What exactly are vaccines?

Vaccines are inactivated, killed, or parts of viruses and bacteria that can affect your dog in a negative manner. They stimulate an immune response without actually getting the animal sick so that when the dog is exposed to the naturally occurring virus or bacteria, the immune system is ready for it and can fight it off.

Dr. Burgess
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

How do vaccinations impact the health and wellbeing of my dog?

Vaccinations are going to prevent your dog from getting some preventable diseases, either diseases that are very common and very contagious, or those may not cause severe illness but are good to protect your dog from. There are also vaccines against diseases that can cause severe illness and death. So those are all things we want to prevent your dog from getting whenever we can.

Are these vaccinations required by law?

The only vaccination required by law in Maryland is the rabies vaccination, and that is required for all dogs, cats, and ferrets greater than 16 weeks of age. If your dog, cat, or ferret were to bite an individual, and not be vaccinated for rabies, you could be visited by the health department and required to quarantine, so it's important that you're vaccinated to protect your animal as well as to protect other people.

Does my dog's lifestyle factor into what vaccinations my veterinarian will recommend?

It can. There are certain dogs that don't need vaccinations for the different diseases that cause kennel cough, for example, because they don't go to boarding or grooming or doggy daycare. Sometimes we still recommend vaccinating for these things because you never know when the lifestyle of the animal is going to change. But for the most part, there are certain dogs that don't need a vaccination for those types of contagious diseases. There are also differences in where an animal lives, whether it may need a certain vaccine. For example, in Maryland, we vaccinate for Lyme, whereas in other places where it's not as prevalent, they may not.

How soon should I get my dog vaccinated?

We typically start vaccines at eight weeks of age, although some breeders start even as early as six weeks. We start vaccinating for distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and Bordetella at that time. Part of that is because you're starting to lose maternal antibodies that the mom gives to the puppy, and you need to start having the puppy build up its own antibodies. That's also why you have to booster in that time between maternal antibodies and the puppies’ own antibodies.

Do I really need to avoid allowing my puppy to socialize with other dogs until they are fully vaccinated?

Typically, we recommend not socializing with any unknown animals, or in places where a lot of unknown animals or wildlife may congregate. I typically tell people you can socialize with your friends and family's dogs, who you know to be healthy and vaccinated, that aren't having diarrhea, vomiting, or other symptoms of contagious diseases. I also tell clients to avoid dog parks and places where any dog may go and leave urine or feces behind, as those are places that viruses and bacteria can be carried. So it doesn't mean they have to be strictly isolated, but you do want to be careful about who you socialize with.

Why is it so important to avoid missing a dog vaccination?

Dog vaccinations stimulate the immune system, as we said. Certain initial vaccines have to stimulate the immune cells, and then the booster reminds the immune cells of the disease that they need to be able to fight against. The initial puppy boosters that are done every few weeks are getting those cells ready to go, and then the boosters that are done annually or every three years are continuing to remind the immune cells of what they need to be on the lookout for.

What are the typical puppy and dog vaccination schedules?

As I said, we typiclly start puppies at eight weeks. We do the first distemper and Bordetella at eight weeks, following that with distemper, Lyme and lepto at 12 weeks, Lyme and canine influenza at 14 weeks, and Lyme, canine influenza, distemper, and lepto at 16 weeks. Then we do rabies the next year, and then that goes to every three years, distemper every three years, and then everything else is an annual vaccine, again, to remind those immune cells.

What diseases are prevented with vaccinations?

As we discussed, rabies is a very important fatal disease with no cure, so we definitely want to prevent rabies in our animals. It's also transmissible to humans. We give all of our companion animals rabies vaccines because we can't vaccinate all the wildlife. Distemper is also a very real and very fatal disease that causes neurologic and respiratory conditions that can kill your dog, so we vaccinate for that. Parvovirus is a disease of the intestinal tract, causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and, again, it can be fatal. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that they can pick up from infected water sources. If wildlife were out, it is spread through urine, so if they were to drink from a puddle and ingest that bacteria, they could contract leptospirosis, which causes liver and kidney failure. Lepto is transmissible to humans. Lyme disease can cause fever, lethargy, lameness, but in the long-term, it can also cause kidney failure, so we recommend vaccinating for that.

We also vaccinate against viruses and bacteria that can cause what we call kennel cough, which is a catchall term for upper respiratory infections that dogs can get from other dogs. We also vaccinate for Bordetella, which is bacteria in the upper respiratory tract, as well as parainfluenza, which is a virus that we vaccinate for. Canine influenza virus, H3N2, and H3N8 are recommended for all dogs who have contact with other dogs.

What is a vaccine reaction?

A vaccine reaction is an allergic reaction to vaccines. It's pretty rare, but the immune system can get overstimulated by the vaccine. That can cause facial swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, or extreme lethargy. Again, this is very rare, and we feel like the benefits of vaccines outweigh that risk. We also have good protocols in place for managing vaccine reactions if they do occur and to prevent them in the future for individuals who show them.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Vaccination - FAQs

Dr. Burgess
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

When does my puppy or dog need to be vaccinated?

Typically, we start vaccinating puppies of eight weeks of age. And if you get a new dog from a shelter, then sometimes they have vaccines, but sometimes they don't have all the vaccines that we would typically recommend. So we ask you to, at the very least send us your vaccine record so we can tell you whether your dog is up to date, but you should be bringing them in to see us when you first get them anyway. You’ll want to do this so we can make sure that they're healthy and we can always review their vaccines and see if there are any additional ones that we recommend for our area.

How many times a year does my dog need vaccinations?

Typically, adult dogs need to come in once a year for vaccines. Not every vaccine needs to be boostered every year. Once you've gotten the initial rabies and distemper series onboard, we booster these every three years. But annual vaccinations are for Lyme, leptospirosis, Bordatella, and canine influenza. So you should expect to bring your dog in once a year for vaccines. When they're puppies, they're getting brand new vaccines more frequently for boosters.

Can there be any variations in the puppy and dog vaccine schedule?

Because it's their first experience with the vaccine, puppies need to get boosters of most of our vaccines. Some vaccines require more boosters, some require fewer, but we're going to work out that vaccine schedule with you when we meet your dog.

Is it safe to get multiple dog vaccinations at the same time?

Typically, it is very safe. Rarely, we have dogs who have vaccine reactions, which are allergic reactions to vaccines. That's not typically associated with getting more vaccines at once but to a specific vaccine. If a dog does have a vaccine reaction, we may split up the vaccines in the future to try to determine which vaccine they are sensitive to. But we typically do multiple vaccines per visit and the dogs do very well.

What is titer testing and is it effective?

Titer testing tests the level of antibodies to a given disease in the body. I don't believe that a lot of the titers have been validated to show that titer levels prove that your dog is protected, so we still do recommend following the American Animal Hospital Association vaccine schedule for canines. However, there are certain dogs who aren't able to get vaccines, such as dogs undergoing chemotherapy or who have had serious vaccine reactions, and in those cases, we may think about doing titers just as a measure of knowing how well we think they might be protected.

Does my puppy need to restart boosters if they miss a vaccination?

It's really going to depend on the vaccination, how long overdue they are for boosters, and the veterinarian's discretion. So I recommend talking to your specific veterinarian, if you are overdue, about whether or not to restart. The best thing to do would be to stay on schedule as best as possible. And if for any reason you anticipate you might miss an appointment and you want to talk about to the doctor before that about when you can come in and still not have to get boosters, please give us a call.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.