Vaccines are one of the most effective ways of preventing common diseases in dogs. This valuable preventative measure has effectively eradicated many terrible diseases from being commonplace. Currently, several new advances in vaccinations and research have changed the typical dog vaccination schedule. Understanding the diseases that you vaccinate against, and how often to vaccinate is both vital knowledge that pets owners should have to ensure their pets long-term health.
The typical dog vaccination schedule consists of three main components: the distemper/parvo vaccine, the kennel cough (bordetella) vaccine, and the rabies vaccine.
Canine Parvovirus is an extremely common and contagious disease that can affect any dog, with unvaccinated dogs and puppies at the highest risk. The virus attacks the lining of the intestinal tract, leading to severe damage of the intestines. Profuse, watery or bloody diarrhea, and repeated vomiting are the most common symptoms, and untreated these can quickly lead to severe fluid loss, dehydration, shock and death. Parvo is almost always fatal if left untreated, and treatment can be prolonged and expensive, without a guarantee of recovery. Thankfully, proper vaccination for Parvo in puppyhood is extremely effective in preventing this disease.
Another dangerous and potentially deadly virus that can affect dogs is the Canine Distemper virus. This devastating disease affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems, and has no known cure. Puppies are most susceptible to distemper, but any unvaccinated dog can develop the disease at any age. Distemper is spread through the air, as well as through exposure to affected feces and other bodily fluids. Dogs with distemper will first exhibit a high fever, which resolves in 2-3 days. The virus continues to work at this time, settling into many body systems. The fever may return a few days later, as well as a profuse, thick green nasal and ocular discharge. Dogs will stop eating and become depressed. It affects the gastro-intestinal tract, causing vomiting and diarrhea, and finally it can settle in the brain, causing brain damage and seizures. There is no cure for distemper, and even dogs that appear to recover from the initial stages of infection can develop neurological signs weeks or even months later.
Vaccination for Parvo and Distemper are the cornerstone for any puppies vaccination protocol. Puppies should begin receiving vaccinations at 6 weeks, and then receive booster vaccines every 2-4 weeks until they reach 16 weeks. This vaccine is again given at 1 year of age, and every year (or every three years, if your veterinarian offers a 3-year vaccine) thereafter.
Bordetella, or kennel cough, is so known due to its high frequency of occurrence in any facility that houses dogs, such as kennels and shelters. This name can be misleading, as any dog can develop kennel cough, without ever having set foot in a kennel or shelter. Kennel cough is an annoying condition that causes irritation to the trachea, leading to a characteristic honking’ cough that can often sound extremely distressing, but is most often relatively harmless. Many bouts of kennel cough can run their course without requiring medical intervention, but in some cases it can become more serious and turn into a more serious infection, such as pneumonia. For this reason, the kennel cough vaccine is recommended for all dogs, and virtually all places that take in dogs for boarding, grooming, etc require dogs be current on their bordetella vaccine before accepting them into their facility. Puppies should receive their first vaccine at 8-12 weeks of age, then a booster 4 weeks later. Thereafter, the vaccine should be boostered every 6-12 months, depending on the recommendations of the particular manufacturer. Like the flu there are thousands of different strains of kennel cough, and while the vaccine helps to prevent the most common strains, it is not a guarantee that your dog will still not develop kennel cough, even if properly vaccinated.
The kennel cough vaccine is often made up of the two most common causes, parinfluenza virus and bordetella bacteria. The intranasal vaccine (given in the form of drops in the nose, as opposed to the traditional injectable vaccination) has proven to be the best the most effective way to minimize your pets chances of developing kennel cough, as well as reduce the severity of symptoms if your dog does still contract the disease.
Rabies is a disease that has been very effectively controlled by strong vaccination programs, and in many parts of the country it is required by law to have your dog vaccinated for rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to humans. This virus affects the brain, and is most commonly spread from wild animals to domestic animals and humans in the form of a bite from an infected animal. In unvaccinated people and animals, unless treatment is provided within hours of a bite from an affected animal, the virus cannot be treated, and is always fatal.
Dogs should receive their first Rabies vaccine at 16 weeks of age, and the vaccine should be boostered at 1 year of age. Thereafter, boosters should be given every 1-3 years, depending on the recommendation of your veterinarian, and the manufacturer of the vaccine.
Vacccines are an extremely valuable way to prevent some of the most common diseases in dogs- but they are not without their own set of risks. In the last few years, advances in both vaccine technology and our understanding of the workings of the immune system have lead to a new three-year protocol for some vaccines, such as distemper and parvo. Instead of these vaccines being given yearly, as has previously been commonplace, after receiving the booster vaccine at 1 year, further boosters can often be given every 3 years, instead of every year. The reason for the three-year protocol is to avoid possible health risks created by over vaccination, such as vaccine reactions and development of autoimmune diseases.
Vaccine blood titers are another way of accessing your pets immunity to disease, and need for vaccines. These simple blood tests can be taken in lieu of vaccines, and can access your dogs vaccine antibody status from previous vaccinations. If the levels of antibodies in your pets system are adequate, no vaccination may be required that year.
There is no doubt that vaccinations are one of the cheapest and most effective ways of preventing serious illness to your dog. Adhering to an appropriate dog vaccination schedule can ensure that your puppy or dog will continue to live a long, healthy life. If you have any questions about what vaccines your pet needs, or when he or she needs them, contact your veterinarian to ensure your dog is protected.