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Do Dogs Need to be Vaccinated?

There are a lot of similarities between veterinary and human medicine. One of these similarities is the use of vaccines. Vaccination seems to be a polarizing topic with people feeling very strongly about it one way or another. This blog will help weed out some of the suspicion and questions behind giving vaccines to dogs and why they are essential to helping your dog live longer.

cropped image of man holding beagle while veterinarian doing injection by syringe to it cropped image of man holding beagle while veterinarian doing injection by syringe to it dog vaccine stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

What is a vaccine?

Before understanding why dogs need vaccinations, let’s first ask what is a vaccine? Vaccines are essentially a kick start to immune protection against sickness and disease that come from viruses. The first official vaccine was invented in 1796 by Edward Jenner, who created a vaccine for protection against cowpox. However, there has been evidence that Chinese medicine was using primitive forms of vaccines dating back as early as 1000 CE. Moral of the story is that vaccines are not new technology but they have been much improved on over the years.

Vaccines are not a cure for disease but instead are a means of prevention and protection. As stated by the World Health Organization, “Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease”. 

This is done by injecting a portion of the virus that you are vaccinating against. The injected portion of virus is not harmful in any way but is enough to trigger your immune cells to start producing antibodies and memory immune cells against the virus. If for any reason you are exposed to that particular virus again, you will not get sick because your body's immune system will remember it and fight it off! Click here for a video representation on how vaccines help you to fight disease.

There are different types of vaccines, with different portions of the virus included. Some vaccines use a dead form of the virus and some use a small, harmless portion of the virus (like RNA). Both will elicit an immune response in a healthy individual. Depending on the vaccine, it may take up to 2 weeks for immunity to occur and sometimes it may also take more than 1 dose. This is especially true for puppies who may need multiple vaccine doses in their first year. Vaccines are usually given as an injection but can also be given as a nasal or oral spray.

Which vaccines should dogs get?

You would do anything to keep your dog safe and healthy, right? This includes getting them vaccinated. There are a number of deadly canine diseases that can easily be prevented through vaccines. Most are given to your dog as a puppy, with some needing boosters throughout their lifetime. Here are the vaccines that Canadian veterinarians recommend you give your dog:

  • Canine Distemper

Type: Core vaccine

Canine distemper is a virus that can be fatal to dogs as well as causing respiratory, digestive, and nervous system distress. Even if dogs are able to revolver from this disease, many are still left with permanent nervous problems. The fatality rate for this disease is nearly 50% in unvaccinated dogs. The disease is spread through eye and nose droplets and unvaccinated dogs are at 350X more risk than their vaccinated companions.

  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis 

Type: Core vaccine

ICH is a fatal canine disease spread through infected urine. If contracted, this virus causes liver failure, eye damage, and respiratory distress. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “The mortality rate for ICH ranges from 10%–30% and is typically highest in very young dogs.” In ~25% of recovered dogs, there is damage to the eyes, causing partial or complete blindness.

  • Canine Parvovirus

Type: Core vaccine

This is a nasty little virus with a very high mortality rate. It is a very serious and widespread disease, with mortality occurring as early as 40-72 hours after contracting the virus. The mortality rate of parvo is nearly 80% and those dogs who do survive are usually left with permanent heart and bone damage. This virus is spread through infected feces and can affect dogs of all ages if unvaccinated.

  • Rabies

Type: Core vaccine

Rabies is a disease that affects all animals, including humans and dogs. This disease is almost 100% fatal as there is no cure. The rabies virus primarily affects the nervous system, with signs being variable ranging from listlessness, weakness, paralysis and aggression.

There are also options for non-core vaccines which are vaccines designed to fight off illnesses that are unlikely to be fatal in dogs. These vaccines are usually given by suggestion of your veterinarian. Below are the list of non-core vaccines:

  • Parainfluenza
  • Bordetella (kennel cough)
  • Lyme disease
  • Leptospirosis
  • Canine influenza
Dog in the city park Golden retriever at the park dog stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

When should my dog be vaccinated and how often?

*This chart is sourced from the Pet Web MD website

Take home message

Dogs are at risk of developing deadly diseases just by going outside and exploring their environment. Vaccines were developed as a means to protect our doggos and keep them safe from these diseases. Just like a healthy diet and proper exercise, vaccines are crucial for helping your dog live a long life.

Dog getting vaccine at vet office
Dog getting vaccine at vet office

View Sources

WHO. “Vaccines and immunization: What is vaccination?” 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/vaccines-and-immunization-what-is-vaccination 

CVMA. “Vaccination and your dog”. 2016. https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/vaccination-and-your-dog-animal-owners#:~:text=Current%20protocols%20provide%20for%20vaccines,years%20where%20allowed%20by%20law

PetMD. “Pet vaccines: Schedules for Cats and Dogs” https://pets.webmd.com/pet-vaccines-schedules-cats-dogs#1 

Wallace, R. M., E. A. Undurraga, A. Gibson, J. Boone, E. G. Pieracci, L. Gamble, and J. D. Blanton. "Estimating the effectiveness of vaccine programs in dog populations." Epidemiology & Infection 147 (2019).

Wallace, Ryan M., Eduardo A. Undurraga, Jesse D. Blanton, Julie Cleaton, and Richard Franka. "Elimination of dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030: needs assessment and alternatives for progress based on dog vaccination." Frontiers in veterinary science 4 (2017): 9.


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