What Vaccinations Do Dogs Really Need? A Guide to New Pet Owners

As a new pet owner, one of your responsibilities is to get your dog vaccinated. Some vaccines are required by law while most are necessary to shield your doggo against diseases. Just like in humans, these vaccines should be administered at the right age. So what vaccinations do dogs really need? If you don’t have any idea yet, we have listed here some of the common vaccinations for dogs and its importance.

Purpose of vaccination

Like how it does in humans, dog vaccines are made and administered to protect canines from various illnesses. Each vaccine should be administered to a dog at a specific age, but mostly it would be on the first weeks or months of its life.

Surprisingly, the vaccine includes injecting a canine with a small amount of infectious organisms. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually necessary to trigger the immune system to defend the body. Once the dog’s immune system recognizes the infectious organisms, it will soon produce antibodies. When a future infection occurs, the dog’s immune system is now equipped to fight off the illness.

Does the law require dog vaccines?

As of today, only the rabies vaccine is required by law. Still, it doesn’t mean that you have a free ticket out of other core vaccinations. As much as the law doesn’t force you to pay for it, most vets will emphasize the significance of other core vaccines.

If you’re not convinced, then watch this video. See what lack of vaccination can do to a poor dog with distemper:

As much as vaccines can be expensive, treating diseases like distemper and parvovirus will cost more money. Aside from that, your dog will suffer the consequences of your failure to meet their needs.

Core vs. non-core vaccines

Dog vaccines fall into two categories: core and non-core.


Core vaccines are considered the most important and vet-recommended among all the existing vaccines for pets. Basically, core vaccines protect dogs from the most lethal and highly infectious conditions and diseases.

Some of these are rabies, distemper, canine hepatitis, and parvovirus. These conditions, if not treated early on, can lead to mortality. This is why a proactive approach is necessary so your dog won’t suffer from any of these illnesses.


Meanwhile, non-core vaccines are still necessary, but of less urgency than core types. Depending on your dog’s condition and its susceptibility to various diseases, vets may or may not recommend non-core vaccines.

Non-core vaccines include Lyme disease, leptospirosis, Bordatella, canine influenza, and more. As bacterial vaccines, non-core types are known to have less efficiency and they should be used sparingly among pets. Also, a comprehensive checkup from a veterinarian is necessary before administering any non-core vaccines.

In this video, Becky Smith CVT, VTS from Rose City Veterinary Hospital show us how dog vaccination goes:

How long do vaccines last?

Each vaccine has a varying length of effects. Most core vaccines are said to last for about 7 to 15 years. However, if your dog received a core vaccine at 16 weeks or older, it’s likely that it doesn’t need re-vaccinations since it’s already protected for life.

On the other hand, most non-core vaccines will only last for months up to a year. Depending on the assessment of a veterinarian, a re-vaccination may occur. Remember, a rigorous checkup on your dog is necessary before giving any vaccine, much so for non-core types.

In this downloadable chart, you’ll see a more detailed length of immunity as well as AAHA guidelines about vaccines:

What vaccinations do dogs really need?


For the core vaccines, we have four vaccines to tackle: anti-rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus (canine hepatitis).

*Anti-rabies vaccine

Rabies is one of the most fatal diseases on earth, much so for humans. If a rabid dog bites a person, they will transmit the rhabdovirus. This will not show any immediate symptoms to the bitten person. However, rabies has a reported 100% fatality rate once the symptoms show.

 The rabies virus will take up to 12 weeks to show its symptoms. By this time, the virus has reached the brain and will start to cause encephalitis that can lead to coma and other macabre behavior.

This is the reason why rabies vaccination is imperative. It’s required by law and all dog owners must adhere. Here are the rabies laws across all states.

-When should dogs get rabies shots?

Once the puppy reaches 12 weeks of age, it’s ready for a rabies vaccine. However, if you suspect that your young pup has been exposed to rabies, you should bring it to the vet right away.

*Distemper vaccine

Canine distemper is another contagious disease which may exhibit symptoms similar to measles if contracted by humans. Nevertheless, if the person gets vaccinated for measles, they are protected against contracting the canine distemper virus (CDV).

Dogs with distemper experience lethargy, red eyes, fever, runny nose, coughing, seizures, shaking, diarrhea, and other symptoms. The good thing is that some dogs can recover from distemper with continuous and intensive medication.

Still, the CDV vaccine is necessary, so your dog won’t experience this threat. Also, it will prevent them from being a host to the virus, which will fuel its spread.

-When should a dog receive the CDV vaccine?

For as early as 6 weeks, your doggo can receive the DHPP-Shot 1 vaccine. DHPP stands for Distemper, Hepatitis (Adenovirus), Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus. Booster shots will then be administered on the 8th and 10th week of your dog’s life.

*Parvovirus vaccine

On the other hand, Parvovirus cause lethargy, dehydration, diarrhea, shock, sleeplessness, and possible death if not treated early on. Dogs contract this virus through infected feces of another canine.

Remember that about 91% of all untreated cases of Parvovirus will result in the death of the doggo. Although humans can’t contract Parvovirus from dogs, the pooch can infect other canines it will be in contact with.

-When should my dog get a Parvovirus shot?

The Parvovirus shot is either a 4 or 5-way vaccine which means it belongs to the DHPP or DHLPP injection. The first shot will be given on the 6th or 8th week of doggo. Booster shots will be given in 2 to 4-week intervals thereafter. Take note that it will take 2 weeks for this vaccine to protect a dog fully.

*Adenovirus vaccine

The Adenovirus Type 1 cause canine hepatitis. Just like hepatitis among humans, a dog with Adenovirus will have swollen and damaged liver. If not cured early on, this will lead to hemorrhage and eventual death.

Canine hepatitis can be contracted through feces or urine from another infested dog. If you notice that your dog lost its appetite, becoming pale, having distension, and being lethargic, you should send them to a vet. For worse cases, dogs will have swollen corneas which will make them look blue-eyed. Also, worse cases of canine hepatitis can lead to death in just two days.

On the other hand, your doggo may also be exposed to Adenovirus Type 2. This canine hepatitis strain is also the culprit behind kennel cough. Nevertheless, if your dog has received shots for the Type 1 virus, infection of Type 2 is reduced and death is unlikely.

-When should dogs get a canine hepatitis shot?

This shot will either be administered using adenovirus-1 or adenovirus-2 injection. Still, most vets will opt for the adenovirus-2 injection for canines. Take note that canine hepatitis vaccines will be administered in either 5-way or 7-way. The first shot will be given once your dog reaches 6 to 8 weeks old. Meanwhile, the succeeding shots will be in a two-week interval.


Aside from core vaccines, your dog’s vet may also recommend some non-core shots. Take note that if your dog received the DHPP or DHLPP shot, they have likely received some non-core vaccines in a four or five-way scheme.

Again, non-core vaccines aren’t always required. If you plan to have your dog vaccinated for these conditions, you have to seek the opinion of a vet first. Bacterial vaccines are way different than viral vaccines, which will also affect your dog in various ways.

*Leptospirosis vaccine

A leptospira shot protects a dog from leptospirosis. This infection affects both humans and canines. In some cases, the leptospira pathogen could become lethal if the infection is serious and wasn’t treated right away.

Take note that this pathogen thrives in water and is spread via urine. So when a dog drinks urine-contaminated water, they are exposed to the potential infection.

If your dog suddenly experiences fever, depression, vomiting, and pain, you should have it checked right away. Veterinarians will administer antibiotics to fight off the infection and reduce the damage it could do to your dog’s kidney where leptospira propagates.

-When should a dog get a leptospira shot?

This shot is usually part of the DHLPP injection, but a veterinarian may also administer it individually if needed. Usually, this will be injected to a dog once it reaches 6 to 8 weeks. Further vaccination depends on the assessment of a veterinarian.

*Bordatella vaccine

Bordatella is most commonly known as kennel cough. This condition will cause a dog to cough and gag incessantly. This is called kennel cough since it’s typically spread on water bowls, cages, and food bowls. So if you plan to leave your pet on kennel houses, you should ask a veterinarian if your dog can have this shot.

Take note that the incubation period for the Bordatella bacteria can take up to 7 days. If you notice that your dog has nasal discharge, fever, colds, loss of appetite, and lethargy, you should consult with a vet right away.

Some cases of Bordatella may clear up on its own, but others will lead to pneumonia and further infections.

-When should a canine get Bordatella vaccine?

The first shot can be administered once your dog reaches 6 weeks of age together with other core shots. Usually, an annual re-vaccination would be ideal, but some vets may deem it unnecessary based on your dog’s condition.

*Canine influenza vaccine

Canine influenza or parainfluenza is a very contagious disease which will compromise your dog’s life. Some symptoms include runny nose, wheezing, fever, dry cough, labored breathing, and pneumonia. In most cases, parainfluenza will clear up on its own. However, if the symptoms linger for weeks, a veterinarian may need to administer antibiotics to speed up the recovery of your pet.

Canine influenza is rarely fatal, given that your dog won’t acquire any secondary infections. However, if you have a multi-dog household, this infection can be daunting.

-When should a dog get canine influenza vaccine?

Again, the parainfluenza shot is part of either the DHPP or DHLPP shot. Some vets may administer this separately but on very rare occasions. Your dog will receive this shot on its 6th to 8th week with booster shots given in a two-week interval.

*Lyme disease vaccine

Lyme disease is an invasive disease that both dogs and humans can contract through an infected tick. Some of the symptoms include lethargy and swollen lymph nodes, though some canines may not experience signs at all.

However, Lyme disease can cause the inflammation of the kidney, heart, and other internal organs. It’s important to diagnose if your dog is infected with Lyme disease to prevent potential death.

Usually, your pooch will be treated with an antibiotic as well as NSAIDs for advanced cases.

-When should a dog receive a Lyme disease vaccine?

Usually, vets will only give the Lyme disease shot if it’s a concern within your area. If so, the first shot will be given once your dog is eight weeks old. A second shot will then be administered after two or four weeks. Yearly booster shots will be given to your dog after that.

Final words

What vaccinations do dogs really need? Above, we discussed the most important vaccines every dog should get. Also, there are shots that are optional and should be administered in a case to case basis. If in doubt, you can always consult a veterinarian. The dog doctor will advise what’s best for your pet.

Which of these vaccines did your dog get? How’s your experience? Share it with us!

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