A guide to dog vaccinations

As any dog owner would agree, looking after your canine friend involves more than just taking him for a walk every so often and making sure his water bowl is full. It’s your responsibility as a pet owner to make sure your dog is vaccinated. Failure to do so can leave your furry friend exposed to a range of nasty infections and diseases.

We’ve taken a broad look at dog vaccinations and put together some useful information detailing everything you need to know as a dog owner for this important part in your animal’s life. Prevention is always better than treatment, so be proactive and vaccinate your dog.

What are dog vaccines?

By and large, vaccines are basically used to trigger an immune response in pets, which has two benefits. Because the immune response has been triggered by the vaccine, your pet’s body will be better prepared to fight future infections from the same types of disease-causing agents. As a result of the vaccine, the severity of future diseases can be significantly lessened and in some cases prevented entirely.

With a correct vaccination program in place the chances of your animal contracting an infectious disease are significantly decreased. It is because of this that vaccinations should be a part of every dog’s life, and are an important responsibility of any pet owner.

How do dog vaccines work?

The actual vaccine process is quite interesting. Some people view vaccines as a foreign chemical that creates a “shield” against infections, but this isn’t actually the case. Instead, when a vaccine is administered your pet’s body is actually exposed to a modified infectious agent, which triggers a response in their immune system. The response comes in the form of white blood cells which produce antibodies to fight and neutralise the infectious agent (or antigen). After this response, your dog’s body will “remember” the antigens and is set up to mount a rapid, significantly stronger response, which minimises the overall chance that they will become infected by the disease.1

What diseases should my dog be vaccinated against?

We’re pretty lucky in Australia that there aren’t as many diseases for our dogs to be exposed to, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a completely safe place. There is still a range of diseases that your dog can be exposed to if they’re not properly vaccinated.

Here is an overview of the most common:

  • Canine Distemper – This is a viral disease that can strike any dog, but is particularly prevalent in puppies and unvaccinated dogs. While it isn’t as common as it has been in the past, it is a serious disease that can still be found in areas with low canine vaccination rates. Early symptoms include lethargy and high temperatures, but this stage progresses rapidly and can even lead to pneumonia, permanent brain damage or, in some cases, death. The latest known outbreak of canine distemper in an area was in Victoria in 2012.
  • Canine Cough (or Kennel Cough) – This is a highly infectious disease in dogs that is generally picked up when they’re socialising in parks, kennels, dog shows, and even obedience classes. Canine cough is often exacerbated by exercise and excitement, and the classic symptom of this infection is a harsh cough that often finishes with gagging. Coughing can persist for weeks or months, and dogs that have been severely affected by canine cough may also display more serious symptoms like fever, lethargy, and even reduced appetite.
  • Canine Parvovirus – This is one infection to avoid at all costs. Canine parvovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract of your dog, and requires special disinfectants to kill. Typically spread when dogs come into contact with contaminated faeces or soil in dog kennels, parks or showgrounds, canine parvovirus can survive as long as 12 months in the environment. Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, and there is an alarmingly high infection rate among dogs that become infected with the virus if treatment isn’t found. The death rate in young non-vaccinated puppies can be greater than 80%, according to the Australian Veterinary Association.
  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis – This is another disease to avoid by all costs, which can be fatal for puppies. Infected dogs will display symptoms including fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and acute abdominal pain due to the inflamed liver the disease causes. This particularly resilient disease can be spread by carrier dogs via urine for up to six months, and death may occur within 35 hours. It goes without saying that this highly-infectious canine disease is one that should be vaccinated against for your canine companion. Infectious canine hepatitis has not been reported as having occurred in Australia since 2006, according to written records.

Even if my dog never mixes with other dogs, is it necessary?

Even if your dog isn’t particularly social it’s still best practice to make sure they’re vaccinated for the diseases, as many of those mentioned above can find their way into your dog’s system even if they’re not coming into contact with other animals. In fact, your dog not coming into contact with other animals can work against the natural development of its immune system, leaving it vulnerable to airborne viruses and potential viruses that can be brought into the home on your shoes.

How often should my dog be vaccinated?

The answer to this question depends on who you talk to, but as a point of reference we’ve taken a look this vaccination template for standard dogs. Bondi Veterinary Hospital recommends:

  • 1st vaccination for Distemper/Hepatitis/Parvovirus at 6-8 weeks
  • 2nd vaccination for Distemper/Hepatitis/Parvovirus/ Parainfluenza /Bordetella /Corona Virus/Leptospirosis at 12-14 weeks
  • 3rd vaccination for Corona virus/Leptospirosis at 16-18 weeks.

Bondi Veterinary Hospital also recommends an annual booster for Distemper/Hepatitis/Parvovirus/Parainfluenza/Bordetella and additional vaccines for any dogs entering a high-risk environment such as a boarding kennel.

Vaccination is one of the most important responsibilities of a pet owner, and failing to do so is doing a disservice to your dog. By maintaining a proper vaccination schedule you can be confident your dog’s immune system is better placed to fight any nasty viral infections.