What Vaccines Does My Dog Need?

A vaccine is a product that prepares the body’s immune system to fight future encountered disease(s) by stimulating a protective immune response.  Vaccines trigger the immune system to produce antibodies against specific disease-agents.  Antibodies identify and destroy disease-causing agents. This prepares the immune system to recognize the actual disease in case of an infection. Then, the immune system can fight off the disease or at the very least, reduce severity of signs associated with the disease.

Vaccines are injections given to dogs in a series, from puppyhood through adulthood. The type and number of shots you give your dog will depend on their age and lifestyle.


When Should You First Get Vaccines for Your Dog?


Young puppies are very susceptible to infectious diseases because their immune systems are not fully mature. Puppies do receive some protection from antibodies being passed to them from their mom through their mother’s milk (maternal antibodies). However, maternal antibodies do not last long and they may not be fully protective.  Additionally, maternal antibodies can interfere with a puppy’s vaccine response, which is why we do not give vaccines too early in life. 

At 6-8 weeks of age, the puppy’s maternal antibodies (antibodies passed from mom to puppy by milk) start to decline. Vaccinations boost your puppy’s immune system so they will be protected from diseases. However, it takes a little bit of time to train their immune system and for the puppy to make their own antibodies against common diseases.  The first dose usually primes the puppy’s immune system with subsequent doses further helping to trigger an appropriate immune response for long-term protection. This is why multiple boosters of the same vaccine are necessary. 

An incomplete series of vaccinations will lead to incomplete protection from disease.  Most vaccines are started around 6-8 weeks of age with boosters given every 3-4 weeks until around 16-20 weeks old. See more specific timing recommendations for each vaccine listed below.


Core Vaccines for Dogs

Core vaccines are mandatory/recommended for all dogs regardless of lifestyle and seek to protect them from severe diseases or illnesses.

The following are the core vaccines for dogs:

Rabies, Distemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, +/- Parainfluenza (often included in combination vaccines)


Rabies Vaccine


Rabies is a deadly virus that targets the nervous system. Vaccinating your dog for this disease is crucial because they can contract it from wild animals like skunks, racoons, bats, coyotes, and foxes. Most of these woodland critters are very common to residents living around The Woodlands. The virus is secreted in saliva and is typically transmitted through a bite.  Rarely, rabies can be transmitted when saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound on the skin or the eyes, nose, or mouth of an animal or person.  If you suspect your pup came into contact with an animal infected with rabies, contact a vet immediately, even if your dog is current on their Rabies vaccination.

Common signs of rabies are aggression or irritability, drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering, seizures, and paralysis. Eventually, rabies infects the entire nervous system, causing death.  Unfortunately, there is no treatment for rabies once an animal or person is showing clinical signs.      

In Texas, dogs can be vaccinated for rabies between 12 and 16 weeks of age.  It is Texas law that all dogs >16 weeks of age be vaccinated for rabies. Dogs receive a second rabies shot within a year of the first. After that, dogs get regular rabies boosters every three years.


Canine Distemper

The canine distemper virus is a highly contagious disease that targets multiple organ systems including the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and nervous system of dogs. It is spread through aerosolized droplets in the air (coughing and sneezing) and by direct contact from an infected dog or wildlife.  Ferrets, skunks, foxes, racoons, wolves, and coyotes can also get distemper.  Symptoms include fever, coughing, thick green discharge from the nose and eyes, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, and in severe cases, neurological signs like seizures, difficulty walking, and paralysis.  Distemper is often fatal. For dogs who do survive, many are left with enamel defects of the teeth as well as permanent neurological ticks or tremors and sometimes seizures.


The canine distemper vaccine is given as part of a combination shot. The shot also protects against parainfluenza, hepatitis, and parvovirus. Puppies can be vaccinated for distemper starting between 6-8 weeks of age and will receive a booster every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old. They will get a booster shot at 12 months and after that once every 3 years for distemper.   


Canine Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is a highly contagious virus caused by canine adenovirus 1 (CAV-1).  ICH also affects some wildlife like wolves, coyotes, otters, and bears.  The virus is spread through contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids like urine, feces, saliva, and nasal secretions. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver but this virus can affect multiple organ systems in addition to the liver including the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, kidneys, spleen, and nervous system of the dog. The virus targets blood vessels and bleeding and clotting issues are common.  Symptoms of infectious canine hepatitis include fever, lethargy, weakness, conjunctivitis, corneal edema (“blue eyes”), coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, hemorrhagic diarrhea, abdominal pain, bruising or petechia, jaundice (yellow discoloration), and rarely, seizures.  Dogs usually receive hepatitis vaccination as part of the combination shot mentioned above for canine distemper. 


Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a highly contagious potentially fatal disease that primarily affects young or unvaccinated animals.  Parvo is contracted through contact with virus-contaminated objects or direct contact with an infected dog’s feces. Parvovirus attacks rapidly dividing cells so the cells of the gastrointestinal tract and the bone marrow are the most affected.  If puppies are infected in utero (when they are still in their mother’s uterus, before they are born) or very early in life, the heart muscle can also be affected. The virus usually causes sudden and rapidly progressive signs.  Inappetence and anorexia are often noted first followed by lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Diarrhea is usually profuse and bloody with a classic fetid smell. Frequent diarrhea and vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration while damage to the intestines and immune system leads to septic shock and death. The canine parvovirus vaccine is also part of the combination shot mentioned above. 


Non-Core Vaccines for Dogs

Non-core vaccines are vaccines given to dogs based on risk factors, geographic location/exposure, and lifestyle. 


The following are non-core vaccines for dogs:

Canine Influenza, Leptospirosis, Lyme, Rattlesnake, Bordetella (kennel cough)


For more on canine vaccines, contact True Animal Vet at The Woodlands, Texas, office. Call (281) 867-5968 to book an appointment today.


Dr. Lindsay Nicholson

Director of Medicine

True Animal Vet

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