A Pet Owner’s Guide To Essential Dog Vaccinations

essential vaccines for dogs

Vaccination for your dog is essential for its health and your peace of mind. But which vaccines should your dog be given?

Core vaccines for Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza and Rabies are crucial for all dogs. These vaccines protect against diseases that are not only highly contagious but potentially fatal.

This comprehensive guide covers everything from the importance of core and non-core vaccines to the ideal vaccination schedule,

Why Is Vaccination Important For Your Dog?

Vaccinations play a crucial role in the well-being of your dog. You are being a responsible pet owner by vaccinating your dog against many horrible canine diseases.

Vaccines protect by imitating disease-causing agents, prompting the immune system to develop defenses without causing the actual illness.

Here’s why vaccinations are important.

  • Protection Against Diseases: Safeguard dogs from serious diseases like Canine Distemper, Parvovirus, etc.
  • Public Health Concerns: Prevents the spread of zoonotic diseases like Rabies to humans
  • Legal Requirements: Certain vaccinations are required by law in many countries
  • Peace Of Mind: Vaccinating your dog provides peace of mind about its health

What Vaccines Are Necessary For Your Dog?

dog getting injection in leg

We can separate the type of vaccines required for your dog as core and non-core.

Core vaccines are recommended for all dogs, regardless of their lifestyle, location or breed.

They are considered essential for every dog.

These vaccines help protect dogs against diseases that are highly contagious and potentially fatal.

Some core vaccines also prevent diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

Non-core vaccines for dogs are customized to individual needs and specific risk factors such as:

  • Geographic location,
  • Lifestyle
  • Exposure to other animals

These vaccines are not required for all dogs but only for those at higher risk of certain diseases.

It is based on a veterinarian’s assessment of each dog’s unique risks and lifestyle.

Core Vaccines

As a dog owner, you would have heard of the abbreviation “DHPP” when it comes to compulsory canine vaccines.

“DHPP” Isn’t is scientific term but it stands for 4 different types of core vaccines.

1. Distemper

Canine distemper is a highly contagious and serious viral illness that affects dogs.

It targets various body systems, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems.

Symptoms Of Distemper

The symptoms of distemper typically include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge.
  • Fever
  • Eye Discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Seizures and paralysis

Transmission Of Canine Distemper

Distemper is transmitted through airborne exposure from an infected dog or wild animal.

It can also be spread through shared bowls and equipment.

Puppies and dogs that haven’t been vaccinated are at the highest risk of contracting this disease.

2. Hepatitis

What makes this virus so infectious is that it can remain active in the environment for months, posing a risk of indirect transmission.

Canine Hepatitis is a liver disease in dogs caused by the Canine Adenovirus Type 1 (CAV-1).

It can also affect the other major organs such as the kidneys, spleen and lungs.

This disease can range from mild to fatal and is most severe in young puppies.

Symptoms Of Canine Hepatitis

The symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Stomach upset
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cloudy eyes (Hepatitis blue eyes)
  • Bleeding disorders

Transmission Of CAV-1

Canine Hepatitis is very contagious and is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids and waste products of infected dogs.

Airborne transmission for the CAV-1 does not appear to be important1.

What makes this virus so infectious is that it can remain active in the environment for months, posing a risk of indirect transmission.

Objects that infected dogs have used, such as bowls or bedding, can become contaminated and spread the virus.

Canine Adenovirus Type 2 (CAV-2)

The adenovirus has another variant called the CAV-2.

CAV-2 is closely related to CAV-1 but primarily affects the respiratory system.

It is one of the causes of infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as kennel cough in dogs.

Symptoms CAV-2

  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge.
  • Mild fever
  • Lethargy
  • Pneumonia

Transmission Of CAV-2

CAV-2 is primarily transmitted through respiratory secretions as well as bodily fluids and contaminated objects.

Due to its highly contagious nature, CAV-2 is a common concern in environments where dogs congregate, such as kennels, dog parks and animal shelters.

Does The CAV-1 Vaccine Protect Against CAV-2?

Yes, the vaccine for Canine Adenovirus Type 1 (CAV-1) provides cross-protection against Canine Adenovirus Type 2 (CAV-2).

The CAV-1 vaccine is often a modified live virus vaccine based on CAV-22.

Related Article: 11 Easy Ways To Dog-Proof Your Home

3. Parvovirus

Canine Parvovirus or Parvo, is a highly contagious viral disease in dogs.

It primarily affects the gastrointestinal system of puppies and unvaccinated older dogs.

Symptoms Of Parvovirus

The symptoms of Parvo are severe and can develop rapidly.

  • Bloody and foul-smelling diarrhea
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Persistent diarrhea and vomiting can quickly lead to severe dehydration, making this disease potentially life-threatening.

Transmission Of Parvovirus

Canine Parvovirus is a highly resilient virus that spreads through direct contact with infected dogs or their feces.

The virus can also linger on surfaces, soil, and everyday items like shoes and clothing.

Dogs are also at risk of contracting the virus by sniffing or ingesting infected feces.

4. Parainfluenza

dog at a shelter

Canine Parainfluenza is a highly contagious respiratory virus in dogs. It may seem similar to canine influenza but they are both different diseases.

Parainfluenza is a common cause of kennel cough in dogs as it affects the upper respiratory tract.

Symptoms Of Parainfluenza

  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss in appetite

Although symptoms are often mild, they can become more serious in puppies, older dogs or those with weaker immune systems.

Transmission Of Parainfleuzna

The virus spreads through airborne particles, direct contact and contaminated surfaces.

Similar to Canine Distemper, Parainfluenza is very common in kennels and shelters where dogs are in close contact.

Related Article: Guide For New Dog Owners

5. Rabies

Rabies can infect all mammals including humans, making it a zoonotic disease.

Rabies isn’t part of the abbreviation but it is definitely a core vaccine that all dogs need to take.

In numerous countries, the law mandates rabies vaccination as a fundamental requirement for dog ownership.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It can cause severe brain inflammation and invariably death if not treated promptly.

Rabies can infect all mammals including humans, making it a zoonotic disease.

Symptoms Of Rabies In Dogs

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disorientation
  • Incoordination
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive salivation
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Aggression

Once a dog starts to show symptoms of rabies, there is no cure and the outcome is usually death.

Transmission Of Rabies

Rabies is most commonly transmitted through the bite of an infected animal.

The virus is present in the saliva of an infected animal and enters the body through the wounds or mucous membranes.

Non-Core Vaccines

Most dogs are fine with just the core vaccines while some do require another one or two more vaccinations.

If you have gotten your dog from another state or part of the world, the core vaccinations given must not be sufficient to keep it safe.

This depends largely on specific lifestyle, environment and risk factors.

You need to have a word with your vet to determine what else is necessary for your dog.

Here are some of the more common non-core vaccines that are available.

1. Bordetella Bronchiseptica

Bordetella Bronchiseptica is also known as kennel cough which is a highly contagious respiratory disease.

This vaccine is recommended for dogs that are frequently in contact with other dogs, such as in boarding facilities, dog parks, or doggy daycare.

2. Leptospirosis

A bacterial disease that affects the kidneys and liver of dogs..

It’s more common in wet climates and areas with standing water.

If you have a dog that enjoys playing in the water or is exposed to wildlife, the risk of getting infected is higher.

3. Canine Influenza

Canine Influenza or dog flu is different from the flu we humans get. Dog flu isn’t seasonal and it isn’t as widespread as human flu.

Highly recommended for dogs in close contact with other dogs, particularly in areas where outbreaks have occurred.

Canine influenza is a respiratory disease that can range from mild to severe.

When Should You Vaccinate Your Dog?

puppy getting vaccination

The vaccination process should start early in a dog’s life, usually between 6 to 8 weeks of age.

Early vaccination is vital as puppies lose the immunity they gain from their mother’s milk, making them vulnerable to diseases and infections.

If the first vaccination is given too early, it might not work well because the puppy’s immune system is still heavily influenced by the antibodies it got from its mother.

Your vet will be the best person to speak to for the actual vaccination schedule.

There are many variations for a dog’s vaccination schedule but here’s a general guideline.

Vaccination Schedule For Core Vaccines

Start the primary core vaccination when the puppy is between 6-8 weeks old.

Continue with booster shots every 2 to 4 weeks until the puppy reaches at least 16 weeks of age.

After finishing the initial series of puppy vaccinations, a booster shot is typically given within a year of the last dose.

This booster is important because it protects puppies that may not have fully responded to the earlier vaccines.

For adult dogs who completed their core vaccinations as puppies but haven’t been consistently vaccinated as adults, just one dose of vaccines is needed to maintain immunity.

Adult dogs with an unknown vaccination history should receive two initial doses of vaccines, given 2 to 4 weeks apart, to establish protective immunity.

When I need to foster a dog, I will keep the new dog in a separate room from my other pets until all the necessary vaccines are up to date.

Vaccination Schedule For Non-Core Vaccines

The first vaccination for puppies should be given when they are between 6 to 9 weeks old.

This is followed by a second dose 2 to 4 weeks later.

This schedule ensures the development of initial immunity during their early growth stages.

The same guidelines apply to adult dogs as with core vaccines.

What Are The Common Side Effects After Vaccination?

Vaccination side effects in dogs are usually mild and temporary.

They include:

  • Swelling at the injection site
  • Mild fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild coughing or sneezing

It is quite common to see your dog limping getting an injection due to the needle causing some trauma to the muscle.

If you notice more severe reactions such as persistent vomiting, diarrhea, severe coughing, difficulty breathing, significant swelling, etc, please contact the vet immediately.

How Much Do Vaccinations Cost?

Please do not skip on your dog’s vaccines just to save money.

In the first year, dog vaccinations can range between $100 to over $200, depending on your dog’s specific needs and pricing variations.

The average cost of the common vaccines is as follows:

  • DHPP: $40–$60
  • Rabies: $20–$30
  • Leptospirosis: $20–$30
  • Bordetella: $30–$50
  • Canine Influenza: $40-$60

If you do not have the required finances to give your dog the necessary vaccinations, please speak to the vet about it.

Many vets are open to the idea of installment payments or giving a discount for pet owners in need.

Please do not skip on your dog’s vaccines just to save money.

Many dog owners opt for titer tests before they administer annual vaccinations.

Titer tests measure a dog’s immunity levels, and this can determine which, if any, vaccinations are necessary.

Are Vaccinations Safe For Your Dog?

There has been a growing number of dog owners who firmly believe that vaccinations are harmful to dogs.

While there is always some medical risk due to unforeseen adverse reactions, canine vaccinations are very safe.

Some dog owners believe that vaccines can cause developmental issues such as autism in dogs even though there’s no scientific proof to back up the claim.

Your dog is more likely to catch these diseases than to have health issues from a vaccine, especially since dogs often play with other dogs and are very social.

I would never forgive myself if my dogs died from something I could have prevented or decreased the likelihood of with a simple vaccine.

Many dog owners choose to conduct titer tests to determine their dog’s immunity level before proceeding with yearly vaccinations.

If you are not comfortable giving your dog yearly booster shots, these tests can help you decide the necessity of specific vaccinations.


1. Infectious Canine Hepatitis. Jane E. Sykes

2. Evaluation of a canine adenovirus type 2 strain as a replacement for infectious canine hepatitis vaccine. Bass EP, Gill MA, Beckenhauer WH.

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