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August is National Immunization Awareness Month

August is National Pet Immunization Awareness Month, so what better topic to discuss with dog lovers than the importance of immunizing your furry friends to keep them healthy and happy for a long time? Just like their human counterparts, immunizations are an important component to keeping your best friend healthy. Vaccines can protect your dog from contracting a variety of illnesses, some of which can be fatal. Unvaccinated pets are at a much greater risk for contracting deadly diseases and spreading them around. Diseases that are now considered rare could once again become a problem. So, not vaccinating your dog at all is generally bad for your dog AND for the canine world.

Pet Vaccines were first established to study the diseases of animals and prevent outbreak of plagues in livestock. These plagues were once widespread and it was up to veterinarians of the time to create vaccines to prevent losses to livestock that affected food supply to many parts of the country. Soon vaccinations moved from sheep and cattle to dogs and cats. Vaccines prevent illness by stimulating the immune system to create defenses against diseases. The immune system t creates antibodies to fight off the real disease if your dog is ever exposed to it. 

It was once the standard practice to vaccinate puppies multiple times, then move adults to an annual vaccination schedule. But recently these guidelines have moved to core vaccines that may be given to adult dogs in intervals of three years or more rather than annually. Core vaccines are the “must haves” of immunizations. These are the basic vaccines that most dogs need to prevent most major illnesses and diseases:

Core Vaccines for Dogs

The following canine vaccines are recommended for all dogs in the United States:

Canine Distemper, an often fatal virus that starts in the respiratory system; highly contagious to unvaccinated dogs

Canine Parvovirus, a highly contagious, life-threatening virus that causes severe gastrointestinal effects

Canine Type 2 Adenovirus, a virus related to hepatitis (not contagious to humans); may cause kennel cough

Rabies, a zoonotic (transmitted from animal to animal and from animal to human) disease that is always fatal in dogs

Non-core vaccines are more specific vaccines, more custom ordered depending on the dog and their lifestyle.

The following vaccines may be recommended by your veterinarian based on your region and your dog's environment (risk of exposure):

Bordetella, a bacterium known to cause kennel cough

Canine Influenza, a type of canine flu that emerged around 2005

Canine Parainfluenza, a respiratory virus that is also known to cause kennel cough

Leptospirosis, a serious infectious disease caused by a bacterium sometimes found in the urine of wildlife and rodents in warm, moist climates

Knowing when to vaccinate is another confusing area for pet owners. According to the American Animal Hospital Association there are basic guidelines that most vets follow.


In most, but not all states, there are laws requiring a rabies vaccination. These laws vary across the United States by state and region. Regardless of the laws in your state, the rabies vaccination is considered a necessary, core requirement under AAHA guidelines. Most vets recommend an initial dose for puppies at 16 weeks of age and no earlier than 12 weeks of age. In fact, many states and municipalities require administration for puppies 12-to-16 weeks. Revaccination or a booster, is required within one year of the initial dose. However, many states allow discretion in the choice of a one-year or three-year initial rabies vaccine, in which case the timing of the booster will depend on the original vaccine’s specifications. In addition, some jurisdictions recognize only the three-year vaccine. Regulations vary, but your veterinarian will know the appropriate duration for the rabies booster.

Distemper, Parvo, Adenovirus, Parainfluenza

Vaccination for these diseases is usually administered as a combination. The combination vaccine for parvo and distemper may begin with puppies as young as six weeks of age, while the combination of all four vaccines is usually begun at 10-12 weeks, with boosters to follow every 2-to-4 weeks until at least 16 weeks. If your dog lives in a high-risk environment, your vet may recommend a final dose at 18-to-20 weeks of age. Of course, “high risk” is a subjective assessment, but would be applicable in areas where incidences of distemper and parvo are prevalent. It would also apply if your puppy has had significant exposure to other dogs or to potentially contaminated environments. Your vet will administer an initial booster one year after the initial vaccination. Subsequent boosters will follow at one-to-three-year intervals, depending on your vet’s recommendation.

Of course, just like human vaccines, dog immunizations come with risks that owners should be aware of. These risks include adverse reactions that vary from mild to serious. While most vaccines are considered safe, there is a small percentage of dogs that have allergic reactions. If you are afraid that your dog may have issues or your dog has had issues in the past, please speak to your veterinarian , as there are many options that allow your pet to still receive the vaccine and its protective factors.

As you can see, there are many benefits to vaccinating your canine companions. First, vaccinations prevent many pet illnesses, they can help avoid costly treatments for diseases that can be prevented, vaccinations prevent diseases that can be passed between animals and also from animals to people, and in many areas, local or state laws require certain vaccinations of household pets.

While there are risks that can be associated with vaccines, most experts agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Millions of pets are vaccinated annually with little to no risk or side effects. Ask your veterinarian what vaccines are best for your pet and together you can create a preventative wellness plan that is best for your pet based on age, lifestyle and physical health.  Just like proper diet and exercise, immunizations are an important part of keeping our best friends happy and healthy for many years.

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