Vaccinations have long been seen as a way to keep your pet healthy and disease free. Some are required by law and some are optional, depending on the lifestyle your pet leads. What do we, as pet owners, really know about vaccinations? What do they prevent and which one should we get and which should we skip?

This is a brief primer about the most common vaccinations domesticated animals have available to them. This is no way intended as a guide to what you should or shouldn’t do as far as vaccinations for your pet; your veterinarian is the best judge of what’s best for your pet.

Vaccines help prevent many illnesses that affect pets. Not only are there different vaccines for different diseases, there are different types and combinations of vaccines. Vaccination is a procedure that has risks and benefits that must be weighed for every pet relative to his lifestyle and health.

Vaccines help prepare the body’s immune system to fight the invasion of disease-causing organisms. Vaccines contain antigens, which look like the disease-causing organism to the immune system but don’t actually cause disease. When the vaccine is introduced to the body, the immune system is mildly stimulated. If a pet is ever exposed to the real disease, his immune system is now prepared to recognize and fight it off entirely or reduce the severity of the illness.

Vaccines are generally categorized. Core vaccines are those that should be given to every dog (rabies). Non-core vaccines are given when the situation deems necessary (Lyme disease). Generally, all municipalities have some rule requiring domesticated animals be vaccinated against rabies. If your pets live in the city or on a farm, most likely they are legally required to be vaccinated against rabies.

Core vaccines

The rabies vaccine protects your dog against infection of the rabies virus. It is given to puppies at 12 weeks-old, with booster shots at one year and every three years after that. The rabies vaccine is critical, not just for the health of cats and dogs, but for public health in general.

The DA22P vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects your dog from many serious illnesses, the most common of which is distemper. Distemper is a viral disease that affects both the immune and neurological systems, and it can be rapidly fatal. The DA22P also protects from adenovirus-2, parvovirus and parainfluenza — all of which range from serious to potentially fatal to your canine.

This vaccine starts around six to eight weeks-old and is given every three to four weeks until the puppy is 14 to 16 weeks-old. It is given as a booster shot at one year-old, and again every three years.

Non-core vaccines

The bordatella vaccine protects against a highly contagious bacteria that causes respiratory tract infections in dogs. This vaccine is usually required by establishments that provide boarding or doggy daycare and if your dog frequents a dog park, this may not be a bad idea.

Canine influenza

Canine influenza is an emerging disease that only affects dogs in some parts of the country, like ours right now. Dogs who live in areas like ours and who go to places where there are a lot of dogs indoors at once (kennels, daycare, dog shows, etc.), should get this. It protects against a highly contagious respiratory disease that has about a five percent mortality rate. Your veterinarian can confirm whether this disease has been noted in your area and determine whether the vaccine is needed for your dog.

Lyme vaccine

The Lyme vaccine provides about 85 to 90 percent protection against Lyme disease in dogs in areas with ticks and where the disease is present. “Some dogs do not produce a good response to the vaccine therefore, even though the vaccine is licensed for one year, some dogs may need to receive this vaccine every six to nine months to maintain adequate protection. Your veterinarian can help you decide if this one is for your pet or not.


Leptospirosis, a disease mostly unknown to the general public, is caused by a bacterial infection spread through the urine of wildlife (usually rodents). An infection can cause serious liver and/or kidney damage and is potentially transmissible to people. Dogs exposed to wildlife or any outdoor water sources may be at risk for this infection. Ask your vet if “lepto” is prevalent in your area, and if your dog is at risk.

For a full schedule of vaccines and schedules for dogs and cats, visit:

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