Importance of Preventative Vaccines

kitten getting vaccine

With the new coronavirus vaccines being rolled out across the world, there has never been a better time to think about protecting your family from disease by vaccination – and that includes our four-legged members, too! Thankfully, dogs are not at risk from COVID-19, but there are a whole host of other life-threatening illnesses that you can protect them from by making sure they stay up to date with their vaccinations. Some of these illnesses can also be passed on to humans, so vaccinating your dog will not only protect them, but the rest of your family as well.

How do vaccines protect my dog?

Vaccines harness the power of the dog’s own immune system to give them an advantage in the fight against disease. A vaccine will introduce your dog’s body to a small part of a virus or bacterium, which prompts it to rally the immune system to “defend” it – even though there is nothing there to fight. Each different virus or bacterium needs to be fought in a different way, so this process allows your dog’s immune system to spend time working out how to fight off the invader before they are actually under attack. Then, when your dog’s body is attacked by the virus or bacteria for real, they already know how to defend themselves.

It can take a couple of weeks for your dog’s body to work out how to best fight off invading bacteria or viruses, so the head-start that the vaccination gives them can be the difference between life and death.

Which dog vaccines are absolutely necessary?

By law, all dogs in New York State must be vaccinated against rabies from 4 months of age. This is to protect them, but also to protect you and your family. Rabies is always fatal once symptoms appear, in both dogs and humans, so it is a disease we must take seriously.

Although rabies is the only vaccine that your dog is legally required to have, there are several others that are important to protect your dog’s health.


Leptospirosis is another disease that your dog can pass on to you or other members of your family, meaning it is important for everyone’s health that they are protected. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that your dog can catch from wildlife (including rodents, raccoons, or opossums) or farm animals such as sheep, cows, or goats. They do not need to meet these other animals directly to catch it, as it can be left behind in their urine.  

Leptospirosis can cause a variety of problems including kidney failure, liver failure, breathing difficulties and even issues with blood clotting. It can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough, but sadly even with treatment not all dogs will survive. There are several different strains of Leptospirosis, so vaccination cannot prevent illness in all cases, but it makes it much less likely that your dog will become sick.

Lyme Disease

Also known as Borreliosis, this is a bacterial infection that both humans and dogs can catch from the bite of a deer tick. Dogs who live in rural areas, or who spend time out walking in nature, are at the highest risk of catching it. However, we also see cases in dogs that live in towns and cities, too.

Lyme Disease can cause a whole range of symptoms, from fever and loss of appetite to swollen, painful joints. If left untreated, some dogs will suffer from damage the kidneys or heart. There is some evidence that Labradors and Golden Retrievers may be at increased risk of developing kidney disease. Regular vaccination can help protect your dog from becoming sick with Lyme disease.

Parvovirus, Distemper and Adenovirus

These three viruses only affect dogs, not humans, but can cause very nasty illnesses that may be fatal.

  • Parvovirus causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea, which leads to dehydration and sepsis, and is often fatal even with hospital treatment.
  • Distemper virus causes fever, coughing, discharge from the eyes and nose, and eventually neurological signs (weakness, wobbliness, twitching and seizures). Sadly, this is also often fatal.
  • Adenovirus damages the liver, and can also affect the kidneys, heart and immune system. Again, it is often fatal even with intensive treatment.

Your dog does not need to come directly in to contact with a sick dog to catch these viruses, as the virus particles can survive for some time away from the dog – in the case of parvovirus, this may be months, even outdoors. Luckily, vaccination is very effective at preventing sickness from these viruses, so it’s important to keep your pup’s cover up-to-date. 

How often does my dog need vaccinating?

All puppies should have a course of vaccinations when they are young, to train their immune system how to fight these illnesses. This course includes three or four injections when they are a puppy, and then a booster one year after the last of these injections. They will then need further booster vaccinations as adults, which remind their bodies what they learned when they were puppies.

In the case of parvovirus, distemper virus and adenovirus, you dog’s body is quite good at remembering how to fight these off. They only need a booster vaccination every three years.

Leptospirosis and Lyme disease are both bacteria, and your dog’s body finds it harder to remember how to fight them. These diseases need a booster vaccination every year to keep your dog’s immune system up to date.

Rabies vaccines must (by law) be done based on the manufacturer’s guidance.

There are some changes that may be made to these guidelines, depending on your dog’s individual lifestyle. Your veterinarian can advise you on the right vaccination schedule for your puppy.

Where can I buy dog vaccines?

Dog vaccines should only be administered by a veterinarian, or a veterinary technician at a veterinarian’s direction. There are several reasons for this:

  • Vaccines should not be given to dogs who are sick, as they may not work. Your veterinarian will examine your dog thoroughly before vaccinating them, to look for any signs of illness.  
  • Vaccines must be administered correctly, or they may not work. Most are given by injection, but some are not, and they must be injected in the correct way. If they are given wrongly, they can have serious side effects.
  • Vaccines must be stored correctly in order to work. Your veterinary clinic has facilities to store and monitor the vaccine vials, making sure that they are effective when they are given to your dog. 
  • Vaccines should not be given more often than needed. Your veterinarian can advise you on which vaccinations your dog needs, and the right time to do them. They will also keep a record of your pet’s vaccinations to make sure they do not receive more vaccines than they need.

It may be tempting to look for low-cost dog vaccinations away from a veterinary clinic, but it is not worth running the risk – you will have no guarantee that your dog is being given an effective vaccine, and they may not be covered against the right diseases.

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