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What Vaccines Do Dogs Need? The No-Nonsense Guide for Pet Parents - PawSafe

What Vaccines Do Dogs Need? The No-Nonsense Guide for Pet Parents

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

what vaccines do dogs need

Knowing what vaccines dogs need is a crucial part of responsible pet ownership. Just like people, dogs need jabs to protect them from various infectious diseases. Some of these diseases can be quite serious or even fatal, but fortunately, shots can help keep your dog healthy. 

This proactive measure not only protects individual dogs but also contributes to the broader goal of creating a resilient and immune canine population. So, you’re not just being a good dog parent but also a good neighbor. 

We referred to Dr. Ian R. Tizard, BVMS, PhD, in-depth about canine vaccines. Through his help and other veterinary experts in the text, we have accurate answers to all your pet immunization questions, such as what core and non-core vaccines are and why they’re crucial. 

Also, don’t forget about timing! Puppies have their own schedule – a kind of ‘rite of passage’ series of shots to get them started. Stay on top of when your little buddy should be getting their jabs by checking out this info on when puppies get shots.

Unfortunately, canine vaccine hesitancy (CVH) has been on the rise. The 2023 survey of 2,200 owners shows that a slight majority (53%) consider shots unsafe, ineffective, or unnecessary. 

What’s worse is this means people are also ignoring rabies immunization as well, aka the closest thing we have to a zombie virus. We hope this article sways you if you happen to be on the list.

And remember, always chat with your vet. They’re the Yoda to your Luke when it comes to your dog’s health. Bring humor, love, and treats. The last one’s for your dog, not the vet… Well, unless they really like treats.

Key Takeaways

  • Shots are essential for protecting your dog against serious diseases.
  • Core vaccines are a must for all dogs, while non-core vaccines depend on individual risks.
  • A puppy vaccination schedule is necessary to build immunity, and adults may need yearly boosters.
canine core and non-core vaccines

Core Vaccines

French Bulldog receiving core vaccine

When it comes to keeping your pet healthy, some shots are a real no-brainer. These are the “core” vaccines, the must-haves for every dog, regardless of their swagger or lifestyle. The AVMA report of cat and dog vaccines covers all these jabs beautifully. Let’s check them out.


First up, the rabies vaccine. It’s the big one. Not just because of its fame in horror movies but because it’s legally required in many places. Depending on where you live, your dog’s rabies vaccinations might be on a set schedule. Check out our guide on how often dogs need rabies shots to get the low-down on your local laws.


Parvovirus is a real party pooper, especially for puppies. It has a survival rate of only 9% without your vet’s help, according to PubMed. The disease attacks their intestines and can make them super sick. Curious about timing? Learn when puppies get their parvo shots to ensure you’re on track.


Canine distemper is a viral disease that affects various organ systems, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. It is highly contagious and can be fatal, particularly in puppies.


Adenovirus sounds like a villain out of a sci-fi movie, right? Well, it’s a virus that goes after your dog’s liver or respiratory system, and it’s not playing around. 

The inoculation usually covers both canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1), which causes infectious canine hepatitis, and canine adenovirus type 2 (CAV-2), which is associated with respiratory infections. Hepatitis can lead to liver disease, and respiratory infections can cause kennel cough.

Non-Core Vaccines

Husky getting non- core kennel cough vaccine by vet

Just like you, your canine doesn’t need every vaccine under the sun. Non-core dog vaccines are more like the choose-your-own-adventure type: get ’em if you need ’em, based on your pup’s lifestyle and where you live. Let’s sniff out the details!

Bordetella Bronchiseptica (kennel cough)

If your dog’s social calendar is more packed than yours, with lots of playdates and kennel stays, you might want to consider the shot for Bordetella bronchiseptica. This is a real party pooper of a bacteria that causes kennel cough.


Swimming in lakes, or just love a good puddle? Leptospirosis is a bacteria partying in water and can make your dog super sick. The jab is especially a good idea if you’re living where this bug likes to vacation (think warm, wet places).

Lyme Disease

When it comes to Lyme disease, think tiny villains called ticks. If your woods wandering or tall-grass trekking puts your pooch in tick territory, this injection can help keep the Lyme beasties at bay.

Canine Influenza

Dog flu is a thing, and it’s not fun. Think of the canine influenza injection like a flu shot for your pup — especially handy if they mingle lots or board often. It helps them dodge that doggy flu bullet that’s been going around the block.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Hand holding vaccine injection young German Pointer dog in background

Your fluffy bundle of joy needs shots to stay healthy, just like a tiny superhero gaining their powers. Let’s make sure you’re up to speed on when to roll up their tiny sleeves.

Initial Puppy Shots

Your puppy’s first vaccines kick off when they’re as young as 6 to 8 weeks old. These shots happen in a series, every 3 to 4 weeks until your pooch reaches about 16 weeks old.

  • 6 to 8 weeks: Combination shot (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus) or DHPP +Bordetella (optional);
  • 10 to 12 weeks: DHPP+ Leptospirosis (optional);
  • 16 to 18 weeks: DHPP+ Rabies; and
  • 12 to 16 weeks: Rabies alone.

Don’t forget that the exact timing might vary, so it’s best to buddy up with your vet on this one. A general rule of thumb is puppies need 3 to 4 shots every 2 to 3 weeks from the first shot. 

Booster Shots

Now, boosters are like the sequels. They make sure the initial power-ups don’t wear off. They’re usually due a year after the initial series and then every 1 to 3 years. Some of these follow-ups might be optional, depending on what shield your furry sidekick needs.

 For instance, not every dog chases ducks or rolls in mysterious mud, so they might not need the leptospirosis injection as often. Here’s a peek into recommendations to understand which boosters are essential. Remember, your vet’s the Yoda here, guiding you through the vaccination galaxy.

  • 1 year after initial shots: DHPP+ Rabies, +other recommended jabs based on lifestyle;
  • Every 1 to 3 years: Distemper, Parvovirus, Hepatitis (or as advised by your vet); and
  • Every 1 to 3 years: Rabies (as required by law).

This immunization adventure keeps your pup safe so they can go on to chase squirrels and steal socks for many years to come!

Adult Dog Vaccination Schedule

When your pup gets to be an adult, keeping up with their immunization is like making sure they have a seatbelt on during car rides. It’s all about safety first!

Annual Vaccinations

By now, your canine should have had all their initial shots, which means it’s time to mark your calendar for their yearly check-up. Each year, you’ll want to ensure they get their annual vaccinations

This usually includes a booster for distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis (DHPP). Depending on where you live or what kind of hijinks your dog gets up to, a jab for leptospirosis, bordetella (kennel cough), or Lyme disease might be in order, too.

Vaccination Frequency

How often your dog needs to roll up their sleeve — err, fur — for more shots depends a lot on their lifestyle and the laws of your local dog park. Vets generally agree on the core jabs, which are given less frequently as your dog ages but might still be needed every few years. 

Non-core are more of a ‘your-mileage-may-vary’ situation and could be recommended annually. Always chat with your vet since they’re the experts who can give you the best advice for your pup’s health playbook.

What Vaccines Do Dogs Need Yearly?

Dogs need their distemper, hepatitis, and parvo (DHPP) booster jab every year. Rabies may need a booster every 1 to 3 years, depending on your local laws. Others might pop up on your vet’s radar, but they’re like the special guest stars on your dog’s health show, only making appearances when needed.

Just remember, this list isn’t the be-all and end-all. Your pet might need more or less depending on where you live and how they spend their days. Always check with your vet — they’re like the directors of your pup’s health adventure, after all!

Keep it cool, stay informed, and give those four-legged companions the TLC they deserve with those yearly jabs. Who’s a good owner? You are!

Vaccination Side Effects

When you get your canine vaccinated, you’re doing a solid for their health. But, just like people, dogs can have side effects from these injections. Most are no biggie, just a minor fever or tiredness, etc. But a few can get serious.

Common Reactions

So, your dog got their shots, and now they’re a bit sluggish, or their shot spot is sore. Maybe they’re even running a teeny temp. No sweat; these are your run-of-the-mill reactions, and they’re usually gone pretty fast. Here’s the lowdown:

  • Mild fever;
  • Lethargy;
  • Soreness at the vaccination site; and
  • Temporary appetite loss.

Severe Reactions

On one paw, jabs keep your pooch healthy. On the other paw, rarely, they can cause a reaction that’s a bit more “Whoa, what’s up with Fido?” If you notice anything off the doggo chart, like vomiting or diarrhea, call the vet since this can be an immunization adverse reaction. This rare stuff includes:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea;
  • Collapse or difficulty breathing; and
  • Swelling of the face or legs (this one’s a real red flag!).

Allergic Reactions

Alright, let’s chat allergies. Think of a dog’s allergic reaction like your buddy who can’t eat peanuts. It’s rare, but serious business. If Rover is scratching like crazy, has a bit of a rash, or (heaven forbid) has a hard time breathing, it’s vet o’clock. Check out these allergic flags:

  • Itchiness and hives;
  • Swelling of the muzzle or around the face; and
  • Severe coughing or trouble breathing.

Remember, keep an eye on your buddy after vaccination and keep these signs in mind. Most dogs handle these shots like champs, but it’s always better to be a clued-up pet parent!

Vaccination Legislation

Pet immunization is not just good advice; in some places, it’s the law. Let’s go over what you need to wrap your head around when it comes to the legal side of keeping your pup’s shots up to date.

Mandatory Vaccines

In many areas, certain shots are required by law. The biggest on this list is usually the rabies one

Local Rules May Vary

Now, your hometown might have its own set of rules. Some places might say, “Yes, please!” to more shots than others. You can check out the WSAVA guidelines to get a feel for what’s generally recommended, but remember, your local laws might be a bit different.

Exemptions and Titers

Sometimes, there are exceptions to the rule. Maybe your doggo has a health issue and can’t handle certain jabs. Your vet can talk to you about whether a medical exemption is paw-sible. 

Also, titers, which are blood tests to check for immunity, may sometimes be used instead of additional vaccinations. But again, whether titers are accepted in place of inoculation depends on your local laws.

So, there you have it, the legal lowdown on vaccinating your dog buddy. Remember to keep it light and chat with your vet if you’ve got questions!

Traveling with Vaccinated Dogs

Hey, you! Planning a trip with your canine best friend? That’s awesome! But let’s make sure your dog is ready to hit the road with all the necessary immunizations.


These are the must-haves, no matter where you’re heading.

  • Rabies: Non-negotiable, folks! (And legally required in many places.);
  • Distemper;
  • Hepatitis;
  • Parainfluenza; and
  • Parvovirus.

Some places might have specific requirements, so always check the local regulations.


Depending on your destination, these could be on the list too.

  • Bordetella (Kennel Cough);
  • Leptospirosis;
  • Lyme disease; and
  • Canine influenza.

Alright, got all that? Now, roll over to your vet and make sure you’re getting the right shots for your journey.

Important Reminder

Some shots need time to kick in. Plan accordingly! Have your dog vaccinated at least a few weeks before your travel date. It gives it time to work its magic and makes sure your pup’s immune system is ready for adventure.

Keep your dog’s medical records handy. You never know when you’ll need to show proof of vaccination, especially if you’re traveling internationally. 

There you have it! Keep your dog healthy and ready for globetrotting!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

We know you’ve got a laundry list of questions about your pup’s immunizations. Don’t sweat it. We’re here to tackle the common head-scratchers with clear-cut answers that’ll put your mind at ease.

What kind of shots do puppies need?

Your bundle of fur needs to start their life with protection against some nasty diseases. We’re talking the core jabs like distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis. Puppies usually kick off their immune defense with a series of shots starting at around six to eight weeks old.

How often do dogs need a rabies booster shot?

The rabies shot is a biggie, and it’s legally required in most places. After the initial puppy jab, your dog will need a booster shot a year later, and then typically every three years following the advice of your vet.

What’s the dog vaccination schedule for adult dogs?

Grown-up dogs still need to stay on top of their game with regular vaccination schedules. It’s not a one-size-fits-all deal, though; the timing can vary based on the injection type, your dog’s health, and lifestyle needs. Booster shots are typically required every year or 1 to 3 years for rabies.

What shots do dogs need before a vacation?

Before your dog rubs snouts with new pals, they may need a Bordetella inoculation to protect against kennel cough and possibly a flu shot. You also need to be up to date with the parvo, distemper, adenovirus, core jabs. It’s always best to check the requirements with your boarding facility or vet — better safe than sorry!

Which vaccines are a must-have for every dog’s health passport?

Core vaccines like parvo, distemper, rabies, and adenovirus are non-negotiable for your dog’s health passport. These jabs are crucial for your dog’s well-being, no matter where they roam or whom they sniff.

Do our canine companions really need a booster shot each year, or is that just a myth?

This one’s a bit of a balancing act. While not all jabs require annual boosts, some do, depending on the type and your dog’s exposure risk. Your vet’s the MVP here, helping you figure out what’s best for your furry friend’s protection plan.

Final Thoughts

Let’s talk about the shot lineup your canine needs. Think of vaccines like a superhero squad guarding your pup’s health. Starting with the core inoculations, they’re the backbone of protection. These are DHPP and rabies shots.

And how about the noncore? Well, they’re like the special agents called in for specific missions and include Leptospirosis, Lyme, and kennel cough shots. 

Remember, your vet’s like the ace coach who knows exactly what shots fit your four-legged pal’s lifestyle. Every dog’s different, so stay in the loop with your vet’s advice. Keep up with booster shots — they’re the top-up your dog’s defenses need to stay sharp.

Finally, don’t let the worry-bug bite you. Vaccines are there to keep tails wagging and playtime never-ending. So, roll with the shots, keep those vet visits, and give your buddy the best shot at a happy, healthy life! 

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.