A dog is for life, and not just for Christmas. ~ National Canine Defense League slogan

I had a friend call me the other day to ask me questions about shots for a dog that she’s fostering.  She has three dogs of her own and has been fostering dogs on and off for years.  Even with all these dogs, she still had questions regarding the proper vaccinations.  I thought about it after our call and I realized how many of the people who fostered dogs for the animal shelter I used to work for had the same questions or worse, no questions at all.  The truth is that many people out there don’t know the proper vaccination schedule and/or don’t realize that dogs need to be vaccinated just like humans.  So, I thought we’d do a little informative post today. 


All dogs should get their shots.  These shots consist of Rabies, Bordetella, and a shot called DA2PPC. 

  1. We’re all familiar with Rabies so I’m going to skip that one. 
  2. Bordetella is a shot that prevents kennel cough.  Now, you might be thinking ‘I don’t board my dog anywhere’ and therefore I don’t need to prevent kennel cough.  You’d be WRONG.  In the course of your dog’s life it will probably go on walks and meet other dogs, possibly go to dog parks and definitely go to a vets’ office.  In any or all of these places your dog will be susceptible to kennel cough (think of it like a doggie cold).  You’re miserable when you get a cold right?  Why make your pet suffer through that when all it takes is a simple routine vaccination to prevent it? 
  3. DA2PPC – this shot is a vaccination cocktail preventing canine distemper, adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza, canine parvovirus, and canine coronavirus.  I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck all those diseases are so I’m going to tell you…
    1. Canine Distemper – this is a super scary disease for dogs.  Statistically, most dogs who contract this virus do not survive (75%). If they do survive, most dogs will have permanent neurological damage and young ones will have tooth enamel damage leading to major medical problems down the line.  Also, your wallet will have permanent damage.  It can cost into the thousands of dollars to treat a dog with canine distemper because more often than not they have to be kept in doggie ICU for several days to several weeks.  Unfortunately, distemper is extremely easy to spread.  The symptoms include nasal and eye discharge, coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, fever that may come and go, and seizures.  Worst of all, there is no specific treatment for Canine Distemper.  Treatment is largely supportive (IV fluids, meds to ease the seizures, etc).
    2. Adenovirus type 2 – this is basically doggie HIV.  Initially, the virus affects the tonsils and larynx causing a sore throat, coughing, and occasionally pneumonia. As it enters the bloodstream, it can affect the eyes, liver, and kidneys. As the liver and kidneys fail, you may notice seizures, increased thirst, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Unvaccinated dogs of all ages are at risk, however, the disease is most common in dogs less than a year old. Death can result as soon as two hours after the initial signs. Again, there is no specific treatment for this disease (just like with Canine Distemper).  Treatment is largely supportive (IV fluids, etc).
    3. Parainfluenza –  Just like kennel cough is similar to a cold in dogs, Parainfluenza is similar to the flu.  The most common symptom is a dry hacking cough sometimes followed by retching.  In more severe cases, the symptoms may progress and include lethargy, fever, lost of appetite, pneumonia, and in very severe cases, even death. Fortunately, there is a treatment for this disease using super-strong antibiotics.
    4. Canine Parvovirus – this is the scariest of all common doggie diseases (Canine Distemper is second) that people in an animal shelter environment worry about on a daily basis.  It is the most common infectious disease in dogs in the United States.  The number one symptom of Parvo is diarrhea that is often bloody.  What makes it even scarier is that the virus can live on anything (and everything) for five months… your clothes, your sofa, the grass in your backyard, you name it.  Anything that comes into contact with the Parvo virus should be wiped repeatedly in a bleach solution (some people even have to go as far as bleaching and killing all the grass in their yards).  The incubation time for the virus is 7-14 days which means that the dog may have the virus (and be spreading it everywhere) before it begins to show signs 14 days later.  The majority of cases of disease are seen in dogs less than 6 months of age with the most severe cases seen in puppies younger than 12 weeks of age. There are also significant differences in response to parvovirus infections and vaccines among different breeds of dogs, with Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and Labrador Retrievers being more susceptible than other breeds.  There are two types of the Parvo virus.  With the most common, the symptoms will include vomiting (often severe), diarrhea, dehydration, dark or bloody feces, and in severe cases, fever.  The second most common type progresses very rapidly – with death occurring as early as two days from onset.  Again, the treatment for Parvo is mostly supportive (keeping the animal hydrated through IV fluids).  In some severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary.  Undertaking the treatment of affected dogs and puppies without professional veterinary care is very difficult. Even with the best available care, the mortality of severely infected animals is extremely high. Without the correct amount of properly balanced intravenous fluids, the chance of recovery in a severely stricken animal is very small.
    5. Canine Coronavirus– this disease is the second leading diarrhea-causing disease in dogs (second to Parvo).  Unlike Parvo, vomiting is not common.  Unfortunately, many puppies who have Parvo also have Coronavirus, and vice versa.  Mortality rates in puppies with both diseases are as high as 90%.  Fortunately, it is easier to kill this virus on inanimate surfaces (your clothing, furniture, lawn) than it is to kill Parvo.  As with canine Parvovirus, there is no specific treatment for canine Coronavirus. It is very important to keep the patient, especially puppies, from developing dehydration. Water must be force fed or specially prepared fluids can be administered under the skin (subcutaneously) and/or intravenouslyto prevent dehydration.

Ok, so I know that was long and nasty but it’s really good information to know.  Now, you need to know WHEN to give your dog its shots.  It’s really easy.  As early as 3-4 weeks the dog should get an intranasal (nose spray) injection for Bordetella.  As early as possible (5 weeks at the earliest) the dog should get a shot for Parvo.  At 6, 9, 12, and 15 weeks the dog should get a combo shot cocktail (the DA2PPC).  Also, if you live geographically in an area where it’s necessary, the dog should get a Lyme preventative at 12 and 15 weeks.  At 12 weeks, the dog should get its Rabies shot.  Adults should get boosters of all of the above on a yearly basis.  ***If adopting  a puppy, make sure it’s had the shots listed above (in the required quantities based on age).  If you’re adopting an adult dog, you should see one of each type of injection on their medical form. 

Ok – last but not least – all dogs should be on Heartworm Preventative.  You need to get this from your vet.  You give your dog a pill or a little chewy tablet once a month… easy peasy.  You also need to have your pet tested yearly to ensure that there aren’t any heartworms that slipped past.  Heartworms are a MISERABLE way for an animal to live.  I mean, seriously…. Would you want to live with this?


Now, I’m not stupid.  I realize how truly expensive all of this can get.  The part of me that worked in an animal shelter says that if you couldn’t afford the dog you shouldn’t have gotten it in the first place.  The part of me that’s a pet owner to a truly expensive special needs dog knows that sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, you’re not prepared enough.  There’s a great article here that you can read that goes through the cost.  What I can tell you is that sometimes you get a dog like ours and that changes things DRASTICALLY.  Our dog has severe food allergies and is on a special diet.  She also has knee and hip problems (common in Labradors) and is on joint pills.  It also depends on the vet you go to.  Places like Banfield or your local Humane Society will offer services at a much lower cost.  We use VCA.  We pay more for it, but I think we get better care.  Regardless of where your dog gets its shots, the shots and the heartworm preventative are a MUST!

Alrighty folks – I hope that helps.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.  I’m by no means a vet, but if I can help answer them I will. 

* Most of my information (that I didn’t know from working with dogs for years and years) was found on the website Peteducation.com – it’s a great source!


4 responses to “A dog is for life, and not just for Christmas. ~ National Canine Defense League slogan

  1. Jane Hardee

    Miss Lita is worth any price………….

  2. uncontentwithaverage

    Heres a question- why do dogs/cats need vaccination boosters so often? Humans dont need to get revaccinated every year, so why do animals? Are you saying that after a year, the vaccine automatically stops working? When you think about it, it sounds pretty shady -.

    • So I actually think this is a fabulous question and I’m glad you asked it because I think that there are probably lots of people out there wondering the same thing. In order to be as thorough as I can, I’m actually going to give you two separate answers. One, is my own perspective and the other is the perspective of my veterinarian who I’ve been taking my pets to for 8 years. He’s highly educated and is the medical director of the Houston branch of a national veterinary services provider. I trust him implicitly as he has provided impeccable care for all of my animals even in life and death situations. So… here we go…

      From my perspective: I think the biggest thing to realize is that humans and animals are not the same species. Subsequently, what’s good for one is not necessarily good for the other. A perfect example would be something simple like chocolate or grapes – while those are, for the most part, harmless foods to most humans they are absolutely lethal to dogs and cats. We’re not talking an individual allergy like to tree nuts, we’re talking a species-wide difference between what humans can handle and what a dog or cat can handle. Subsequently we have to realize that vaccines may work one way on a human but completely differently on a pet.
      As far as vaccines are concerned, there are millions upon millions of humans who get a yearly flu vaccine. Human babies/children also generally undergo a vaccination schedule in their younger years. Similarly, young puppies and kittens are especially susceptible to life threatening diseases such as parvo and distemper and should be vaccinated accordingly. It is important to remember that vaccines are a preventative measure and they do not necessarily guarantee that your animal will never contract one of these deadly viruses. They do, however, substantially lessen the chances. I have seen hundreds of pets die horrible deaths that likely could have been prevented if they’d been vaccinated properly.
      With regards to the frequency of vaccination, I believe staunchly that this is a decision that each pet owner must make for their individual pets just like each parent must make for their individual children. I’ll give you a perfect example: I have a ten year old Labrador who routinely gets her vaccinations/boosters for things such as rabies, parvo, distemper and bordetella. She does not, however, receive a vaccination for canine influenza. The canine influenza vaccine was only recently introduced as a “common” vaccination in the last few years and since I personally don’t receive a flu shot each year and my dog is never really around other dogs I chose not to vaccinate against canine influenza. However, if I were someone who boarded my dog while on vacation or took my dog to the dog park I would absolutely vaccinate her for any and all communicable diseases. (Please note that while canine influenza and parvo/distemper are all communicable diseases parvo and distemper are substantially easier to spread and much more deadly).

      From my vets perspective: This has been a discussion for quite some time in the veterinary world! Yearly vaccines are NOT routinely recommended across the board anymore. There have been numerous studies in the past 20+ years studying DOI (duration of immunity) on the different vaccines we use. The vaccines can be broken down into 2 categories, infectious vs non-infectious. Infectious vaccines (attenuated, recombinant, modified-live) must invade the host’s cell to immunize therefore produce a better immune response (cellular, humoral, systemic and local) with a longer DOI. Examples of these include the canine distemper and parvovirus vaccine as well as the 3 year rabies vaccine. All vaccine companies have research to back up at least a 3 year (some 5 years and >) DOI on these vaccines. Vets who are practicing modern evidence based medicine are doing a 3 year rotation on these vaccines after the initial puppy series. The non-infectious vaccines (killed, inactivated) cause a weaker, humoral (antibody) and local type immune response and have a shorter DOI therefore are usually given every year. Examples of these vaccines include leptospirosis and bordetella.

      I hope this has given you some food for thought!

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