011, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) came out with their Canine Vaccination Guidelines. Vaccines are in two categories: Core and Noncore. The core vaccines are ones that every dog should receive. The noncore vaccines are ones that are needed by certain dogs under certain circumstances.

Core Vaccines

These include distemper, adenovirus-2, and parvovirus (given together as DA2P) and rabies. Adenovirus-2 protects against hepatitis as well as kennel cough. Several different organisms can cause kennel cough.    Puppies will need several “boosters” to load the immune system when they’re young, each given 3-4 weeks apart, with the final vaccine of the DA2P series given at 16 weeks of age. For rabies, a single vaccine is given between 12 and 16 weeks.

Non-Core Vaccines

These include Bordetella (kennel cough), parainfluenza (kennel cough), leptospirosis, Lyme disease, canine influenza, and rattlesnake envenomation. Whether to give any of these vaccines is dependent on what your dog does and where he goes.

One-Year vs. Three-Year Vaccinations

The guidelines state that boosters for the core vaccines, DA2P and rabies, should be given every 3 years. Even if a vaccine is labeled to be given annually, your vet is not legally required to do that. The exception is rabies vaccine; a vet must follow the label.  Most of the noncore vaccines will require annual boosters, as they don’t last as long. 

Misunderstandings About Over-Vaccinating

For many years, the attitude in the veterinary community regarding vaccinations was “It can’t hurt, so why not give it.” How wrong we were! Dr. Ron Schultz’s work in the 1990’s showing that vaccines lasted for many years changed this thinking. Holistic vets at that time were already saying that frequent vaccinations could be a problem. Dr. Jean Dodds had even shown a link between vaccinations and thyroid disease in dogs. 

However, a particular protocol is still necessary for any vet to follow. The law requires rabies vaccinations given by the age of 16 weeks, another a year later, and then every 3 years.  Core vaccines (distemper, parvo, and adenovirus) should be given to a puppy at 8, 12 and 16 weeks.  From that point on, titers should be taken a year later for distemper and parvo. If the titers are found to be high enough, it may not be necessary to vaccinate again until his annual titers are found to be too low.

What is Right for My Pet?

Pet parents must decide for themselves what they think is the best thing to do for their dog, but the following guidelines are ones to keep in mind when trying to make the decision about how often to vaccinate and with which vaccines. Ultimately, if you’re comfortable with the recommendations your vet gives you, don’t change. If you aren’t and your vet isn’t willing to work with you, look for another vet. 

Consider the following points as well:

  • Don’t start vaccinations in puppies until they are 8 or 9 weeks of age.  A puppy any younger should not be vaccinated! 
  • Request a rabies vaccination that will last for 3 years (the vaccine must be labeled for this) if your local laws allow it. 
  • Give distemper, adenovirus-2, and parvovirus (DA2P) every 3 years or based on titers.  
  • Ask to have a titer done to see if your dog has enough antibodies to avoid a vaccination. 
  • Learn about the noncore diseases and discuss with your vet whether your dog is at risk. Some of these will need a booster every year. 
  • Don’t vaccinate your dog if she is sick, in heat, pregnant, or is receiving another vaccine (space them out!).

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