What exactly are dog vaccinations?

Dog vaccinations are just those things that we use to protect our pets from common diseases in the air, the soil, and from other pets. They're vaccines that remind our pet's immune systems that they do, in fact, have protections against diseases when they're exposed to them.

Dr. Cierra Tabony
Central Providence Veterinary Hospital

How do vaccinations impact the health and wellbeing of my dog?

Great question. Vaccines themselves are so safe. The diseases that we're protecting them from are the harm. Vaccinology has changed dramatically over the past decades. We no longer have to be nervous about vaccine reactions, or if we have a rare situation where a pet does have a vaccine sensitivity, we can easily and inexpensively pre-medicate for those things. So it's not a risk. We vaccinate our pets to keep them protected against all kinds of diseases in the environment that we want them safe from.

Are vaccinations required by law?

The rabies vaccination is required by law for our dogs and for our cats. We'll do a separate video on cats. The timing of that vaccine is a little confusing sometimes. So the rabies vaccine can be given by law by 12 weeks of age in North Carolina. I aim to have it in by 16 weeks of age, and then you'll have a one-year rabies vaccine. Then, after that, it's every three years. So the timing of it does change, but your veterinarian will help guide you on that. But it is the rabies vaccine that's required by law.

Does my dog's lifestyle factor into what vaccinations my veterinarian will recommend?

Definitely. One of the things we here at Central Providence Veterinary Hospital is individualized medicine. So yes, there are core protocols for vaccinations. Core would be things like distemper, parvo, and Borella parainfluenza. Just a little side note: that is a core for everyone, even if you're not boarding. I know the name of the organism, Bordetella, makes it sound like boarding only, but that's not the case. Then leptospirosis, which lives in the soil, is another big one. You may have lifestyle vaccines that you want to add to that. Those are the cores. If there's a difference in your pet's lifestyle where the core doesn't fit, we will certainly address that, but it's the non-core vaccines you may want to opt into. Flu, for example. There are two versions of dog flu. If your pet gets to go to daycare or gets to board while you are out of town, you should have your dog vaccinated for flu. Lyme vaccine is also important now in our area. It's still non-core, so pets are at higher risk if they're not on tick protection or if they're frequently outside playing in the woods and hiking. We do have excellent tick protection these days. We think of the Lyme vaccine as the airbag to the seatbelt, which is the tick protection. So you need to do core and non-core vaccines, and we do individualized care and can talk through each of those when you're here.

How soon should I get my dog vaccinated?

As soon as you get your dog, I encourage you to come in. That may be a puppy that had a vaccine yesterday with a breeder, but I think you should go ahead and come in so we can get established, talk about deworming, behavior, and lots of things to discuss, and get you started on the right path. We will never over-vaccinate. We won't vaccinate within two weeks of the same vaccine being given. But when you get your new dog, you should bring them in. Wherever it's from or whatever the person that gave you the pet said, please do go ahead and schedule veterinary visits so we can talk through all of those things.

Do I really need to avoid allowing my puppy to socialize with other dogs until they're fully vaccinated?

I love this question. We get this a lot, and there's a ton of confusion in the community. Puppies are potentially at higher risk for some vaccine-preventable diseases, but the golden period of socialization does close at 12 weeks of age. So we want to get in the series of vaccinations but still be socializing, not to keep them away from all other pets and people until they're fully done with their vaccine series. Imagine if our kids didn't socialize with anybody until they were done with their vaccine series at 10 to 12 years of age. What would that look like? And it's kind of the same thing for our pets and our dogs. We want them to socialize, but we do want them to be protected and in series. So don't feel like you have to wait. We will guide you when you're here about the timeline, like waiting two days after this vaccination or different situations that you might have.

Why is it important to avoid missing a dog vaccination?

It's important to avoid missing vaccinations, so we keep our pets protected. Vaccines last longer the older the pet is. So if you've kept on your dog's vaccine prevention schedule, then as they age, we may be able to spread some of those things out and even do titer testing. But what we do see, and it's hard and sad, is pets that have kept up with it for a long time, and then in their mid-adult years, life gets busy, and they don't come in, and all of a sudden, we have a 10-day cough that's keeping up the whole family at night, and they're like, how did this happen? And we look back at the vaccine history like, oh gosh, I know time flew, but that vaccine was out of date a year ago. So for their health and sometimes for your sanity, it's definitely important to keep your dog from missing vaccines.

What are the typical puppy and dog vaccination schedules?

Puppy vaccine schedules generally start at six to eight weeks of age. Like I said, even if you got them today and the breeder said, oh, I just vaccinated for everything or a five-way or a seven-way, what does that mean? Depending on the situation, just go ahead and bring them in so we can help guide you and review those records. The puppy schedule is going to be closer together, generally every three weeks until they're 14 to 16 weeks of age. I like to clarify that this has nothing to do with the number of vaccines, so there's no, "Well, my puppy had one of these and two of these, so he's done with this and not this." It's not the number; it's the timing and when they end. We'll go through that in the office, but the last one should be 14 to 16 weeks of age.

Most vaccines do have a booster, so they typically need to be given and then boosted again in three weeks. Then again, as your dog gets older, they stretch out a bit more, so the frequency isn't every year for some things. For others, they are. Borella and leptospirosis is every year. Distemper Parvo starts to spread out every three years, and sometimes for senior pets, we can spread those out even further.

What diseases are actually prevented with vaccinations?

Many diseases are prevented. The biggest ones that we see that result in pets coming into the office sick with that are vaccine-preventable is the parvovirus, a very dangerous gastrointestinal illness, often in young dogs and sometimes older dogs that are unvaccinated. They are exposed to that through the soil, so it doesn't take anything more than your pet going on a walk or going in the backyard in an area where another dog had parvovirus even two years ago. That's one of the ones that we see most frequently. Leptospirosis is a toughie because it's in the soil, and it is zoonotic, meaning it can spread from pets to people. Depending on the type of leptospirosis your pet is introduced to through the soil, it can cause kidney failure, liver failure, and other very troublesome things. Lyme disease can create chronic disease. Kennel cough is that 10-day cough that's very problematic. Obviously, rabies is a very scary public health concern. Fortunately, in our country, that's becoming less and less, but it's because we're keeping up with vaccines. So we do have to continue to do that even for our indoor pets. Just a little FYI on rabies, the vaccines we use support Merck Animal Health's world rabies program, so for every vaccine that we give by Merck, which is most of them, we're also vaccinating another pet around the world for rabies to try to tackle the global rabies problem.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 844-8387, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.