Fortunately, there are many vaccines available to prevent serious illnesses in dogs. Vaccines contain antigens, substances which provoke an adaptive immune response but do not actually cause the disease. After being vaccinated, the dog 's immune system is prepared to fight off the disease upon exposure, either avoiding symptoms entirely or greatly reducing their severity. Not all dogs require exactly the same vaccinations, but there are some that the American Animal Hospital Association's Canine Task Force recommends for all dogs. These are known as Core vaccines. Other vaccinations are recommended for dogs at high risk for certain diseases.
Core Canine Vaccines
The recommended Core vaccines that every dog should receive are considered necessary based on risk of exposure, severity and the ability of these illnesses to be transmitted to humans. The Core vaccines are:
- Canine parvovirus
- Canine hepatitis
Typically, puppies receive a combination vaccine that protects against distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus. The rabies vaccination, administered as a separate injection, in addition to being part of the Core group, is also required by law. The rabies vaccine must be administered periodically, in some regions annually and in others only once every 3 years.
Non-Core Canine Vaccines
The non-core vaccines are administered by veterinarians according to their evaluation of the dog's risk of contracting the disease. This assessment is based on the dog's home environment and lifestyle. The vet must also weigh any possible side effects in terms of the individual dog's age and overall medical condition. The non-core vaccines include:
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
- Borrelia burgdorferi
- Leptospira bacteria
The vaccination schedule is determined by the veterinarian based on various factors about the individual dog. Because puppies receive antibodies in their mother's milk as long as they are nursing, they are not vaccinated until they are 6 to 8 weeks of age. They are normally vaccinated at 3 to 4 week intervals, a minimum of 3 times, receiving the final dose at about 4 months.
Risks of Vaccinations
Since vaccinations work by mildly stimulating the dog's immune system, they may create mild transient symptoms, such as soreness at the injection site, fever, loss of appetite or lethargy. In some dogs, vaccines may produce an allergic reaction. More rarely, the dog may develop a very mild version of the disease the vaccination is intended to protect it from. Serious symptoms after a vaccination always require medical attention. These may include:
- Facial swelling
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Pain, swelling or hair loss at the injection site
- Lameness or collapse
- Difficulty breathing
In the vast majority of cases, canine vaccinations result in no symptoms or extremely mild ones. The protection from serious, often deadly, diseases far outweighs any possible risks for most dogs.