There are a variety of diseases that dogs are commonly vaccinated against, including distemper, parvovius, adenovirus, hepatitis, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, kennel cough (Bordatella), coronavirus, and rabies.
Most puppies will be vaccinated for most or all of the above diseases as a matter of course during their initial three or four visits to the vet. Puppies get some immunity from their mothers, but the duration of the immunity is highly variable. Because maternal antibodies prevent the puppy from forming an immune response to the vaccine, puppies are vaccinated several times, with the last vaccine of the series usually occurring between 12 and 16 weeks of age. In addition to rabies, most pet owners will want to vaccinate their dogs at least once after the puppy series for the most common and deadly diseases, distemper and parvo.
The Booster-shot Dilemma
There is some controversy regarding booster vaccinations, both about what to vaccinate against, and how often to vaccinate. What most people don’t understand is that it’s not the vaccination that provides protection from disease; it’s the dog’s immune response to the vaccine. According to veterinarian Ronald Schultz, if a dog forms a proper immune response to the first vaccine, research has shown that he usually keeps that level of protection for a long period of time, perhaps the duration of his life. Revaccination doesn’t improve his level of immunity. It’s not like topping off your windshield washer fluid; you can’t make your immune dog more immune.
Some dogs never form a good immune response and aren’t protected, no matter how many times they are vaccinated. In addition, there is evidence that overvaccination, especially with killed vaccines and combination vaccines instead of modified live, single vaccines, can cause more problems than they prevent, particularly allergic reactions and autoimmune diseases.
With the growing concern surrounding vaccinosis or vaccine-related health problems, many vet schools have changed their booster vaccine protocol from every year to every three years.
Owners of dogs that aren’t vaccinated according to traditional schedules may want to do occasional titer tests, although they probably aren’t necessary or even a 100 percent accurate portrayal of the dog’s level of immunity. It never hurts to research the issue and discuss it frankly with your veterinarian to come up with the vaccination schedule that is most appropriate for your dog and lifestyle. Some training and boarding facilities require particular vaccines, but some will accept titers or waivers, so consider those factors, as well as your dog’s health, when making your decision.
Rabies is a public health issue and a zoonotic disease, which means it can pass from animals to people, with a near 100 percent fatality rate. It is required by law to vaccinate pets for rabies, although the frequency of vaccination varies from one to three years depending on the area you live in. If your dog ever bites or scratches someone and he doesn’t have a current rabies vaccine, he will (at least) be quarantined, so make sure you know the laws in your area. Yearly vaccination is often required in areas where rabies is prevalent in wildlife like raccoons.