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Does My Dog Need Vaccines or Are They Dangerous? Which Vaccines Should I Use?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Learn about whether or not your new pup needs vaccines in this day and age.

Learn about whether or not your new pup needs vaccines in this day and age.

Controversies and Vaccines

Because of the controversy surrounding the danger of vaccinations, some dog owners have decided to skip vaccinations altogether. Having seen many of the diseases that we are able to vaccinate against, I can tell you that this is a poor decision and one that your dog may pay for for the rest of her life, even it is a short and painful one.

But which vaccines does your dog need?

Vaccines Your Dog Needs

Here are some of the essential vaccines that your dog needs.

Core Vaccines

  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Parvo

Optional Vaccines

  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis (adenovirus)
  • Parainfluenza
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lymes disease
  • Bordetella
  • Canine Influenza
  • Giardia
Rabies can affect all dogs, so vaccines are required in most states.

Rabies can affect all dogs, so vaccines are required in most states.


Some people are still very concerned about this disease in dogs and the laws still require all dogs to be protected against it. Rabies is a disease that was once common and is now so rare that most of us never worry about it; a lot of younger veterinarians have never even seen it. Before the advent of rabies vaccinations, dogs had horrible reputations and many people were afraid to take a dog into the house for fear that she may eventually turn into a biter and cause the death of family members.

This vaccine is legally required in all states of the US and in many countries. When the vaccines were developed, laws were passed mandating their use in dogs. Since this disease is still a problem in wild animals, the vaccine program needs to continue to keep our dogs safe and the owners free from worry.

(If your dog is allergic to vaccines, however, talk to your veterinarian about obtaining a "free pass" so that he does not require the vaccine.)

One of the symptoms of canine distemper.

One of the symptoms of canine distemper.


Distemper is not seen much anymore in the US because it has been almost eliminated by an excellent vaccine; it protects against a disease all of us used to be worried about. (Before vaccinations, this was the number one cause of death in dogs.)

There never was an effective cure for distemper and all we could do was support the dog and perhaps she would live. Dogs that managed to live usually had neurological symptoms afterwards and might be affected by a Parkinson’s-like twitch, a failure to thrive, an inability to move around, and even an inability to lift a leg like a dog and urinate on a tree!

Seeing a dog pee on himself and then fall over for the effort is really sad when you know that it could have been prevented.

Parvo virus can kill your dog.

Parvo virus can kill your dog.

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Parvo is another serious disease that all dogs should be vaccinated against since we are able to prevent it with vaccinations. The virus lasts a long time in the environment and there is still a lot of parvo out there. If your dog is not protected against parvo, the disease will infect the cells of the intestine and cause them to slough off. The dog bleeds out, and it is a terrible way to die.

When the parvovirus first appeared, I remember most of the cages of the clinic filled with dogs suffering from bloody diarrhea and having no chance to live. Although there are some strains still resistant, most dogs will be protected and the vaccine is well worth giving.

Other Vaccines

  • Infectious canine hepatitis (adenovirus) is considered important by some practitioners (AAHA) while others, like Dr. Dodd (Hemopet), do not recommend it because of the transient immunosuppression caused by the vaccine. Parainfluenza and sometimes Leptospirosis are also commonly vaccinated against at the same time as distemper and parvo. The multi-valent vaccine sold almost everywhere already contains these antigens, so your puppy will have that protection whether you want it or not. If your veterinarian uses a vaccine with only distemper and parvovirus, and it is not vaccinating against these diseases, there is no cause for alarm.
  • Lyme disease vaccination is probably not for everyone but may be worthwhile for dogs living in affected areas. Some dogs that are affected do not even show symptoms until it is late in the disease and damage is already done. This vaccine is so ineffective though that a lot of veterinarians will not even recommend it.
  • The bordetella vaccine, which is being marketed as a “kennel cough” vaccine, may not prevent the disease but will prevent some types of the cough from getting worse. There are a lot of other bugs involved, and unless your dog is exposed through boarding and grooming, this is not even a vaccine you need to put on your puppies list.
  • Other vaccines (like Giardia or the flu) are available but should only be considered for dogs at risk. Talk to your veterinarian before giving these vaccines.
Dog vaccines.

Dog vaccines.

Are Annual Vaccinations Necessary?

Although I am sure you need to vaccinate your puppies, are annual vaccinations for your adult dog even necessary?

Research has proven that they are not, and since all vaccinations have potential side effects (like allergic reactions and immune-mediated hemolytic anemia), you need to ask yourself if your canine companion is in more danger from the vaccine or the disease.

The best way to decide whether or not to get vaccine boosters is to check the levels of antibody in the dog´s serum. However, it is expensive and may not even provide an accurate picture. (There are cells in the body that are stimulated by the virus and become active in producing antibodies.) If you do not take your dog to a groomer or boarder that requires vaccinations every year, you can get by testing every three or four years, and then vaccinate only is she needs it. If your veterinarian tells you he wants you to vaccinate every year (like some clinic´s “wellness plan” where the costs of the vaccines are covered but serum titer levels are not) it is up to you to protect the health of your dog by refusing the boosters.

Distemper is one of those diseases that are effectively prevented by vaccinations. The protection probably lasts at least seven years, maybe as much as fifteen. Parvo is another one of those diseases that your adult dog will probably never get if vaccinated properly as a puppy. If you choose to vaccinate your dog for Lyme disease, you have to give it every year, and bordetella needs to be bolstered every six months when administered intra-nasally.

Personally, I would recommend puppy vaccinations up to 16 weeks and then boosters at your dog's first birthday, fourth birthday, eighth birthday, and twelfth birthday. I make this recommendation because I am semi-retired and have no financial motivation. There is a lot of controversy out there but I am sure that vaccines last at least three years so there is no need to put a dog under unnecessary stress.

Healthy dogs on the beach.

Healthy dogs on the beach.

In an area like that in which I live, where testing the serum for antibody levels is not even an option, a vaccination every four years is all I give my dog. Even rabies vaccinations can be given every three years and still be effective and legal in most areas. (You have to check your local laws to see if this is acceptable. Even though they are effective some places do not allow three year rabies vaccinations.)

I might even get by on vaccinating a lot less but my dogs do not have any health problems that would contraindicate vaccinations (like autoimmune diseases). If one of my dogs develops vaccine allergies or any other diseases I would not vaccinate.

Providing this level of coverage is not expensive or stressful for your dog. Everyone can take care of their dog, and they thank you for your concern every day!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: My mini poodle, a Mexican rescue, has had several seizures in the eight years I’ve had him. He has never been on Phenobarbital because the seizures were far apart. It’s been three years since he had the required rabies to enter Canada. Should I ask to be exempted from vaccinating at this point?

Answer: You can try to find a veterinarian in your area willing to provide your dog with an exemption because of his illness but when you go into Canada they may or may not accept this. At his age, a rabies vaccine is not really necessary but the politicians who made the laws for rabies vaccines do not accept any new research and are unwilling to learn.

Question: Is there a vaccine for heartworm?

Answer: There is not a vaccine for heartworm. Some vets will require a yearly test for heartworm disease before they will prescribe more preventative. It is available over the counter for those that are interested.


Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 16, 2018:

Eugene, "Bone deterioration"? Are you serious?

eugene dubreuil on March 16, 2018:

my cats lived til very old age no vaccinations but my dogs were always vaccinated and all died at 4 years old of bone deterioration what does that tell you

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 17, 2017:

Camilla, you are making the right call. I would never get a bordetella vaccination for one of my dogs.

CamillaGrant on December 17, 2017:

Thank you for your information....I have a new puppy and a 5 year old. I just got a card for my 5 year old for a semi annual Bordatell. This had never been a protocol before and I will not be getting this shot. I do not board my dogs, take them to dog parks or the groomer, however I do walk them regularly. I got my puppies first set of shots and need to get the next one that includes the Brodatella. I will get her first set of shots for the first year and then will follow your protocol for shots every few years. Thanks again for the confirmation.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 24, 2012:

I can understand that. I think I would try to get out in a situation like that.

Rachel Koski Nielsen from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on September 24, 2012:

I know she would be so miserable in a crate for 6 months. I could never afford that kind of boarding anyway, so it would be a total disaster. I would have to break the law I guess - grab my dog and run out of the vet's office before they could stop me!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 24, 2012:

It probably lasts even longer than 3 years, but like you said, the laws just are not very realistic. Can you imagine having to quarantine your dog for 6 months? That is a long time in a dogs life.

Rachel Koski Nielsen from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on September 24, 2012:

Your hubs are so informative, I just love reading them. The laws here require a rabies vaccination every year, but my vet told me that a healthy dog only needs the vaccine every 3-5 years. I had a very close call this summer when my dog got in a fight with a fox and needed a drain put in - her rabies vaccine was due only one week later and the vet informed me that if it had been expired I would have had to either quarantine her for 6 months (!!) or put her down! The fear of rabies is still very real I suppose, but I do wish the laws in the US regarding the vaccine were a little more realistic. Anyway great hub :)

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 01, 2012:

Actually Victoria Lynn I think it is even more dangerous with cats because of the incidence of feline sarcomas (tumors that develop secondary to vaccines). I spent most of my hours in Chicago working in dermatology, skin problems in dogs and cats, but have seen a lot of great hubs here and have yet to find anything I need to write about. I was actually thinking of writing on the theory of longevity and premium foods, something the food companies try to convince you is true although they have no proof. I see a lot of demodex mites here and it may be the same thing in Arkansas. Get him checked soon!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 01, 2012:

Great information and reasons to vacinate! Thank you! Well done hub!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on June 01, 2012:

Great info! It just seems that so many vets are all for those every year vaccines. It's hard to know what to do. Do you think the same is true for cats? I'm going to have to read your hub about teethbrushing. Now, do you have a hub on itchy skin. My dog has always scratched some, but it has intensified the past month. He has fleas now and then but he has never reacted like this to them. He scratches, licks and chews at himself. Has he developed a flea allergy? Worse food allergies? Outdoor allergies? He's 8 years old. His skin has darkened, but I don't know if that's related to age or infection or blackened dog disease (I googled that). Mites? Scabies? I guess I need to take him to the vet and see what she says. You said in your profile you have lots of time, so if you want to write a hub about it.... :-) I look forward to your other hubs. I love my little dog!! Sharing this hub with followers!

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