Dog Vaccines 101

August 11, 2021
Kealy Fitzsimmons, Vetted Vet Pro
Preventative health

Written by Kealy Fitzsimmons, a veterinary student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine.

Have you ever wondered what the vaccines are that are being given to your dog at the veterinarian?

Do you just agree when they say what needs to be done or what they recommended?

By the end of this article, Vetted wants you to understand what the vaccines being given are and have confidence next time you’re at your vet’s office.

What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is an agent that stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies, these antibodies are the guys that fight the microorganism that causes the disease. Vaccines work in dogs, the same way they work in humans! When your dog gets a vaccine- your dog starts to develop immunity to that disease by the antibodies. Then if they come into contact with that disease, they have the antibodies that will fight off the disease or help the disease be less severe.

Vaccines are divided into two groups: core and non-core. They are given in a variety of ways; most being given subcutaneously which means under the skin. The Bordetella vaccine can be given orally or nasally also.

The core group is the vaccines that are recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force. These vaccines have significant protection against the high mortality and morbidity rate that these diseases cause.

  • Rabies virus
  • Canine distemper virus, adenovirus-2, and parvovirus +/- parainfluenza (DAPP)

The non-core group is recommended by the AAHA Canine Vaccine Task Force for dogs that live in certain areas or partake in certain activities. These vaccines are:

  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Canine influenza
  • Bordetella (kennel cough)

Let’s talk about the 2 core vaccines.

#1. Rabies

All mammals are susceptible to rabies infection. Rabies causes acute, progressive encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain. Your dog can contract rabies by being bitten or coming into contact with saliva from an infected animal. The most common rabid animals are bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. The rabies vaccine is the only companion animal vaccine that is required by law in most states.

Did you know? Rabies virus infections in mammals are almost always deadly because there is no treatment for rabies.

#2. DAP +/- P: distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus +/- parainfluenza  

This vaccine is a 3 in 1 (distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus) or it can be a 4 in 1 with parainfluenza depending on the vaccine that is at your veterinarian’s office.  

Distemper– Distemper is a contagious and serious disease that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of dogs. Dogs can become infected with distemper through airborne exposure from an infected dog or wild animal or contaminated surfaces such as toys, food, and water bowls. If a mother is infected she can pass the virus onto her puppies also.

Adenovirus– canine adenovirus is also known as hepatitis. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and is caused by the viral infection of the adenovirus family. Your dog can contract the hepatitis virus from urine or the discharges of infected animals.

Parvovirus– this virus can affect all dogs but puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at increased chances. This virus attacks the dog’s gastrointestinal tract and is contracted from dog to dog contact and contact with infected stools. This virus is serious in that it can also contaminate objects and be spread from those contaminated objects and is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying so it can survive in the environment for long periods.

Fact: the average cost of treating parvovirus is anywhere from $500 – $5,000+ for severe cases and the average cost of preventing parvovirus with the 3 vaccine booster series is around $90.

Parainfluenza – this is a highly contagious virus that causes respiratory disease in dogs. This virus is spread by aerosols, like sneezing and coughing, and fomites, which is when the virus is transmitted by contaminated toys, water bowls, etc. Dogs that are active with other dogs and/or go to facilities where there are other dogs are at an increased chance of this virus. Whereas canine parainfluenza virus might not cause any symptoms or signs it can become severe in dogs with other viral or bacterial co-infections.

A deep dive into these “non-core” vaccines. And just because they are “non-core” does NOT mean they are not important.

#1. Leptospirosis

This disease is found worldwide in soil and water. Leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease. Zoonotic means it can transfer from animals to people. So if your pet contracts leptospirosis, you have a chance of contracting it too.

How do dogs get leptospirosis? Great question. And it’s as easy as your dog’s mucous membranes (think the mouth, nasal passage, any tissue that lines the body that can come into contact with the external environment) coming into contact with infected urine from an animal (especially rodents) or anything that’s been contaminated by infected urine like soil, food, water, bedding.

The bacteria that cause leptospirosis can stay in soil or water for weeks to months. Your dog could be in your backyard, at a dog park, on a hike, and contract it from walking through or drinking a body of water that is contaminated with the bacteria.

Fact: Leptospirosis can be treated but on average costs about $2,000 to treat.

#2. Lyme disease

Lyme disease in dogs is transmitted the same way it is in humans; by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is transmitted by tick bites. Whether or not your dog gets the Lyme disease vaccine isn’t as straightforward as the others. Lyme disease is endemic to the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Upper Midwest US. Your dog is at more of an increased risk of Lyme disease if they live in or frequent these areas; especially if those areas are wooded and grassy where ticks are much more prevalent. But in these high-risk areas, tick control with flea/tick prevention is also crucial to decreasing the risk of exposure.

#3.  Canine influenza

The dog flu is what canine influenza is. It is a highly contagious viral infection just like the human flu. Just like humans, canine influenza is transmitted through droplets or aerosols containing respiratory secretions from an infected dog. This could be from sneezing, barking, coughing. The dogs that are at an increased risk of infection come into close contact with other dogs like at dog parks, groomers, doggy daycare, etc.

If your dog partakes in anything like what was mentioned, you might want to consider it and talk with your veterinarian to see if it is appropriate for your dog.

#4. Bordetella aka Kennel Cough

Bordetella is a respiratory bacteria and it is highly contagious. The bacteria will cause inflammation of your dog’s upper respiratory system and can lead to severe coughing, which is why bordetella is also known as kennel cough. Dogs contract the bordetella bacteria similar to canine influenza: by direct contact with infected dogs, aerosol droplets, and fomite (objects that have been contaminated by infected dogs).

This vaccine is also one that if your dog is around other dogs or places where lots of other dogs are, then you might be advised by your veterinarian to get it.

So why do these vaccines matter and why should your dog get them?

  1. They prevent illness
  2. Vaccines are much cheaper than the treatment for the disease (if there is one)
  3. They help keep the disease from being transmitted from animal to animal or animal to people
  4. Your state/county might require certain vaccines for your dog

Now you might be wondering when should your dog get these vaccines? Head here on the Vetted website to learn more about the vaccine schedule your dog should follow.

Vetted is a membership plan that focuses on your pet’s preventative health. Vetted focuses on empowering pet parents to take control of their pet’s preventive health and guide them through pet parenthood. We want our members to feel confident in caring for their pet’s health and focus on having fun and enjoying life with their pets. A Vetted membership includes; reimbursement on preventative health vet services, preventative health products right to your door, and a 24/7 virtual vet chat.

In your Vetted membership, members will be reimbursed for preventive health vet services, and that includes crucial vaccines. You will also receive notifications that remind you when vet services and vaccines are coming due. You never have to worry again about choosing between the right services because Vetted has your back and you can get back to focusing on the more important things- having fun and enjoying life with your pet.