Vaccines for Dogs: The Ins and Outs of Vaccinating Your Pet

(Photo by Andrew Branch)

A Note From Dr. John:

What are vaccines?
Since their discovery, vaccinations have done wonders to lessen the frequency and severity of many diseases.  Some diseases, (such as Smallpox in the United States), have even been eradicated through stringent vaccination protocols.  Vaccinations work by stimulating the body’s immune system gradually with repeated, controlled doses of particles that resemble natural exposure to a certain disease. The immune system develops memory to the disease, helping it to prepare for the real deal disease, should true exposure occur down the road.

What vaccines should my dog receive?
Some vaccinations are considered “core” vaccines, meaning that every dog should receive them regardless of where you live, your pet’s lifestyle, etc.  Core vaccinations include the rabies vaccine and the distemper-parvo vaccine.

Rabies vaccination is required by law for all cats and dogs (as well as ferrets) in the United States.  The frequency of vaccination varies from state to state.  You can learn more about your state’s requirements by visiting the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) website.

The distemper-parvo vaccine comes in many different formulations and combinations, depending on the manufacturer and the specific types of infections you are trying to prevent.  First and foremost, these vaccines cover canine distemper and the parvovirus. Typically, these vaccines also cover some combination of the coronavirus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza.  The prevalence of these infections varies depending on where you live.

Other vaccinations are considered “non-core.”  These vaccines are recommended for certain pets depending on their environment and lifestyle.  Non-core vaccinations include those that protect against Bordetella (kennel cough), Lyme Disease, Canine Influenza (flu), Leptospirosis, and Rattlesnake venom.  Make sure to discuss these vaccine options with your veterinarian to determine if they are appropriate for your dog.

What are the side effects of vaccinations?
Typically, the worst side effects of vaccines are seen when the shot is being administered–wiggling, kicking, and maybe a shrill screech or yelp.  As much as that screech is hard to bear, remember that you are doing the best thing for your pet!

Other side effects are as follows:

  • Scratching at the injection site. Some pets scratch at the injection site temporarily (usually no more than five minutes).  This is caused by a short-lived burning sensation.  
  • Inflammation. Occasionally, dogs will develop a small inflammatory knot where the vaccine was administered.  These spots typically resolve after a few short days.  If a knot develops and does not go away after a few days, contact your veterinarian.  
  • Sleepiness. Often times, puppies will sleep more in the hours following vaccination.  This is normal, as their body is using energy to respond to the vaccine(s) and build immunity.  Unless they are extremely sedate, simply let them sleep it off.  That crazy puppy energy should be back to normal by the next day. 
  • Serious side effects.  In rare cases, dogs will develop more severe side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or facial swelling.  In extremely rare cases, pets will have an anaphylactic reaction to vaccinations.  These reactions cause life-threatening drops in blood pressure that occur within 30 minutes of receiving vaccinations (usually before you leave your vet’s office).  If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately.  
The take-home message.
Vaccinations work!  They can save you a great deal of money by preventing expensive treatment once infection sets in.  More importantly, they can save your dog’s life. Talk to you veterinarian to determine what vaccination protocol is right for your pet.  Protocols vary from pet to pet, and your veterinarian will be able to tell you what makes the most sense for your dog.  

Our information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.  Do not use this information for diagnostic purposes. Always take your pet to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and course of treatment.