The most important vaccinations for your dog

dog being vaccinated

No question about it – vaccinations help protect your dog from deadly infectious diseases. But which vaccinations should your dog have? What does your puppy actually receive in its initial immunisations, and how often should your dog have boosters to ensure life-long protection?

Why should I have my dog vaccinated?

Inoculation has come under increasing criticism in recent years. Many dog owners find that the annoyances caused by the cost of expensive vaccine drugs, the greed of pharmaceutical companies and the sheer number of vaccine boosters and the accompanying side effects simply outweigh the fear of your dog catching a disease.

However, the fact that strict vaccination plans have succeeded in controlling some of the world’s most deadly infectious diseases should not be overlooked. Nationwide vaccination against highly infectious bacteria and viruses has helped to minimise the risk of infection and greatly reduce the number of associated deaths. Each dog that is vaccinated helps to contain or prevent epidemics, meaning that vaccinating your dog not only protects its life but also the lives of other animals around it.

What should my dog be vaccinated against?

Vaccinations provide the most reliable form of protection for your four-legged friend. They protect against life-threatening diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, leptospirosis, hepatitis contagiosa canis, rabies, kennel cough, babesiosis and Lyme disease, to name but a few. National vaccination recommendations from committees differentiate between core vaccines (mandatory) and non-core vaccines (optional).

Core and non-core components

So-called core components are vaccinations that every dog should have at all times. They are directed against pathogens that are mostly deadly and can endanger the life of both the animals themselves and, in some cases, their owners. These “mandatory vaccinations” are essential for your dog. Many countries also state these vaccinations as mandatory requirements for entry, with owners needing to provide proof in your pet’s vaccinations records.

Recommendations for non-core vaccinations are not so broad-ranging – although they are no less important – as they do not affect all dogs at all times. The need for vaccination will depend on a range of factors, including age, body type and lifestyle. Each individual case needs to be assessed before deciding whether this vaccination makes sense for your dog. Together with your veterinarian, you should carefully weigh up the pros and cons of each vaccine, before making an informed decision.

Mandatory vaccines: your dog must be vaccinated against these diseases

  • Distemper

Distemper, or Carré’s disease, is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause severe gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems (severe cough, a pus-like discharge from the eyes and nose ) or fatal convulsions and paralysis (nervous distemper).

  • Hepatitis contagiosa canis (H.c.c.)

The canine adenovirus can lead to Hepatitis contagiosa canis, and is usually caught through water or food containing urine. It causes fever and inflammation of the eyes and kidneys. If the virus reaches the liver, it can cause fatigue, vomiting and diarrhoea, even leading to death in young or weak dogs.

  • Parvovirus

Parvovirus is caused by the highly contagious and extremely resistant DNA virus CPV (canine parvovirus). Young dogs in particular die as a result of dehydration or intoxication, caused by severe vomiting, high fever (up to 41.5°C) and bloody diarrhoea. Even if an animal has apparently survived the disease, it can often die a few years later due to the long-term consequences, including immunodeficiency and heart problems.

  • Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis, also known as the Stuttgart Dog Disease, is transmitted by the leptospira bacterium, which usually lives in contaminated soil or water. This highly infectious disease can cause serious organ damage in young or immuno-compromised dogs, often resulting in death. Leptospirosis has spread in recent years and can even be transmitted to humans, which is why vaccination is required.

  • Rabies

As with leptospirosis, rabies can be spread to human beings. These are both known as “zoonotic diseases”, which must be reported if come across. In dogs, rabies is transmitted by the Lyssa virus and leads to typical symptoms such as increased salivation and aggressiveness. This disease is deadly in all cases.

Vaccine puppy

Non-core vaccinations: these immunisations can be useful in individual cases

  • Kennel cough

Kennel cough, or parainfluenza, is particularly dangerous for kennelled pets. The highly contagious viral disease can lead to severe respiratory problems (usually a dry, unpleasant cough) and can even cause pneumonia in immuno-compromised pets, sometimes resulting in death.

  • Lyme disease

This bacterial disease is primarily transmitted by tick bites. It usually runs its course fairly harmlessly, but can also lead to severe neurological cramps or paralysis, and even death, depending on the variety of the Borrelia bacteria. Dogs suffering from Lyme disease may appear apathetic and refuse their food.

  • Babesiosis

Tick bites can also result in babesiosis (also known as dog malaria). This aggressive infectious disease is accompanied by high fever, and without treatment can destroy the red blood cells within days and cause imminent death. In countries where babesiosis-infected ticks are prevalent, vaccines are offered as well as traditional preventative measures such as checking dogs for ticks after walks in long grass.

  • Fungal infections

It is primarily fungal infections in the skin that are common amongst dogs. The most common pathogen is the dermatophyte Microsporum canis, which causes dandruff and crusting on the coat and can lead to hair-loss in affected areas. This fungus can be transferred from infected animals as well as infected environments, such as baskets, carpets or combs. In vulnerable locations such as breeding areas or animal shelters, vaccination may be useful in reducing symptoms.

  • Leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is one of the most common tropical diseases for dogs. It is primarily transmitted by the sand or butterfly mosquito, which lives south of the 45th line of latitude. These blood parasites attack your dog’s cells and organs, leading to death (usually caused by kidney failure) within 12 months if left untreated. While the newly developed vaccine cannot prevent infection, it can boost your dog’s immune response to these dangerous pathogens.

When and how often should my dog be vaccinated?

As previously mentioned, opinions differ when it comes to how often and in which situations dogs should be vaccinated; however, veterinarians and dog owners tend to be in agreement that puppies should receive basic immunisation as soon as possible. Once weaned, the natural protection offered by the mother’s antibody-rich milk slowly wears off, meaning that basic immunisations should be administered from the age of eight weeks.

When your dog is vaccinated, it is given live or weakened parts of the bacteria or virus. The body reacts to these substances by producing antibodies, which help to fight off any germs or pathogens present in later infections. However, it is not until the second or third injection that your dog will be fully immune. The first vaccination your dog receives at eight weeks simply awakens the immune system, which is pointless if you do not follow it up with repeat vaccinations.

After the third of these vaccinations, at either 16 weeks or 15 months depending on the vaccine, your puppy’s primary round of immunisations are complete. Over time, the strength of the body’s immune response will begin to weaken, meaning that refresher vaccinations are required at intervals to ensure a high level of protection against the diseases throughout your pet’s life. However, many veterinarians are now moving away from the traditional annual refreshers, with the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) considering a refresher every three years to be sufficient for most vaccines, including those for diseases such as rabies. With some vaccinations, the drug can last even longer and provide reliable protection for up to six or seven years. This being said, vaccines for kennel cough and leptospirosis do require an annual booster.

An overview of recommended vaccinations

In order to offer complete protection against listed diseases at all times, it is important that dog owners adhere strictly to the vaccination schedule set out by their veterinarian. The following table gives a rough idea of the general recommendations. However, it should not be taken as suited to each dog, and you should still ensure you have a conversation with your vet about specific recommendations.

Required vaccinations for healthy dogs

Immunisation against Initial immunisation Booster
From 8 weeks From 12 weeks From 16 weeks From 15 months Annually Approx. every 3 years
Distemper
Hepatitis (H.c.c.)
Parvovirus
Leptospirosis
Rabies

What should I pay attention for in sick or at-risk dogs?

The recommendations here apply to healthy dogs, or those without any particular risk of infection. More vulnerable puppies or dogs with a risk of infection, such as kennel cough, may require a more extensive vaccination programme. You should talk to your veterinarian about which additional vaccines may be beneficial to your canine.

In principle, sick dogs cannot be vaccinated. In order to minimise the risk of possible side effects, your dog should be healthy, wormed and free from parasites at the time of vaccination. If your dog has a fever, diarrhoea or any other symptoms of illness, you should treat these before vaccination.

What side effects can be caused by vaccination?

As a rule, approved canine vaccinations are generally well accepted and cause few side effects. It is important that your puppy be healthy and at least eight weeks old before vaccinations begin, in order for it to be prepared to react to the active ingredients. This can help to keep the risk of serious side effects to a minimum. Possible side effects, which usually disappear within two to three days or a week at the latest, are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Painful swelling of the puncture site
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

If you notice these or any other symptoms in your dog, you should contact your vet immediately.

How much do vaccinations cost?

Where possible, most veterinarians will administer combination vaccinations, with just a single syringe used to vaccinate against several diseases – for example, a six-fold vaccination against distemper, parvovirus, H.c.c., leptospirosis, kennel cough and rabies. The cost of these combined vaccinations will vary from vet to vet, as well as depending on your dog’s health and size. Therefore, the best way to find out the expected cost is to contact your local veterinarian directly.

In principle, the best thing to keep in mind is that the cost of a vaccine is far less than the costs that would be incurred by your dog contracting a disease, or passing one on to you. At the end of the day, your dog’s health should always be the top priority, regardless of cost.

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