Dog Vaccines – Get to the Point!

Canine Vaccines, there are many different philosophies on the canine vaccine protocol within the dog owning community.

While some vaccine recommendations differ based on geography and/or lifestyle of the individual dog, the consensus amongst Veterinarians is all dogs should be vaccinated to protect them from highly contagious diseases. The benefits of vaccines generally do outweigh the risk of a possible infection by a landslide. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals.

As a Veterinary Technician, I often get asked about the necessity of vaccines. Also, many of our new puppy parents are often curious as to why we give certain vaccines over and over again (or so it seems), and all the information they receive in regards to our immunization protocol can be quite overwhelming. For this reason I would like to break down and better explain the canine vaccine protocol implemented here at Sabino Veterinary Care.

1. The scoop on core vaccines

The most important immunization we administer is the Rabies Virus Vaccine. Every dog over 3 months of age in Pima County is required to be vaccinated by law, and it can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted from animals (like your dog or cat) to humans, commonly though a bite by the infected animal (the virus is carried in saliva). For a human, unless post exposure- treatment is administered prior to the onset of symptoms, Rabies is almost always fatal. The Virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.

There is no treatment for an infected animal.

Each state has different regulations on how often a Rabies vaccine needs to be given, and it also depends on how long the effects of the individual vaccine will last per manufacturer’s information.

When vaccinating any pet for the first time, we booster the injection after 1 year to establish adequate immunity. Then it only needs to be given every 3 years per state and vaccine manufacturer’s guidelines.

The 2nd vaccine we do recommend to all our canine patients is a so called combination vaccine, which includes protection from the most common infectious agents in our area. Sabino Veterinary Care carries the DA2PP version, which covers Distemper, Adenovirus Type 2 (Hepatitis), Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza.

  • Canine distemper is an often fatal, highly contagious viral disease. It can manifest with respiratory, GI, and central nervous system symptoms. Transmission can be airborne, as well as through body secretions. Young, unvaccinated puppies are most at risk.
  • Hepatitis is a viral disease affecting mainly the liver. The virus is highly resistant and can easily be spread by objects, as well as parasites in the environment. Transmission occurs through contact by mouth or nose. Even after successful treatment, the organism can be shed through all body secretions for up to 9 months.
  • Parvo is probably the most commonly recognized disease among dog owners. It is highly contagious and causes severe inflammation of the intestines. Symptoms can include fever, depression, bloody diarrhea with a distinct metallic odor, vomiting, and extreme dehydration.The virus is transmitted by fecal-oral route and can survive in the environment for several years.
  • Parainfluenza (virus) can be compared to the human cold or flu virus and causes mild to severe upper respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, gagging, discharge from eyes and nose, and fever. It is also highly contagious and spreads via droplet transmission or through contact with objects harboring the virus.

Some other vaccines used in geographically different areas of the country include Corona Virus, Lyme disease, and Leptospirosis. We do not carry any of these immunizations due to the fact that they are not commonly present in Tucson’s environment. Also, some of these “extra” vaccines are known to have a higher potential for an adverse reaction, another reason why we choose to carry our core vaccine as recognized by the American Animal Hospital Association.

We prefer to booster DAPP annually for the first few years of your dog’s life. Once immunity is established, we space out the time interval between vaccines, in order to avoid “over vaccinating” your pet. A titer can be performed in order to determine adequate immunity and can replace a vaccination any time after the first annual booster.

Another important vaccine is the Bordetella vaccine, also known as “kennel cough”. The bacterial agent is a common cause for infectious tracheobronchitis- an inflammation of the upper airway. The symptoms are very similar to those caused by the parainfluenza virus.

While we urge that every dog should be vaccinated with DAPP, the Bordetella vaccine is traditionally only given to dogs who visit the groomer or dog parks on a regular basis, or those who are going to be boarded. Our vaccine is labeled to protect for 1 year, but some boarding facilities require it to be given within 6 months of being boarded.

Generally speaking, the vaccination protocol we recommend for your dog may be different than that of your neighbor’s. We believe in tailoring vaccines (with exception of the Rabies vaccine) to each individual based in his/her lifestyle and risk level. We also prefer to give the Rabies vaccine separately from other vaccines, usually allowing 1-2 weeks in between injections. The chance of a reaction to any to the immunizations mentioned above is minimal. However if a reaction should occur, it is easier to determine which vaccine is the cause, if they are not given on the same day. This allows for each vaccine dose to promote the best possible immune response, without overwhelming the immune system.

2. Puppy vaccines or- timing is everything

We are always excited when we see a puppy on our exam schedule, and we always strive to give you as much information as possible to get your new family member off to a healthy start. A very important goal at the first visit is to establish the right vaccine schedule for your puppy. After all, the first immunizations are considered the most important ones.

Vaccine schedules have changed over the years. Sometimes we see 12-week old puppies with paperwork from the breeder stating that vaccines were already given at 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age, and that only 1 more booster is needed. Ideally we do not want to vaccinate too early. Up until they are 8 weeks old, most puppies are still protected by “passive immunity” passed on by their mother. That is why we recommend starting the DAPP series at about 8 weeks of age. We then booster the vaccine at 4 week intervals until the puppy is 16 weeks old. The last vaccine and its timing is most critical, since near that moment mom’s antibodies wear off and the puppies own immune system starts to provide adequate protection. The best protection is when 2 vaccines are given to a puppy, after 12 weeks of age.

Although the Rabies vaccine can be given as early as 3 month of age, we recommend giving it right at or after 16 weeks of age for the very same reason. Protection by the vaccine is most effective once your puppy’s own immune system takes over completely. This is also why we urge every pet owner to keep their pets isolated from other dogs of unknown vaccine history and public places until they completed their entire vaccine series at or after 16 weeks of age. Sorry, no visits to the dog park or the pet store before then.

3. Canine vaccine schedule summary

  • Rabies vaccine: at 16 weeks of age, then 1 year later, then booster every 3 years.
  • DAPP vaccine: ideally at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. Booster every year until 2-3 years of age, then booster at least every 3 years, or check titer as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Bordetella vaccine: once per year. Only recommended if being boarded, going to groomer, or visiting dog park on a regular basis.

4. Our take on over-the –counter vaccines

The Rabies vaccine can only be given by a licensed veterinarian, but there are many versions of the “combination vaccines” available to the general public. Feed stores and even pharmacies and online companies have started advertising their products. While it may save you some time and money, we do ask you to consider the risks involved in “DIY” vaccinations.

As previously stated, there are different versions of the “combination” vaccine out there, containing as many as 7 viruses. As mentioned above, this may not only mean unnecessary vaccines, but also pose an increased risk for a vaccine reaction. Another consideration is the specific shipping and handling most vaccines require. Most of them need to be kept cool at a certain temperature in order to maintain their efficacy. At Sabino Veterinary Care, we receive our vaccines directly from our supplier, who ensures proper shipping temperature. Upon arrival at the clinic, we move the product directly into a refrigerator. With over-the-counter vaccines, there is no way of knowing where exactly the vaccine came from, how long it may have been “on the road” or sitting in a hot truck in a Tucson parking lot. So there is no guarantee that the vaccine will be effective once it reaches your dog. In addition, there is no accountability if the dog is “home vaccinated”, yet contracts one of the diseases. If your pet is vaccinated at the veterinarian though, the vaccines are “guaranteed’, meaning that the vaccine manufacturer will pay for treatment if your dog should become infected.

The most important reason for seeing your veterinarian for each vaccine is that with every injection we administer, we also examine your pet, checking on the temperature, heart rate, and overall condition of your dog, thus making sure he/she is able to handle the vaccination without a risk of complications, and in some cases, identifying medical concerns before they develop into larger problems.

Very big thank you to our receptionist (and Certified Vet Tech) – Julia for all the work writing this article!

What's Next

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    Call us or schedule an appointment online.

  • 2

    Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.

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    Put a plan together for your pet.