Vaccinations for Dogs: What you Need to Know

Dogs are subject to a number of devastating diseases ranging from rabies to parvo to distemper. Fortunately there are vaccines to protect your dog. If you begin vaccinating your dog as a puppy then it’s likely that he will never become sick from any of these deadly diseases.

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It is recommendable to discuss this topic with your veterinarian as soon as you get a new puppy or adult dog. Some questions you should ask are: Why does my dog need to be vaccinated? Why does my puppy need a series of more than one vaccine? How often does my dog need to be re-vaccinated? What are the risks of vaccination?

Here is a summary of important information about vaccinating your dog:

Vaccinations for Puppies

Puppies are born with a certain amount of immunity to diseases from from their mother. However, this immunity starts to wear off when the puppies are only a few weeks old. You should start to vaccinate your puppy to protect him against disease when he is between six and eight weeks of age. After that, you should continue to have him vaccinated in a series of shots until he is about four months of age. Your puppy will receive core vaccines and the non-core vaccines recommended by your vet.

A rabies vaccination is required by law in most states. Some states require a one-year vaccination, to be repeated each year. However, there are some states which allow a three-year vaccine. You should ask your vet if your state allows a three-year vaccine.

Core Vaccines for Dogs

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has recommended that the following vaccines be included as core vaccines for dogs:

  • Distemper
  • Canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis and respiratory disease)
  • Canine parvovirus-2
  • Rabies

Non-core vaccines include:

  • Leptospirosis
  • Coronavirus
  • Canine parainfluenza
  • Bordetella
  • Lyme disease

These non-core vaccines are optional and they may not be appropriate for your dog, depending on where you live. For example, many vets and researchers feel that the vaccine for leptospirosis is not very effective and it can cause severe side effects. The coronavirus usually affects puppies when they are about 2 weeks of age, so giving this vaccine to your puppy is probably not necessary. The Lyme disease vaccine is also thought to be only somewhat effective.

Follow-up Vaccinations

After your puppy has received his vaccinations you will need to follow up with booster shots when he is a year old. After this time you should talk to your vet about how often to vaccinate your puppy. At one time it was common to re-vaccinate dogs on an annual basis. However, recent research has shown that vaccines are effective for much longer than one year. There is no need to vaccinate your dog each year. You should be able to vaccinate your dog every two or three years. Talk to your vet to work out a schedule for your dog.


Puppies are born with some immunity to disease that they inherit from their mothers. This immunity begins to fade after a few weeks. You should begin vaccinating your puppy when he is six to eight weeks of age and continue until the puppy is about four months old. Your puppy needs booster shots when he is a year old. After that, you should work out a vaccination schedule with your vet.

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Tatiana is a Los Angeles, CA based dog care and behavior counselor with 26 years of experience working with dogs and their families. She holds a M.S. in Psychology with an emphasis in Animal Behavior.