are a critical component to preventive care for your dog. Thanks to the
development of vaccines, dogs have been protected from numerous disease
threats, including rabies, distemper, hepatitis and several others.
Some of these diseases can be passed from dogs to people — so canine
vaccinations have protected human health as well.
Recently, studies have shown that vaccines protect dogs for longer
than previously believed. There have also been improvements in the type
of vaccines produced. In addition, there is increased awareness and
concern that vaccination is not as harmless a procedure as once
thought. These factors have led to a growing number of veterinarians
who recommend reduced frequency of vaccinations while at the same time
tailoring vaccine recommendations to specific risk situations.
To assist veterinarians with making vaccine recommendations for
dogs, the American Animal Hospital Association [AAHA] has issued a set of
canine vaccine guidelines. Developed by a group of infectious disease
experts, immunologists, researchers and practicing veterinarians, these
guidelines were first released in 2003 and revised with new information
One of AAHA’s key recommendations is that all dogs are different —
and thus vaccine decisions should be made on an individual basis for
each dog. Issues to consider include the age, breed, health status,
environment, lifestyle, and travel habits of the dog. Health threats
vary from city to city and even in various sections of cities. You can
work with your veterinarian to tailor an immunization program that best
protects your dog based on his risk and lifestyle factors.
Is vaccinating my pet a risk to his or her health?
Vaccination against disease is a medical procedure and, like all
medical procedures, carries some inherent risk. As in any medical
procedure or decision, the benefits must be balanced against the risks.
Veterinarians recommend that no needless risks should be taken and that
the best way to accomplish that is to reduce the number and frequency
of administration of unnecessary vaccines.
As is the case with any medical decision, you and your veterinarian
should make vaccination decisions after considering your dog’s age,
lifestyle, and potential exposure to infectious diseases.
What possible risks are associated with vaccination?
Vaccine reactions, of all types, are infrequent. In general, most
vaccine reactions and side effects (such as local pain and swelling)
are self-limiting. Allergic reactions are less common, but if untreated
can be fatal. These can occur soon after vaccination. If you see such a
reaction, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
In a small number of patients, vaccines can stimulate the patient's
immune system against his or her own tissues, resulting in diseases
that affect the blood, skin, joints or nervous system. Again, such
reactions are infrequent but can be life threatening.
There is a possible complication of a tumor developing at the
vaccination site in a small number of pets, most frequently cats.
Please contact your veterinarian for more information.
How do I know which vaccines my pet needs?
There are two general groups of vaccines to consider: core and noncore vaccines.
Core vaccines are generally recommended for all dogs and
protect against diseases that are more serious or potentially fatal.
These diseases are found in all areas of North America and are more
easily transmitted than noncore diseases. The AAHA guidelines define
the following as core vaccines: distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and
Noncore vaccines are those reserved for patients at specific risk
for infection due to exposure or lifestyle. The AAHA guidelines
classify kennel cough, Lyme disease and leptospirosis vaccines within
the noncore group.
How often should my dog be vaccinated?
Make sure that your dog completes the initial series of core
vaccines administered at the puppy stage, as well as booster shots at
one year of age. Following these one-year boosters, the AAHA Canine
Vaccine Guidelines recommend that the distemper, adenovirus and
parvovirus core vaccines be administered once every three years. States
and municipalities govern how often rabies boosters are administered.
Some areas require a rabies booster be administered annually. Others
require a three-year-effective rabies booster be given every three
years. Still others allow either a one-year or a three-year rabies
vaccine to be utilized.
Noncore vaccinations should be administered whenever the risk of
the disease is significant enough to override any risk of vaccination.
For example, kennel cough vaccine may need to be administered up to
every six months in a dog repeatedly being kenneled or exposed to
groups of dogs at grooming salons or dog shows.
There is a history of yearly vaccinations boosters, and some
veterinarians do not feel it is prudent to change that recommendation
just yet. However, the AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines reflect that
there is growing support for extended duration of protection. Thus more
veterinarians are vaccinating less frequently and more selectively.
Does this mean I only need to see my veterinarian every three years?
Regular wellness examinations — at least once or twice a year — are
the most important preventive measure that you can provide for your
dog. Vaccinations are just one component of the wellness visit. To help
keep your dog in optimum health, regular wellness examinations are
critical — regardless of how often vaccines are administered.
Remember, dogs age at a much faster rate than humans, so a
once-yearly exam is similar to a human getting a physical every 5-7
years. Plus they don’t always show signs of early disease, and they
can’t easily communicate discomfort to us. During the wellness exam,
your veterinarian has an opportunity to detect and prevent problems at
an early stage.
Can my veterinarian conduct a test to see if my dog needs to be vaccinated?
Tests that measure protective antibody levels for diseases are
called titers. In recent years reliable titer tests for some diseases
such as canine distemper and parvovirus have become more readily
available and economical. Veterinarians may recommend using these titer
tests in some cases to determine whether or not vaccinations are
needed. Your veterinarian can provide you with more information on