- Vaccinations help protect your dog against serious diseases such as:
- Infectious hepatitis
- Rabies (if you want to travel in and out of the UK with your dog)
- Kennel cough (depending on your dog's lifestyle)
- Your dog should be vaccinated as a puppy, then have regular boosters throughout life.
- Contact your vet to discuss which vaccinations your dog needs.
Vaccinations help prevent your dog catching and spreading some very serious infectious diseases, many of which can be fatal. When a dog is vaccinated, a small amount of the disease (that’s modified so it can’t cause illness) is injected into your dog, giving their body a chance to learn how to destroy it. This means that if they encounter the real disease, they are much less likely to become unwell because they are ready to fight it.
What should I vaccinate my puppy/dog against?
All dogs living in the UK should receive their ‘core vaccines’, which include:
- Parvovirus – a highly contagious, potentially deadly disease that causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs. Parvovirus booster vaccinations will usually be given every three years.
- Distemper – a very serious, often fatal disease that affects several different organs in the body including the guts, heart, immune system, lungs, brain and nerves. Distemper booster vaccinations will usually be given every three years.
- Infectious Hepatitis – a virus that attacks the liver, kidneys, eyes and blood vessels. Infectious hepatitis spreads in bodily fluids and can survive in the environment for up to a year. Infectious hepatitis booster vaccinations will usually be given every three years.
- Leptospirosis – a bacterial disease that causes serious illness by damaging vital organs such as the liver and kidneys. In humans, leptospirosis is known as ‘Weils disease’. Leptospirosis booster vaccinations will usually be given every year.
In addition to their core vaccinations, some dogs require additional vaccinations such as:
- Kennel cough – your vet may recommend a kennel cough vaccination if your dog is at high risk of catching the disease, for example if they mix with lots of other dogs, or have health conditions that could make a kennel cough infection more serious. Kennel cough vaccination is usually a requirement if your dog spends time in kennels, doggy day care, has a dog walker, or attends dog events and shows. Kennel cough vaccination should be given every year that your dog is at risk.
- Rabies – necessary for dogs that travel in and out of the UK. Rabies vaccines need to be given every one or three years – your vet will discuss the best schedule to keep your dog safe if you are travelling abroad.
To be fully protected, your dog needs a 'primary course' of vaccinations, followed by yearly boosters throughout their life.
Primary course: A primary course of vaccines involves two or three injections 2-4 weeks apart. Most dogs start their primary course of vaccinations as a puppy at around 8-10 weeks old, but adult dogs that haven't ever been vaccinated, or aren't up to date with their yearly boosters, can also have a primary course at any time. your puppy/dog will be fully protected a few weeks after the final injection in their primary course, until then, you will need to keep them away from any potential risks.
Yearly boosters: After their primary course, your puppy/dog will need regular booster injections to stop their immunity decreasing over time. Some diseases need to be vaccinated against every year, and others every three years. Your vet will tell you which vaccine components your dog needs each year. If your dog misses a booster, they will need to start their primary course again. If you stop vaccinating your dog, they will be at risk of catching infectious diseases.
Vaccines for travel
If you wish to travel outside of the UK with your dog, you will need to vaccinate them against rabies, and check the specific entry requirements for the the country you are visiting. Each country has different rules, so it's important to be sure about what you need to do long before you travel. It's also very important to make sure you find out what you need to do so your dog can return with your to the UK.
Titre testing is a set of blood tests that check the immunity your dog has against the diseases they’ve had vaccines for in the past. Your vet may recommend titre testing if you are concerned about over vaccinating your dog, or if you are trying to reduce vaccinations because of a specific worry (e.g. a previous allergic reaction to a booster). There are times when your dog may need a titre to confirm their protection for a particular disease for other reasons, for example your dog may need a titre test after their rabies vaccine if they are travelling to certain countries.
Titre testing isn’t a permanent alternative to vaccination boosters, because your dog’s immunity will run out eventually – but if your dog’s titre test results show that they still have some remaining protection against some of the diseases that were due for booster vaccinations, you may decide to leave those particular vaccines out of the schedule that year.
A limitation to titre tests is that they show you the level of protection your dog has at the time of their blood test, but do not guarantee that your dog will have enough protection for a full year afterwards. This means that theoretically your dog’s protection could run out half way through the following year, which would leave them unprotected for 6 months, until their next test and booster.
Titre tests are available for parvovirus, infectious hepatitis and distemper. and is no titre test available for leptospirosis, so your dog will always need their yearly booster for this, even if their results show that they are protected for other diseases.
Discuss your options with your vet if you want to know more about titre testing.
If you have general worries about vaccination safety, always speak to your vet or vet nurse who will be happy to discuss your concerns. You can also check out our myth-busting information on vaccines.
Your dog’s vaccine will be given as an injection under the skin on the back of their neck (except kennel cough, which is a squirt up the nose). Your dog will need to be held very still while the vaccine is given, if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, tell your vet so that they can ask someone else in the practice to help. Vaccinations aren’t usually painful, but they can feel cold or sometimes sting a little.
Before vaccinating your dog, your vet will give them a full check-over and ask you some questions about their general health – it’s important that your dog is healthy when they have their vaccination.
A vaccination appointment is an excellent opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns you have about your dog – for example if you think your dog might be gaining weight, need a worming tablet, or you’re having trouble with dental care.
How much do dog vaccines cost?
It’s impossible to say exactly how much a vaccination will cost at your vets because prices vary year to year and between each individual practice. However, if you call a veterinary practice they will be able to tell you their current prices.
Many practices offer health plans which cover vaccinations and flea/worming treatments. This will usually be a monthly, or yearly, payment which makes it easier to budget for your dog’s care. They can work out as a cost effective way to pay for your dog’s routine healthcare needs and make sure they’re covered for everything they need. Speak to your vet to find out if they offer a health plan, what this includes and find out if it will be the best option for your dog.
Possible side effects
Similar to human vaccines, dog vaccines can occasionally cause side effects. Fortunately, these are almost always mild and pass within 24 - 48 hours. You might notice your dog has low energy and tenderness around the injection site after their vaccine, especially if they are having their primary course of vaccines. It’s a good idea to monitor your dog and allow them to rest if they want to, usually they will be back to normal after a day or so.
Serious side effects from a vaccine are extremely rare. Always speak to your vet if your dog experiences any significant side effects after a vaccine, or has previously had problems after a vaccine. It’s important to remember that although vaccines can cause side effects, so can nearly every other medicine, and the risks of side effects are very small compared to the risk of staying unprotected against potentially deadly diseases.
Protecting an unvaccinated puppy/dog
If your puppy/dog is unvaccinated, overdue a vaccine, or if they haven’t finished their primary vaccination course you will need to keep them safe by:
- Keeping them away from other unvaccinated dogs
- Don’t let them walk on the ground in public spaces
- Avoiding high risk areas where there could have been rats, cows, foxes or other unvaccinated dogs
- Only allowing them in your garden if it’s secure from foxes and other unvaccinated dogs
It’s very important for puppy to start their socialisation as early as possible.
Can a vaccinated dog get parvo? Although vaccinations provide excellent protection, none can guarantee 100% cover. So yes, theoretically, vaccinated dogs can still catch the diseases that they have been vaccinated against, but this is significantly less likely. In addition to this, if a vaccinated dog catches a disease they have been vaccinated against, they are likely to develop less serious symptoms and have a much higher chance of recovery.
Can my dog be vaccinated if they are poorly? It’s always safest to give a vaccination when your dog is as fit and healthy as possible. Contact your vet for advice if your dog is showing any signs of illness before their vaccination appointment.
What vaccines are required by law? There's no legal requirement to give your dog vaccines in the UK. However, vets recommend core vaccines for every dog to keep them safe and healthy. The exception to this is the rabies vaccine, which is a legal requirement if your dog is travelling in and out of the UK.
How long do dog vaccines last? The length of vaccination protection depends on the disease, the type of vaccine used and your dog’s immune system. As a general rule, leptospirosis vaccines provide protection for about a year, and distemper parvovirus and hepatitis vaccines last three years. However, this can last a little longer (often 2-3 months more) if you’ve kept your dog’s vaccines up to date throughout their lives. If you’re unsure whether your dog is still protected by their vaccines, speak to your vet to discuss their specific situation.
Can my dog have vaccinations if they’re taking regular medication? Most medications won’t affect your dog’s vaccinations. However, some drugs such as and certain ‘anti-itch’ drugs can affect vaccines, so it’s always best to discuss this with your vet.
Are vaccines dangerous? All vaccines used by vets in the UK are licensed, meaning they have to go through rigorous safety checks before they are approved for use. These licenses are also constantly under review (by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate) to make sure they stay safe for your dog. As with any medication, there is always the possibility of side effects, but they are rare, and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.
Are dog vaccinations necessary every year? Leptospirosis vaccine needs to be given every year, but Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus are often only needed every 3 years.
Published: Sept 2021
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.
Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst