Dog Vaccinations: Everything You Need To Know

Whenever I bring a new puppy home, the first thing I do (aside from spoiling the pup) is schedule a checkup with my veterinarian. Along with making sure my pooch is healthy, during my visit I also schedule future appointments for shots. Getting your dog the proper vaccinations is one of the most important things you can do to keep your fur baby healthy. With that said, there are some shots your vet may push that aren’t absolutely necessary. Let me say, I’m not a believer in pumping medications into my dogs’ little bodies unless it’s absolutely necessary and will have a great benefit to their health. Before we go over side-effects of dog vaccinations, how they work, and how often you need to vaccinate, let’s go over the different types of vaccines.

Vaccines are broken down into two categories — core and non-core.

Core vaccines are considered important for all dogs to get because all dogs are at risk for these diseases. They include:

  • Canine Parvovirus – Parvovirus is an extremely contagious viral disease and can be life-threatening. Transmission can occur through exposure to an infected dog’s feces, by other animals, people or objects. The virus can survive indoors for up to a year on shoes, carpets, clothing, bedding, etc. The virus can also survive outdoors for up to one year in the grass and other places of exposure.
  • Distemper – This is a very contagious viral disease — there is NO cure!  The virus attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems.  The treatment is to try and prevent secondary infections and control the symptoms. For most, it is fatal.  Young puppy’s less than four months of age are at high risk for distemper, as well as unvaccinated dogs.
  • Canine Hepatitis (Adenovirus) – This is a highly contagious viral disease caused by the adenovirus CAV-1. Your dog can get it by exposure to infected body fluids such as urine, blood, saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. The transmission actually occurs through the nose then infects the tonsils, causing a sore throat. As it progresses into the bloodstream, the virus can infect the eyes, liver, spleen, and kidneys.
  • Rabies (Required by law) – This is a viral disease that is most frequently transmitted through an infected animal’s bite. Rabies affects the central nervous system and often results in death. Rabies can be transmitted to humans. Check out this video of Dr. Karen Becker for more information on the rabies vaccine:

Non-Core vaccines are administered based on a dog’s risk of exposure.

  • Bordetella – This is an airborne bacteria which your dog can catch, just as you would catch a cold or flu. It’s extremely contagious. If your dog goes to the dog park, or if you are boarding him, there’s a higher risk of exposure to Bordetella.
  • Canine Influenza Virus – This is an airborne virus that your dog can catch, just as you would catch a cold or flu. The canine influenza virus is very contagious. Your dogs risk of catching this flu virus increases if he is around a lot of dogs, such as the dog park or in a boarding facility.
  • Leptospirosis (Lepto) – This is a bacteria that can be found in stagnant or contaminated water. It can also be present in the urine of an infected animal.
  • Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme Disease) -
 Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. It is transmitted by an attached black-legged tick. Dogs in tick-prone areas, such as wooded areas, are at high risk for Lyme disease. In order to contract Lyme Disease, the tick must remain attached to your pup for 48 hours. So, it is key to check your dog daily and remove any ticks as soon as you notice it. If you can’t remove it yourself, call your vet.

How Do Vaccines Work?

Here’s a quick science lesson for you:

Vaccines are made up of weakened, dead, or synthetic forms of a specific disease in order to trick the body into thinking it’s been exposed to the real organism. This sparks an immune response. I know it sounds scary, but don’t worry. Vaccines will not cause the illness. Rather, when the body detects an invasion by a foreign substance, it goes into defense mode and the immune system will respond by sending antibodies to destroy the invading substance (the antigen). Immunity occurs because the antibodies will remember the invader. So at any future exposure, they’ll hop into action and destroy the invaders — thereby preventing the disease. At some point, vaccines may need a booster. Discuss this with your vet.

Side Effects

While sudden side effects are rare, they can occur. Your dog may feel more tired than usual, not eat as much, experience diarrhea, or even throw up. Your veterinarian will go over side effects in greater detail during your visit.

My Experience: I have only had one bad experience with vaccinations. When my Chihuahua was a puppy I loved taking him to the dog park. Since he was exposed to other dogs, I let my vet give him the Bordatella shot. He got very sick from it. After he threw up for the third time, I rushed back to my vet (luckily I live right down the street from my vet’s office). They gave him a quick Benadryl shot and he felt much better.

How Often Do I Need To Vaccinate My Dog?

Your puppy’s vaccination series will begin when he/she is approximately 6 weeks old. They should complete their puppy shots around 16 weeks of age. Then, your vet will schedule their boosters after one year. Your vet will guide you and give you a schedule that’s appropriate for your pup.


I’m a huge believer in titers. Titers are a blood test that will check the status of your fur baby’s immunity (antibodies). After you get the results, you will know whether or not your pup actually needs a booster shot. Before you give boosters to your pup, I definitely encourage you to discuss the possibility of a titers test with your vet.

*NOTE: Titers are NOT appropriate until your pooch has had his entire series of puppy shots and all one-year boosters.

Avoiding Overload

I currently have two little dogs – a five pound Chihuahua and an eight-pound Poodle. Whenever it’s time for them to get boosters, I don’t allow my vet to give them more than one shot a day. Instead, I get their Parvo/Distemper booster one day and their rabies shot the following week. This is a personal preference. Since my guys are small, I just don’t like overloading their little bodies with vaccines.