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Questions about Vaccinating Dogs
Vaccinating Your Puppy or Adult Dog

Making sure your puppy or adult dog is up to date on its shots and tests is a critical component to veterinary preventive care for your pet. Thanks to the development of vaccines, dogs and puppies have been protected from numerous disease threats, including rabies, distemper, hepatitis and several others. Some of these diseases can be passed from dogs to people — so canine vaccinations have protected human health as well.

To assist veterinarians with making vaccine recommendations for dogs, the American Animal Hospital Association has issued a set of canine vaccine guidelines. Developed by a group of infectious disease experts, immunologists, researchers and practicing veterinarians, these guidelines were first released in 2003 and revised with new information in 2006. One of AAHA’s key recommendations is that all dogs are different — and thus vaccine decisions should be made on an individual basis for each dog. Issues to consider include the age, breed, health status, environment, lifestyle, and travel habits of the dog. Health threats vary from city to city.

How do I know which vaccines my dog or puppy needs?

There are two general groups of vaccines to consider: core and noncore vaccines.

Core vaccines are generally recommended for all dogs and protect against diseases that are more serious or potentially fatal. These diseases are found in all areas of North America and are more easily transmitted than non-core diseases. The AAHA guidelines define the following as core vaccines: distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and rabies. Non-core vaccines are those reserved for patients at specific risk for infection due to exposure or lifestyle. The AAHA guidelines classify kennel cough, Lyme disease and leptospirosis vaccines within the non-core group.

Is vaccinating my puppy a risk to his or her health?

Vaccinating your dog or cat against disease is a medical procedure and, like all medical procedures, carries some inherent risk. As in any medical procedure or decision, the benefits must be balanced against the risks. Veterinarians recommend that no needless risks should be taken and that the best way to accomplish that is to reduce the number and frequency of administration of unnecessary vaccines. As is the case with any medical decision, you and your veterinarian should make vaccination decisions after considering your dog’s age, lifestyle, and potential exposure to infectious diseases.

What possible risks are associated with vaccination?

Vaccine reactions, of all types, are infrequent. In general, most vaccine reactions and side effects (such as local pain and swelling) are self-limiting. Allergic reactions are less common, but if untreated can be fatal. These can occur soon after vaccination. If you see such a reaction, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. In a small number of patients, vaccines can stimulate the patient’s immune system against his or her own tissues, resulting in diseases that affect the blood, skin, joints or nervous system. Again, such reactions are infrequent but can be life threatening. There is a possible complication of a tumor developing at the vaccination site in a small number of pets, most frequently cats. Please contact your veterinarian for more information.

How often should my dog be vaccinated?

Make sure that your dog completes the initial series of core vaccines administered at the puppy stage, as well as booster shots at one year of age. Following these one-year boosters, the AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines recommend that the distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus core vaccines be administered once every three years.

The state of Texas requires that dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age and on a 1 year or 3 year basis thereafter depending on the type of vaccine used. Additionally, when traveling with a dog or cat, have in your possession a rabies vaccination certificate that was signed by a veterinarian.  By ordinance the City of Mount Pleasant requires the owner or harborer of any domestic animal shall have such animal vaccinated against rabies by the time such animal is four months of age and within every subsequent 12 months thereafter.

Non-core vaccinations should be administered whenever the risk of the disease is significant enough to override any risk of vaccination. For example, kennel cough vaccine may need to be administered up to every six months in a dog repeatedly being kenneled or exposed to groups of dogs at grooming salons.