13 min read

Should I Get My Dog Vaccinated?

And which ones does he really need? 🤔💉

dog vaccinations

If you just got a new dog, you’re probably wondering which vaccines he actually needs.

Since there are so many out there, trying to figure it out can feel a little overwhelming.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Clarissa B. Lyon, a veterinarian at Larklain Mobile Veterinary Services in Pennsylvania, who explained which vaccinations your dog definitely needs, and which shots he can skip.

What vaccines do dogs need?

There are some vaccines that every single dog really should get, regardless of his breed or where he lives.

“All dogs should get what we refer to as the core vaccines,” Dr. Lyon told The Dodo.

These core vaccines are:

  • Distemper vaccine
  • Adenovirus 2 vaccine
  • Parvovirus vaccine
  • Rabies vaccine

The illnesses that these vaccines prevent are super common and can be deadly, which is why the vaccinations are so crucial for your dog.

“The reason why is because all of them are potentially fatal,” Dr. Lyon explained. “All of them are around.”

This list may differ based on where you live — for example, certain countries may have diseases that aren’t common in other locations — so be sure to consult with your vet about what your individual pup needs.

DA2P vaccine for dogs

The DA2P vaccine is a vaccine for your dog that actually works to prevent several diseases at once.

“That is usually given as a combination vaccine,” Dr. Lyon said.

The DA2P combination vaccine is effective against distemper, adenovirus 2 and parvovirus.

Sometimes, this combination will also include the vaccine for parainfluenza — even though it isn't technically considered a core vaccine. In these cases, the combination vaccine may be called the DHPP vaccine, where the “H” actually represents adenovirus 2.

That’s because the vaccine for adenovirus 2, which is a respiratory disease, is actually used to provide protection against adenovirus 1, aka hepatitis, in dogs.

“The reason we don’t vaccinate against adenovirus 1 ... is because we used to, and it caused a complication that caused what we call ‘blue eye’ in dogs, and caused them to go blind,” Dr. Lyon explained. “So what we realized was if we vaccinate with a relative of that virus, adenovirus 2, which is actually a respiratory virus, we get cross-protection against adenovirus 1.”

In other words — same protection, but much safer.

Rabies vaccine for dogs

The rabies vaccine is the only dog vaccination that’s required by law in the United States. Part of the reason it’s so important is that dogs with rabies are the main causes of spreading the deadly disease in humans, especially children, in areas where the rabies vaccine isn’t given.

“[With] rabies, there’s a real zoonotic concern because people can get rabies,” Dr. Lyon explained. (Zoonotic refers to diseases that can transfer from animals to humans.)

The rules regarding rabies vaccines for dogs vary from state to state, so make sure you check what regulations are like where you live.

“You can’t test somebody for rabies before they die,” Dr. Lyon said. “So we don’t mess around with rabies.”

Since there’s no way to test someone for rabies while they’re alive, if your dog bites someone and he hasn’t been vaccinated, he may need to be put down so he can be tested to confirm he hasn’t spread rabies to the person he bit. 

Rabies also has the highest death rate of any disease in both people and animals — 99.9 percent — which is why this shot is so important!

Non-core vaccinations for dogs

While every dog should be vaccinated against those core diseases, there are certain vaccines that some dogs may need, but others won’t.

“Those are considered non-core, and those are based on lifestyle and [whether or not] your dog [is] likely to encounter the infectious agent against which you would be vaccinating,” Dr. Lyon said.

Non-core dog vaccinations include:

  • Parainfluenza vaccine
  • Lyme vaccine
  • Leptospirosis vaccine
  • Bordetella vaccine (which helps prevent kennel cough
  • Rattlesnake vaccine
  • Canine influenza vaccine

“[If your] dog’s not likely [to encounter the disease], then we’re not going to vaccinate,” Dr. Lyon explained. “[If your] dog doesn’t get boarded nor does she go to a groomer, she doesn’t need a bordetella vaccine. She never gets that bordetella vaccine because she isn’t going to encounter bordetella.”

Similarly, you wouldn’t need a Lyme vaccine for your dog if you don’t live in an area with ticks, and you wouldn’t need a rattlesnake vaccine if you don’t live in an area with rattlesnakes.

How often you should get your dog vaccinated

The most important thing about dog vaccination frequency is that it varies depending on the vaccine.

So, if you’re trying to figure out how many shots your dog needs and how often he needs them, make sure you talk to your vet.

With the DA2P vaccine, for example, you’re going to get your puppy a dose of the vaccine once every three weeks until he’s 16 to 18 weeks old, according to Dr. Lyon.

“The reason for that is because of maternal antibodies,” Dr. Lyon explained. “The most important dose that the dog gets is that 16 weeks of age dose. The reason that’s probably the most important dose is because that’s when we can comfortably assume that ... the protection that the dog got from its mother has actually gone away, and is no longer eating up the vaccine that we’re giving.”

So that final dose during the puppy stage — given around the 16- to 18-week mark — is the one that’s actually going to provide the immunity to distemper, adenovirus 2 and parvovirus.

From there, you’re going to need specific instructions from your vet about how often your dog should be getting his boosters to maintain that immunity.

And those instructions are going to be different depending on exactly which vaccine your pup is getting, so you can’t just assume that the process is the same across the board.

“All vaccines are different, so you can’t just lump them all together and say, ‘Well, I get my DA2P vaccine every three years. Why do I have to get my Lyme every year?’” Dr. Lyon explained. “It’s because it’s a different vaccine.”

Side effects of dog vaccinations

If you’re hesitant about getting your dog vaccinated, it’s probably because you're worried that he might have a bad reaction.

But according to Dr. Lyon, he’s likely to only see super mild effects that come from stimulating your immune system — if any.

These include things like:

  • Soreness at the injection site
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

“Those [are] just normal effects of immunostimulation,” Dr. Lyon said. “That’s different from a true hypersensitivity reaction.”

Hypersensitivity or allergic reactions are far less common, but can happen very occasionally.

If your dog is having a more severe reaction, it could include things like:

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swollen face
  • Tumor formation at the injection site

While those things sound scary, it’s important to remember they are much, much less common.

Benefits of dog vaccinations

The benefits of dog vaccinations (including potentially saving your pup’s life) definitely outweigh those very rare risks.

The biggest benefit is obviously that you’re protecting your pup from some pretty serious stuff.

“In the long run, [those diseases] can cause far more pain and suffering and [even] money [than the vaccinations would],” Dr. Lyon said. “It makes a lot better sense [to get a vaccine] ... than getting one of these infectious diseases, some of which the dog may not recover from ... or may [end up causing them to spend] days, maybe even weeks, in a costly ICU setting.”

So, when it comes to dog vaccinations, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. And make sure you talk to your vet about those non-core ones!

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