Understanding Dog Vaccines

Dog vaccines are necessary to protect your dog from dangerous contagious diseases such as rabies, canine distemper, and parvovirus. But when should puppy vaccinations begin? How long do dog vaccines remain effective, and why and how often will your dog need his boosters? Read on to find the answers to these and other common questions about dog vaccines.

Why Vaccines Are Necessary

If you don't vaccine your dog, he'll remain vulnerable to infection by deadly viral diseases such as canine distemper, canine hepatitis, parvovirus and rabies. There is no cure for any of these diseases, and all can be deadly. Rabies vaccines are required by law in all US locations, because rabies is a deadly disease that is contagious to humans.

Diseases such as canine distemper, parvovirus and canine hepatitis are very contagious. Most dogs who catch one of these diseases die. Treatment can be expensive, and usually isn't very effective. Dogs who survive one of these illnesses will be immune, but may also suffer lifelong damage.

Your dog will require boosters, because the immunity given by the vaccines isn't lifelong. Your dog may continue to come into contact with deadly contagious diseases, and regular boosters help ensure that his immunity stays strong in the fact of such exposure.

Side Effects and Drug Reactions

Side effects and drug reactions as a result of vaccination are very rare. It's important to make sure your dog is healthy when he receives his vaccinations; this minimizes the risk of side effects and dangerous allergic reactions. Furthermore, a dog who is sick when he receives his vaccinations may contract the very disease against which you're hoping to protect him. At best, the vaccine will prove to be ineffective, leaving your dog vulnerable to the disease anyway, without you even knowing it.

Some common, non-serious side effects that follow vaccination include:

  • Soreness and swelling at the injection point.
  • Temporary lameness in the leg where the injection was administered.
  • Reduced appetite, lethargy and slight fever for one or two days after the vaccine is administered.

Serious side effects include anaphylaxis, an extreme medical emergency that could result in death. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shock
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Fast heart rate and lowered pulse
  • Facial swelling
  • Pale gums
  • Cold limbs

If your dog exhibits these signs within the first 24 hours of receiving vaccines, get him medical help right away. If your dog becomes ill within the first several weeks after receiving vaccines, make sure your vet knows that your dog has recently been vaccinated. Sometimes, a drug reaction doesn't become evident for a long time after the vaccines are administered.

Knowing When to Vaccinate

Puppy vaccinations should be administered at the age of six weeks, again at nine weeks, again at twelve weeks, and then again at the ages of six months and one year. Though your puppy is born with a natural immunity from his mother, there's no way to be sure when this immunity wears off, as length of immunity varies from puppy to puppy. By administering so many shots, you can be certain that your puppy will at no time be vulnerable to disease.

Adult dogs should receive boosters every one to three years, depending on the type of vaccine used and local law.