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What is in a dog vaccination and why do I need to vaccinate my dog?

May 06, 2023

Duncan Houston

Dog vaccinations contain small amounts of modified or killed viruses, bacteria, or other disease-causing organisms. These components, called antigens, stimulate the dog's immune system to produce a protective response without causing the actual disease. If the dog is later exposed to the pathogens, its immune system will recognise and fight them more effectively.

Here are some common diseases that affect dogs and the reasons for vaccinating against them:

1. Canine Parvovirus (CPV): This highly contagious viral disease affects a dog's gastrointestinal tract and can cause severe vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, and even death. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at the highest risk. Vaccination significantly reduces the risk of infection and the severity of the disease.

2. Canine Distemper Virus (CDV): This viral disease affects multiple body systems, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Symptoms include fever, nasal discharge, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea, and neurological signs such as seizures or paralysis. Distemper can be fatal, and there is no specific treatment. Vaccination is crucial for preventing this severe disease.

3. Canine Adenovirus-2 (CAV-2): CAV-2 vaccination protects against both Canine Adenovirus-1 and Canine Hepatitis. Canine Adenovirus-1 causes infectious canine hepatitis, which affects the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and eyes. Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, and jaundice. Canine Adenovirus-2 causes respiratory illness and is part of the kennel cough complex. Vaccination helps prevent both forms of the disease.

4. Rabies

(Certain Countries): This viral disease affects the central nervous system and is nearly always fatal once clinical signs appear. Rabies can be transmitted to humans through saliva or bites from infected animals. Symptoms include behavioural changes, aggression, paralysis, and difficulty swallowing. Rabies vaccination is not only essential for your dog's health but also legally required in many places to protect public health.

Non-core vaccines are administered based on the dog's lifestyle, risk factors, and geographical location. Some non-core diseases include:

1. Bordetella bronchiseptica (Kennel Cough): This bacterial infection causes respiratory illness and is highly contagious. Symptoms include a dry, hacking cough, nasal discharge, and fever. Vaccination is recommended for dogs that frequently visit boarding facilities, dog parks, or grooming salons.

2. Canine Influenza Virus (CIV): This viral infection causes respiratory illness with symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. In severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia. Vaccination is recommended for dogs with a high risk of exposure, such as those in boarding facilities or dog shows.

3. Leptospirosis: This bacterial infection affects the kidneys, liver, and other organs. It can be transmitted to humans and cause flu-like symptoms, jaundice, and kidney or liver failure. Vaccination is recommended for dogs with a higher risk of exposure to contaminated water or environments with infected wildlife.

4. Lyme disease (Certain Countries): This bacterial infection is transmitted through tick bites and can cause joint pain, swelling, fever, and kidney damage. Vaccination is recommended for dogs living in or traveling to areas with a high prevalence of infected ticks.


Vaccinating your dog is essential for several reasons:

  1. Protecting your dog's health: Vaccines help prevent severe, potentially fatal diseases that can be life-threatening or cause long-term health issues for your pet.

  2. Protecting public health: Some dog diseases, like rabies, are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans. Vaccinating dogs helps to reduce the risk of such infections in humans.

  3. Herd immunity: When a high percentage of the dog population is vaccinated, it creates herd immunity, which reduces the chances of an outbreak and protects dogs that cannot be vaccinated due to health reasons.

  4. Legal requirements: In many countries, certain vaccinations, such as the rabies vaccine, are required by law.

  5. Reducing veterinary costs: Preventing diseases through vaccination is often more cost-effective than treating a sick dog, as some diseases can lead to expensive and prolonged treatment.

Remember to consult with your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate vaccination schedule for your dog based on its age, lifestyle, and risk factors.