Dog Vaccination Schedule

Dog vaccination schedules are among the most controversial canine topics currently being discussed.

Almost everyone is in agreement about puppy vaccination schedules, as represented in the chart below:

Age of puppy

Vaccinations to be administered

6 weeks


9 weeks

DHLPP*, Bordetella

12 weeks

DHLPP*, Bordetella, H3N8 and H3N2 Canine Influenza

15 weeks

DHLPP*, Bordetella, H3N8 and H3N2 Canine Influenza and Rabies

18 weeks (many veterinarians exclude this)

DHLPP*, Bordetella

Sweet little Catherine needs vaccinations on the right schedule just as much as food and water.

*DHLPP: Distemper,  Hepatitis, LeptospirosisParainfluenza and Parvovirus

And, almost everyone agrees that DHLPP, Bordetella and Rabies should be boostered in one year (in most states, state law requires the Rabies vaccination to be repeated one year after the first vaccination is administered, regardless of age even if a three-year vaccine was administered at the time of the first vaccination).

Certain dogs should have the Bordetella vaccination repeated every six months: dogs in competitions with other dogs, dogs who travel frequently by common carrier, and dogs who board where other dogs are present. However, there is not full agreement even on that issue, further evidence that there is variation in dog vaccination schedules among patients as well as among veterinarians.

Where the greatest disagreement occurs about dog vaccination schedules is after one year of age.

Since the first distemper vaccine was produced in 1928, dogs have been vaccinated annually. That continued until the beginning of the current decade, when someone said, “Maybe vaccines actually give protection for longer than one year. Let’s find out.”

Studies were performed, and it turned out they were both right and wrong.

It seems that vaccinations against viral diseases such as Canine Distemper, Canine Parvovirus and Canine Hepatitis probably do last two, and maybe even three years.

On the other hand there are the bacterins, vaccines intended to protect against bacterial diseases such as Bordetella, Leptospirosis and Lyme Disease. Protection against those diseases probably doesn’t last much, if at all, beyond one year. As stated above, some dogs need Bordetella boosters every six months.

The biggest problem arises when we consider that some dogs fail to hold protection for that long. Which dogs? We just don’t know.

As veterinarians, we can perform titer testing. By obtaining a blood sample and sending it to a laboratory, we can determine each dog’s antibody production to each of the diseases for which we have vaccinated. However, we know that immune system protection consists of much more than antibodies alone.  What is the correlation of antibody level with actual protection?  We don’t know.

In some practitioners’ and researchers’ minds, the best reason to modify dog vaccination schedules is the theory that some vaccines may induce autoimmune and other disease processes in the body. While both the theory and the argument have some merit, concrete scientific evidence is yet to be found.

What about protecting dogs whose immune systems fail to carry protection beyond twelve months? My take on the answer to that question is to vaccinate all dogs annually, with the exception being those dogs whose immune systems have aberrations, such as autoimmune conditions. By doing so, we are confident that we have protected as many dogs as possible from preventible infectious disease.

There is yet another pitfall for the pet owners who have adopted the dog vaccination schedule protocol of not having their dogs vaccinated every year. As we have stated repeatedly, the physical examination is the most important part of every pet’s visit. And, that examination needs to occur at least once every year. Failing to have the annual examination just because “he doesn’t get shots every year any more” leads to physical problems being allowed to fester. That category includes everything from painful ear infections to life-threatening cancer.

Along with that annual examination, your dog needs a heartworm test to know whether his heartworm preventive is working as it should. No medication, including heartworm preventive, is perfect. A fecal flotation is required to know whether your dog is free from intestinal parasites.

Your dog may or may not need the bacterins listed above as part of as part of his dog vaccination schedule.  However, the Bordetella vaccine is inexpensive insurance for all dogs against one component of the canine cough syndrome.

Every pet owner needs to have a talk with his veterinarian, because every dog’s needs are individual.  The regimen your pet’s doctor works out for one of your dogs might not be right for your other dog(s).

Regardless of your final decision on your dog’s vaccination schedule, don’t fail to have your dog see his veterinarian at least once every twelve months.

See you Monday, Dr. Randolph.


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