Vaccinating your dog is important to protect him against a range of potentially lethal diseases. However there has been recent debate about the frequency of vaccination in pets, with specific concerns regarding potential side-effects, such as allergies, immune diseases and even some typs of cancers.
Vaccination allows your dog to be protected against serious infectious illnesses, but there is no one-size-fits-all protocol for vaccination or revaccination of dogs.
Vaccinating your pet responsibly implies that you and your vet analyze the actual risks your dog is exposed to in order to establish a personalized vaccination program.
A responsible vaccination program is tailored to suit the individual pet's age, health status, lifestyle, related disease risks and local legislation. Some animals may be at very high risk of contracting disease (e.g. those in rescue homes, or multi-pet environments). Other animals will have a much lower risk of disease and this should be taken into account when formulating a vaccination plan. Pets from a low risk environment may need regular vaccination to comply with regulations when they go into kennels or to travel abroad.
Types of Vaccines
Vaccins are now divided into two classes: core vaccines and non-core vaccines.
Core vaccines are those recommended for nearly every dog. The AVMA vaccine guidelines say that "In determining whether a vaccine for a particular disease is core, veterinarians should consider the severity of the disease, the geographic location of a clinic, the risk of transmission to the animal, the potential for a particular infection to be zoonotic, and the performance of the vaccine." Core vaccines for most dogs will be:
Canine Adenovirus-2 (hepatitis and respiratory disease),
Puppies are usually given the first three combined in a single injection starting at 6-9 weeks of age and boostered every 3-4 weeks until at least sixteen weeks of age. Thereafter, the combination vaccine is repeated every 1-3 years. Rabies vaccination is given first at 12 to 16 weeks of age and boostered one year later. After that, the Rabies vaccine is repeated every one to three years depending on the laws in your area.
Older dogs may start their initial vaccinations at any time (unless they are sick in which case vaccination is not generally recommended). They will require a second vaccination to be given 2-4 weeks after the first.
Non-core vaccines are recommended only for certain dogs. They include coronavirus, leptospirosis and bordatella (kennel cough), lyme disease. Your veterinarian can help you determine the right ones for your dog. Things that should be considered are the age, breed, and health status of the dog, the risk of exposure to an animal that has the disease, the type of vaccine and how common the disease is in the geographical area where the dog lives or may visit.
A separate vaccin against Bordatella is recommended for dogs that are boarded, groomed professionally, or taken to dog shows.
Vaccination against Leptospirosis provides only moderate protection and can cause allergic reactions. Therefore, most veterinarians will recommend to vaccinate your dog only if there is a high risk of exposure to water that may be contaminated by urine from wild animals or farm animals.
Vaccination for Lyme Disease is recommended for tick-exposed dogs in areas where the disease is common, such as the northeastern U.S.
Canine Coronavirus infection is mild and relatively uncommon in many areas. Therefore, the vaccine is not recommended for all dogs.
Dogs that drink water contaminated by wild animal feces are at highest risk to get Giardia. The vaccine, however, provides only partial protection and Giardia infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Vaccination debate: Pros and cons of annual vaccination
According to the 'Vexing Vaccine Issue' article, the AVMA never meant to say that veterinarians should move from an annual vaccination program to 'vaccinate every three years.'
However the "COBTA Report on Cat and Dog Vaccines" concluded that no sufficient data exist to scientifically determine a single, one-size-fits-all protocol for vaccination or revaccination of dogs, so vaccination programs should be taylored to each individual dog in function of their lifestyles, and related disease risks, and between individual vaccine products available.
COBTA also concluded that evidence shows that some vaccines provide immunity beyond one year. While annual vaccinations have been highly successful in curbing disease, the one-year revaccination frequency recommendation found on many vaccine labels is based on historical precedent, not scientific data and generally represent a minimum duration of immunity, not a maximum.
Pet owners should be informed that vaccination failure is rare but possible and that there are rare, but possible side-effects when vaccines are used. One of the reasons why vets prefer to schedule vaccination every year is that in this way the pet will get a general health check annually and health problems will be diagnosed and treated in an early stage.
Preventive Measures Beyond Vaccinations
Independently of the frequency of vaccination, it is wise to plan health checkups every six to twelve months. These checkups at regular intervals can catch many health problems while they are easily treatable. Parasite control, good nutrition, and regular dental care are other key measures to keeping your dog healthy. An annual blood screening for heartworms is recommended, if this parasite is a concern where you live. Your dog can't tell you when or where it hurts, so it is your responsibility that no underlying disease goes unnoticed.