Necessary Vaccinations for Your Dog


Bryan Huynh

- Updated February 19, 2024

Necessary Vaccinations for Your Dog

Let's talk about something crucial: vaccines for your furry best friends. They're vital for shielding your dogs from harmful diseases and ensuring they enjoy a lengthy, thriving, and joyful life. It's worth mentioning that having pet insurance can also help in providing the necessary healthcare for your beloved pups.

What To Know About Vaccines For Dogs

Like vaccines for humans, vaccines for dogs can help prevent them from being infected by various dangerous illnesses by preparing the dog's immune system to fight it off.

Vaccines contain antigens that mimic disease-causing organisms without actually causing the illness. When your pup receives a vaccine, it triggers an immune response that readies their body to battle the real disease and release antibodies if they come into contact with it.

Now, it's worth mentioning that vaccines can have some minor side effects like soreness at the injection site. However, in rare cases, dogs may experience more severe symptoms, such as an allergic reaction.

Different vaccines protect against different diseases, and the specific list of necessary vaccinations may vary by state. However, one vaccine that's required across the entire country is the rabies vaccine.

You might be wondering if your dog truly needs all these vaccines or if they can get by without them. Unfortunately, due to the rise of the anti-vax movement, veterinarians are seeing an increase in dangerous and easily preventable diseases like adenovirus-2, distemper, parvovirus, and even rabies. These diseases not only pose a threat to dogs but also to humans.

At the end of the day, you want what's best for your furry friend, even if it means a little discomfort. Veterinarians strongly believe that core vaccines are essential for keeping your pup healthy and happy.

When To Vaccinate Your Dog


After you've adopted your pup, it's important to take them to the vet as soon as possible (be sure to take any paperwork regarding their previous medical history and vaccination record).

Your veterinarian can help you create a schedule for vaccinating your dog based on their age, medical history, overall health, and the type of vaccine administered. Additionally, states have laws regarding mandatory vaccines and the frequency at which they need to be administered; for example, some states require an annual rabies vaccination while others require vaccination once every three years.

Your dog may or may not need to receive vaccines and boosters annually, depending on their risk and current level of immunity (which you can find through blood tests for antibody titers). Again, this is something you should discuss with your veterinarian to find what is best for your pup.

Types Of Vaccines


There are two types of vaccines your dog can receive: core and non-core vaccines.

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines are the vaccines considered essential to your dog's health based on the severity of the disease, risk of exposure, and whether or not it's transmissible to humans. These include parvovirus, canine hepatitis, distemper, and rabies.

Here are the necessary canine core vaccines:

  • DA2PP (also known as DHPP) is a combination vaccine that protects against multiple viruses. It's typically required by boarding and grooming businesses to prevent these highly contagious viruses:   * Canine distemper, which is a contagious and often virus that attacks the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and nervous systems of dogs. It can easily be spread through sharing food and water bowls, sneezing, coughing, and even from mother to puppy through the placenta.   Symptoms of canine distemper include coughing, eye discharge, lethargy, fever, vomiting, hardening of paw pads, and neurologic signs like circling, head tilting, seizures, and paralysis.   * Canine parvovirus, which is an extremely contagious virus that attacks the gastrointestinal tract and causes bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting.   Parvo is spread easily through contaminated surfaces and difficult and expensive to treat. Unvaccinated dogs are the most at risk for contracting this.     * Infectious canine hepatitis (or CAV-1)   * Adenovirus-2 (or CAV-2) causes respiratory issues such as coughing, fever, gagging, and nasal discharge, and is one of the causes of kennel cough. (Kennel cough is the result of a bacterial infection that damages the lining of the dog's trachea and causes a high-pitched cough, along with gagging, fever, nasal discharge, sneezing, loss of appetite, and depression.)   * Parainfluenza virus (also another potential reason for kennel cough) is a highly contagious disease that causes respiratory issues. In some cases, it's not included in a combination vaccine and provided as a stand-alone vaccination.

The DA2PP vaccine schedule is usually the following: puppies will receive an initial vaccine at 6 weeks of age and then receive a booster every 2 to 4 weeks until they reach 16 weeks. If your dogs are 16 weeks or older, they'll receive the first vaccine then, a booster around 2 to 4 weeks later, and another booster a year later. Future booster shots are generally administered every 3 years (or more) depending on the antibody levels present.

  • Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system and is fatal once symptoms appear, which include sudden paralysis and behavioral changes.   Rabies is spread through the saliva of an infected animal, usually through a bite, and can infect humans as well as other animals.   The vaccination schedule for rabies is the following: dogs receive the first dose between 12 to 16 weeks, followed by a second dose within one year. Booster shots need to be given every 1 to 3 years depending on local state laws.

Non-core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines are usually given based on the dog's risk of exposure (example: outdoor dogs or those that have regular contact with other dogs) and recommended by your vet; these include vaccines to prevent Borrelia burgdorferi, Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine parainfluenza, and Leptospira bacteria.

It's important to speak to your veterinarian about what non-core vaccines your dog needs. There are some factors you'll want to keep in mind that may pose a risk to your dog:

  • Age: Dogs that are too young or elderly may not have a strong enough immune system to deal with a vaccine.
  • Size: Smaller dogs or those who are malnourished may not weigh enough to handle certain vaccinations, so check back with your vet at future checkups to see whether they are able to receive non-core vaccinations.
  • Breed: Some breeds may be more likely to have sensitivities to specific ingredients in the vaccine. For example, certain dog breeds -- such as the German Shepherd, Australian shepherd, Australian shepherd mini, border collie, collie, English shepherd, Longhaired Whippet, McNab, old English sheepdog, Shetland sheepdog, Silken Windhound, and breeds mixed with these -- have sensitivities to Ivermectin due to the presence of the  MDR1 gene.
  • Allergies: Some dogs may be allergic to certain ingredients in vaccines, so your dog can opt out of these. Keep note of any reactions they may have had to previous vaccines. These drugs may include:   * Abamectin   * Acepromazine   * Actinomycin D   * Aldosterone   * Amitriptyline   * Butorphanol   * Cortisol   * Cyclosporine   * Dexamethasone   * Digoxin   * Diltiazem   * Docetaxel   * Domperidone   * Ketoconazole   * Doxorubicin   * Doxycycline   * Erythromycin   * Etoposide   * Itraconazole   * Ivermectin   * Levofloxacin   * Loperamide   * Methylprednisolone   * Milbemycin   * Morphine   * Moxidectin   * Ondansetron   * Paclitaxel   * Selamectin   * Sparfloxacin   * Tacrolimus   * Talinolol   * Terfenadine   * Tetracycline   * Vecuronium   * Verapamil   * Vinblastine   * Vincristine
  • Overall health: You'll only want to vaccinate your dog if they are healthy and not when they are ill or recovering from an illness, surgery, or treatment, since vaccines can cause an immune response and temporary minor strain on the body.   Spacing the vaccines out over a period of time instead of taking them all at once can help decrease any potential side effects.

Non-core vaccines that your dog may need include:

  • Kennel cough (aka Bordetella bronchiseptica) vaccine, which protects dogs against a contagious bacteria that can cause respiratory disease and cough. Veterinarians recommend this for dogs who have frequent contact with other dogs, especially if they go to dog parks, daycare, or kennels.   This vaccine can be given in three different ways: intraoral (in the mouth), intranasal (in the nose), or subcuticular (under the skin). (Consult your vet on the best way to administer the vaccine to your pup.) Most dogs can receive this vaccine at 8 weeks.
  • Leptospirosis (Leptospira): This vaccine protects against leptospira, which a contagious bacteria found in soil and water and can occur anywhere, although it most commonly occurs in warm climates with more rainfall. It can result in kidney and liver failure.   Dogs can become exposed by drinking from outdoor bodies of water or coming into contact with wild animals; infection occurs when mucus membranes or wounds are exposed to infected objects or urine.   The leptospirosis vaccine can be given to puppies as young as 8 weeks. They will need to receive 2 initial vaccines given 2 to 4 weeks apart.   Depending on your dog's lifestyle and risk of exposure, they may need to receive an annual booster since the vaccine's immunity lasts around one year.
  • Canine Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi): This bacteria is transmitted through a tick bite and can infect both animals and humans.   This vaccine can be given to dogs 6 to 8 weeks old; they will need two doses administered 2 to 4 weeks apart. If you plan on traveling to an area with higher cases of canine Lyme disease, your pup should receive the second dose of the vaccine 2 to 4 weeks before traveling.
  • Canine influenza virus (H3N8 and H3N2 aka "Dog flu") vaccine: This vaccine protects against a very contagious viral infection that is spread through barking, coughing, and sneezing.   Dogs can receive vaccines at 6 to 8 weeks old and will require two doses administered 2 to 4 weeks apart (regardless of your dog's age). If your dog is going to have regular exposure to other dogs (such as going to a kennel or dog park), they should receive 2 to 4 weeks beforehand.

Side Effects Of Vaccine

Side effects of vaccines vary depending on the vaccine administered. These can occur within minutes of vaccination or even a few hours later.

Minor side effects should be monitored but ultimately not something you should worry greatly about. However, serious side effects include itching, hives, coughing, fever, lethargy, swelling around the face/neck/muzzle, vomiting, diarrhea, and even difficulty breathing, seizures, and collapse due to anaphylactic shock. While these are uncommon, if your dog exhibits any of these symptoms you should visit your veterinarian immediately.

Take note of any side effects or allergies to certain ingredients in vaccines to keep your dog safe in the future. 

After you bring your dog home, it's essential that you take them for regular checkups and keep them up to date on their vaccinations so they can stay as healthy as possible. Pet insurance can help cover the costs of vet care, which can keep your pup active and happy throughout their life.

What vaccinations do dogs need?

Your dog will need to get several vaccines, including: DIHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and parainfluencza) vaccination and rabies vaccination.

Should indoor dogs get vaccinations?

Absolutely, even if your dog stays mostly indoors and only occasionally goes for walks or to the dog park, there is always a chance they can catch an infectious disease.

About The Author

Bryan Huynh

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a dedicated Product Tester & Writer. Just as insurance has your back, Bryan works to review and inform you about the wide range of insurance products available, ranging from business, auto, health, home, pet, to life insurance.

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