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Immunization awareness: Focus on dog vaccines

August is National Vaccination Awareness Month, an event designed to raise awareness about the importance of pet immunization. Most dog owners understand the value of timely vaccinations and booster shots to keep their furry companions safe from diseases such as rabies, heartworm, and distemper. However, knowing what vaccines are needed and when to have them administered can be confusing. To help you make heads or tails of basic vaccines and immunization schedules for dogs, we’ve got the details in this blog.

Pet immunizations are divided into two basic groups: core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are those recommended by veterinarians for every dog, while non-core vaccine administration depends on your dog’s lifestyle (ex. you board your dog often at a kennel with other animals).

Core Vaccines for Dogs

Rabies (1 year). Rabies is 100% fatal to dogs, and rabid animals pose a significant public health hazard to humans. For these reasons, the 1-year rabies vaccine is considered a core vaccine. It can be administered in a single dose to animals as young as 3 months of age. Annual boosters are recommended. According to veterinarian Dr. Lee Pickett, side effects from the rabies vaccine are rare.

Editor's Note: The rabies vaccine may be a state or city requirement for dog ownership.

Rabies (3-year). Like the 1-year vaccine, the 3-year rabies vaccine is administered in a single dose beginning when the animal is about 3 months of age. A single booster is recommended after 1 year and boosters at 3-year intervals thereafter.

Distemper. Distemper is a viral disease that results in fever, watery eyes, loss of energy, decreased appetite, vomiting, and in severe cases, brain damage. The distemper vaccine is typically administered in 3 doses, given when the animal is between 6 and 16 weeks old. Puppies should receive a booster after 1 year, and adult dogs at 3-year intervals thereafter.

Parvovirus. “Parvo,” as it’s commonly called, is a contagious virus (among dogs) that can result in vomiting, severe bloody diarrhea, and even death. Like the distemper immunization, the parvo vaccine is typically administered in 3 doses, given when the animal is between 6 and 16 weeks old. Puppies should receive a booster after 1 year, and adult dogs at 3-year intervals thereafter.

Adenovirus Type 1 (Canine Hepatitis). Viral hepatitis in dogs is a contagious illness spread by contact with urine or feces from infected animals. If untreated, canine hepatitis can result in severe liver damage or even death. The vaccine is typically administered in 3 doses, given when the animal is between 6 and 16 weeks old. Puppies should receive a booster after 1 year, and adult dogs at 3-year intervals thereafter.

Adenovirus Type 2 (“Kennel Cough”). Spread by coughs and sneezes, kennel cough is commonly seen in animals that spend significant time being boarded with other dogs. The vaccine is typically administered in 3 doses, given when the animal is between 6 and 16 weeks old. Puppies should receive a booster after 1 year, and adult dogs at 3-year intervals thereafter.

Non-Core Vaccines for Dogs

Canine Influenza. The vaccine is administered to puppies in two doses—the first at 6–8 weeks of age and the second 2–4 weeks later.

Parainfluenza. Different from canine influenza, parainfluenza typically presents as cough and fever. The initial vaccine is administered to puppies 6–8 weeks old, then every 3–4 weeks until 12 weeks of age.

Bordetella Bronchiseptica. A bacterial illness, Bordetella is usually not dangerous to adult dogs but can be severe in puppies. Show dogs and pups boarded with other animals are at greatest risk. Vaccine schedules and forms vary; and both intranasal and injected forms of the vaccine are available. Booster frequency depends on risk for exposure.

Lyme Disease. Most dog owners are familiar with Lyme disease, an illness carried by deer ticks. Symptoms include joint pain ad inflammation, stiffness, lethargy, and loss of appetite. The vaccine is recommended for dogs that spend lots of time outdoors in wooded areas and is administered to puppies in two doses, the first around 9 weeks of age, with the second dose 2–4 weeks later.

Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is associated with exposure to rodents and standing water. Symptoms include sudden fever, joint stiffness, lethargy, and loss of appetite. The vaccine is administered to puppies in two doses, 2–4 weeks apart, with the final dose no later than 12 weeks of age.

We hope this information on canine immunizations will help your dogs living healthier, longer lives!


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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