Dogs of all ages need routine vaccinations to help them stay healthy. Your dog's vaccination schedule
will vary based on his age, overall health, state regulations, vaccination type, and risk of exposure.
In general, puppies usually need several sets of vaccination boosters to provide them with as much
protection as possible. Adult dogs that are properly vaccinated should receive yearly boosters for
The following vaccines are the most important to your canine companion's health:
Distemper/Parvo Combination -- protects against several potentially fatal diseases
Rabies -- protects against the very serious disease that can be fatal to all mammals (including
Bordetella (also known as Kennel Cough) -- helps prevent or reduce the severity of this serious
respiratory infection that can lead to pneumonia
Corona Virus -- protects against the intestinal virus that can cause serious disease
Lyme Disease -- protects against the serious, tick-borne disease
Giardia -- protects against a potentially serious digestive parasite
Vaccination Recommendations for Dogs
Let's start with an 8 week old puppy. You'll recall that 8 weeks is the ideal age at which to acquire
a new pup. The cornerstones of preventive health care are immunizations (vaccinations) and parasite
control. Let's start with immunizations.
It is important to realize that a series of vaccinations are necessary in order to properly immunize
a puppy. We generally administer a DHLPP vaccine (more about those letters below) at 8, 12, and 16
weeks of age. Rabies and Bordatella (kennel cough) are given at 16 weeks of age. Before 8 weeks of
age, antibodies the pup received from its mother protect it against disease. The initial vaccination
in the series serves to "sensitize" the pup's immune system to the vaccine. Subsequent "booster"
vaccinations stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies which protect against the diseases
in question. Now, what exactly are the diseases we are trying to prevent?
The DHLPP vaccine is a multivalent vaccine; it protects against multiple diseases. "D" is for canine
distemper. Distemper is one of the oldest known canine diseases. It is a severe and frequently fatal
viral infection that can affect many organ systems in the body, particularly the respiratory,
gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. The incidence of canine distemper has been on the decline
over the last 30 years, due to improvements in vaccines to prevent the disease. Interestingly, the
last 2 cases of distemper in my practice have been ferrets. Ferrets are extremely susceptible to
canine distemper virus infection, and the disease is almost always fatal in ferrets.
"H" is for infectious hepatitis. This is also a viral infection, caused by canine adenovirus type 1
(CAV-1). Signs of hepatitis include fever, loss of appetite, vomiting/diarrhea, and jaundice. The
disease can be fatal and is usually seen in dogs less than one year old. There is also a type 2 canine
adenovirus (CAV-2) which is a respiratory virus. Modern vaccines contain CAV-2, as the immunity
that develops to it also cross-protects against CAV-1 infection.
"L" is for leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by the various forms of
Leptospira bacteria. It primarily attacks the kidneys, but may also affect the liver and
cardiovascular systems. There are many different types of leptospira organisms, called serovars.
Unfortunately, disease may be caused by serovars not included within the vaccine. The leptospirosis
fraction of the vaccine is often incriminated as the cause of occasional "allergic" reactions to
vaccination. In those patients, I generally use a vaccine without leptospirosis. In recent years,
there has been a significant outbreak of leptospirosis in the Long Island, NY area.
"P" is for parainfluenza virus. This virus attacks the upper respiratory system and is a component
of the "kennel cough" syndrome. More on kennel cough later.
The second "P" is for parvovirus. Canine parvovirus attacks the lining of the small intestine in
unprotected dogs, producing a syndrome of loss of appetite, severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhea.
Rarely, it will infect the heart muscle of very young puppies. Of all the canine diseases we
vaccinate against, parvoviral infection is the most clinically significant in terms of frequency and
severity of illness. It is usually seen in dogs less than one year of age, and death frequently occurs
from severe dehydration and secondary bacterial infection (septicemia). Treatment of "parvo" is
frequently successful, but entails hospitalization for aggressive fluid and antibiotic therapy. The
parvovirus is spread in the stool of affected dogs, and can persist in the environment for several
weeks. Thorough disinfection of contaminated areas with dilute bleach (4 ounces per gallon of
water) is a must to help prevent infection of other animals. There are other parvoviruses that
affect other species, they are the causative organisms of feline distemper and reproductive failure