Surprising Facts: What Shots Does My Dog Really Need?

November 29, 2019

Proper healthcare and regular vet check-ups for our dogs is important. To help our dogs live long healthy lives we need them to see their vets regularly, eat healthy diets, and get adequate exercise. But does proper doggie healthcare really require so many vaccinations?

I know that when we were first-time dog owners the sheer amount of puppy vaccinations and annual recommended vaccines sometimes seemed overwhelming—and expensive! It got me wondering what shots does my dog really need? Are all of these yearly vaccinations necessary?

Of course, it’s always important to follow the advice of your vet and discuss vaccination schedules with them. But today let’s take a look at what shots your dog really needs legally and for their safety, to help you decide what’s essential and what you might be able to skip.

What is a suggested vaccination schedule for dogs?

Before we can talk about what shots your dog really needs, let’s take a look at the vaccination schedule widely recommended by most vets according to Canine Journal:

  • 6-8 weeks: DHPP-Shot 1, Bordatella, Lepto, Lyme, Flu-H3N8, Flu-H3N2
  • 10-12 weeks: DHPP-Shot 2, Rabies (and Lepto, Lyme, and Flu if they didn’t receive it at 6-8 weeks)
  • 14-16 weeks: DHHP-Shot 3
  • Every year: Rabies, Bordatella, Lepto, Lyme, Flu Shots
  • Every 3 years: DHPP Booster

The issue that many owners are starting to take with this vaccination schedule, is that many of these vaccinations have been proven effective for far longer than the recommended boosters or re-vaccination which we’ll talk about more below.

What is a DHPP Shot?

DHPP is a combination vaccine, also known as the “4-way vaccine”. It is given to your puppy in a series of 3 vaccinations at 6-8 weeks, 10-12 weeks, and 14-16 weeks. After that, it is recommended that you do a DHPP booster every 3 years. The DHPP vaccine protects your dog against:

  • Distemper: This is a contagious viral disease that affect your dog’s tonsils and lymph nodes.
  • Hepatitis/Adenovirus Cough: This is also known as canine hepatitis. It causes severe swelling and cell damage to the liver, often resulting in death. This virus is a common cause of kennel cough
  • Parainfluenza: This is another highly contagious viral flu that affects dogs. Most dogs will recover on their own so this particular vaccine is not considered “core” but is grouped with this 4-way shot (read more about core and non-core vaccinations below).
  • Parvovirus: This virus, often referred to as Parvo, is spread through canine feces. It most commonly affects and kills puppies. Once vaccinated, research shows immunity for a minimum of 7 years (source)

What are core vaccines and non-core vaccinations for dogs?

To further understand what vaccinations are necessary for your dog, let’s take a look at what are known as the core and non-core vaccines.

Core vaccines are the ones that veterinarians (and research) suggest that all puppies should receive for their safety and well-being. These vaccinations address the most dangerous diseases that may affect your dog.

The core vaccines are:

  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Parvovirus
  • Adenovirus

Non-core vaccinations are vaccinations that are often recommended or encouraged but are not essential because they are either not as common or deadly. Non-core vaccinations can often be given on a case-by-case basis based on your dog’s likelihood of exposure, instances of the disease in your area, and your preference.

Non-core vaccinations are:

  • Bordatella
  • Lyme Disease
  • Lepto
  • Canine Flu
  • Parainfluenza (though this is often grouped in a 4-way vaccine)

Do I need to do all of the dog shots suggested annually?

According to more recent research, most of the core vaccinations (which are the ones recommended to be given annually) protect your dog for a minimum of 5-7 years. With some studies showing that they give lifetime immunity (source). For this reason, many owners are opting out of a lot of the ‘annual’ shots, after discussing their reasons with their vet.

Legally, most states and towns only require your dog to have an up to date rabies vaccination, and some don’t even require this. This means that no one can make you get any other vaccines for your dog unless you want to.

In short, the “essential vaccinations” recommended by most experts are:

  • DHPP shot given in a 3-part series as a puppy
  • Rabies shot

Beyond the initial vaccinations as a puppy, more and more owners are only getting annual, or every three-year, rabies vaccinations to keep up with dog licensing in their towns.

To decide what shots your dog needs every year you should consider:

  • Their risk-factors for various illness and environment: For example, Lyme may be worthwhile if you live somewhere that ticks are common, or Bordatella might be essential for boarding and daycare
  • Your dog’s age and medical history: No need to over-vaccination or cause stress to an older or sick dog

What vaccinations does my dog need to be groomed?

Because handling dog shedding can often be a full-time dog, or for those occasions when your dog goes a little nuts on your muddy hike, we all wind up with our dog at the groomer at least once in their lifetime. How do vaccinations fit into grooming?

Most dog grooming places require that your dog has received Parvo, Hepatitis, and Distemper (DHPP) as a puppy, and has an up-to-date rabies vaccination in order to be groomed (source). It is not recommended or usually allowed, for puppies under 16 weeks to visit a dog groomer because they do not have their shots.

What vaccinations does my dog need for boarding or doggie daycare?

The same is true for boarding your dog (when you can’t travel with them) or bringing them to doggie daycare. Most of these facilities require proof of DHPP and Rabies. In the case of boarding and daycare, your dog will usually need to have an active 1-3-year vaccine and solely receiving DHPP as a puppy will not be accepted.

Additionally, many boarding facilities and daycare also require an annual Bordatella vaccine to protect against kennel cough. This is a non-core vaccine, but these are the types of environments where kennel cough can spread rampantly, so vaccination is probably a good idea regardless of the requirement.

Negative side-effects of vaccinations

So why wouldn’t you want to over-vaccinate your dog? Well for starters, pet care, in general, can be very expensive so it is one place to save. But more than that, vaccinations and over-vaccinating can result in a wealth of undesirable side effects ranging from minor to severe reactions (source):

  • Common: Lethargy, soreness, stiffness, lack of appetite, fever, sneezing, conjunctivitis
  • Moderate: Hives, respiratory issues, behavioral changes, weight loss, compromised immune system
  • Severe: Contraction of auto-immune diseases, seizures, thyroid issues, arthritis, and more

Related Reading: Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Vaccinating your canine companion

At the end of the day, there is no one size fits all answer to the question of what shots your dog really needs. Most agree that DHPP as a pup is essential and Rabies is required every 1-3 years legally.

Beyond that, you will need to have an informed discussion with your vet to determine what’s right for your four-legged friend.



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