Dog vaccinations protect dogs against contagious, and sometimes deadly, diseases such as rabies and canine distemper. Traditional dog vaccinations have also immunized dogs against a wide range of rare or less serious diseases. However, while vaccinations have long been strongly recommended by veterinarians, some now advocate alternatives to the traditional vaccination schedule, most often suggesting less frequent vaccinations.

Types of Dog Vaccinations

Dog vaccinations work just like human vaccinations: the vaccine stimulates the dog’s immune system to produce antibodies against the disease. Should a vaccinated dog ever be exposed to the disease, the immune system is able to produce the necessary antibodies faster to successfully combat the infectious agent.

The two types of dog vaccinations are killed vaccines and modified-live vaccines. As the name suggests, a killed vaccine uses dead viral matter to stimulate the immune system. A modified-live vaccine uses either weakened viral agents or only a portion of the virus.

Both types of dog vaccination have their pros and cons. Modified-live vaccinations provide stronger, longer-lasting immunity than killed vaccinations. Modified-live vaccines also work faster, usually only need to be administered once and also produce local immunity (immunity at the most likely sites of infection).

However, modified-live vaccinations occasionally become active, leading to actual infection, can cause abortions in pregnant females and, in rare cases, can suppress the immune system. Modified-live vaccines also require careful storage at the veterinarian’s office to stay viable.

Alternately, a killed vaccine has no chance of becoming active and is less likely to result in abortions or immuno-suppression. However, killed vaccines require more injections and booster shots than modified-live dog vaccinations. The risk of an allergic reaction to the vaccine is higher with killed vaccines, and killed vaccines do not provide local immunity.

Dog Vaccinations and Risks

Vaccinations in Dogs

Vaccinations in Dogs

Despite the risks associated with modified-live and killed dog vaccinations, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. Vaccination risks are very low when compared with the dangers of rabies, parvovirus, and distemper.

In some cases, dogs may develop a systemic reaction to dog vaccinations, characterized by fever, muscle aches, and pain. The dog may have a lack of appetite and sleep for one or two days. Such reactions are not serious, and more common in the toy breeds.

Rarely, a dog may suffer a severe allergic reaction to dog vaccinations. Such allergic reactions result in hives, vomiting, and facial swelling. If your dog has had reactions to dog vaccinations in the past inform your veterinarian. Administering antihistamines with dog vaccinations will prevent such reactions.

Standard Dog Vaccination Schedules

Dog vaccinations are initially given to puppies, starting around six to eight weeks of age. Prior to this, puppies receive disease immunity through their mother’s milk (assuming she has been vaccinated). The following is a typical schedule of dog vaccinations:

Puppy Age Dog Vaccinations
Six to eight weeks
Ten to twelve weeks
  • Distemper/coronavirus
  • Heartworm preventive
  • Hepatitis
  • Intestinal deworming (if necessary)
  • Intestinal worm screening
  • A kennel cough
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Parainfluenza
  • Parvo
Fourteen to sixteen weeks
  • Distemper
  • Heartworm preventive
  • Hepatitis
  • A kennel cough
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Rabies
  • Parainfluenza
  • Parvo

After these vaccinations, which are often given in combined injections at the same time, further dog vaccinations are given on a yearly basis to maintain immunity.

Alternatives to Vaccination Schedules

Research suggests that dog vaccinations are overused and that the second vaccination at ten to twelve weeks may be unnecessary: an initial vaccination and a single twelve-month booster shot may provide protection for three years or, in some cases, for life. There are concerns that overuse of dog vaccinations increases the risk of immune system disorders and immuno-suppression. With this in mind, some veterinarians are exploring alternatives to vaccination.

The effectiveness of the vaccinations themselves is not the issue here: few would argue that rabies or parvo vaccinations are not necessary. Instead, people are examining possible alternatives to vaccination protocols. For instance, Lyme disease dog vaccinations are standard, but only dogs in specific geographic areas are at risk for Lyme disease. A kennel cough, while often part of dog vaccination protocols, is not usually a serious disease so regular vaccination may not be necessary.

Advocates of alternatives to traditional vaccination schedules suggest two separate vaccination schedules. A “core” set of dog vaccinations would protect against rabies, parvo and other dangerous illnesses. The second schedule of “non-core” vaccinations would provide immunity, when needed, against less common and less serious diseases such as Lyme disease and kennel cough.

Shots for Dogs - Canine Vaccination Schedule

Shots for Dogs – Canine Vaccination Schedule

Alternatives to Vaccination

With interest in alternatives to traditional medicine on the rise, it’s no surprise that some people are looking for nontraditional alternatives to vaccinations for their pets. Homeopathic remedies, veterinary acupuncture and other alternatives to vaccinations are under investigation. As of yet, clinical trials have yet to prove such treatments offer safe, effective alternatives to vaccination.