Vaccinations: protecting your dog

Vaccinations protect against a wide range of infectious diseases, many of which can be fatal.

Vaccinations protect your dog against:

While it's not part of your dog's regular shots, your vet might recommend getting your dog vaccinated against kennel cough, depending on their health and how at-risk they are. Most boarding kennels also require your to have your dog vaccinated for kennel cough so it's an important consideration when you're planning a holiday. Read more about kennel cough here.

Vaccinations for puppies

Puppies are really vulnerable to serious diseases like parvovirus and canine distemper. It’s important to get them vaccinated early:

  • Puppies can start their vaccinations from 8-weeks-old.
  • They’ll need a second set of injections 2-4 weeks after their first set.
  • Some breeders or rehoming centres give puppies their first set of injections before they go to their new homes. Check if this is the case before you take your puppy home.
  • Don’t let your puppy mix with any other unvaccinated dogs until they’ve had all their jabs and are fully protected – this is usually 2 weeks after their second injections. Young puppies also need to have lots of new experiences so they can grow into confident, happy adults. Take a look at our socialisation calendar to see how you can fit this training around your puppy’s vaccinations.
  • Where you get your puppy from can have a huge impact on their health and happiness. Unfortunately, puppies that have been illegally imported or that were born on puppy farms are much more likely to catch serious illnesses like parvovirus. If you’re thinking about getting a puppy, take a look at the puppy contract for advice on how to avoid these breeders.

Booster vaccinations for dogs

Your dog will need booster injections throughout their life to keep them protected from deadly diseases:

  • Boosters for distemper, parvovirus and canine hepatitis are needed every 3 years
  • Boosters for leptospirosis are needed every year.

Vaccinations for travel

Just like humans, dogs need vaccinations before they go abroad. Your dog won’t be able to get a pet passport or travel overseas without up-to-date vaccinations and without being vaccinated for rabies. Rabies isn’t a problem in the UK but can be common in other countries. The passport includes a microchip and rabies vaccination.

Vaccinations for travel vary from country to country, so check with your vet before you travel.

What do vaccinations protect your dog from?

Our vets have put together information about each of the diseases vaccinations can protect against. Take a look at the information below to find out more about why vaccination is a vital part of caring for your dog.


Canine parvovirus

What is parvo and how is spread?

Canine parvovirus – or parvo - is a highly contagious virus which initially attacks the lining of the intestines. It is spread through contact with infected faeces (poo), but the virus can live on shoes, clothes and floors for many months. It is still fairly common in the UK and there are often outbreaks in areas with lots of dogs.

Symptoms of parvo

Symptoms can include:

  • severe vomiting
  • extreme and bloody diarrhoea
  • lethargy.

The disease can get worse very quickly and is often fatal without treatment.

How is parvo treated?

There is no cure for parvovirus. Vets can treat the symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea, help the dog to recover, and stop them catching other infections. Dogs with parvo will be put on a drip so they don’t become dehydrated and will be given medicine to stop them being sick.

Dogs suffering from parvovirus need lots of nursing and will be kept in an isolation ward to stop the disease spreading to other dogs. Sadly, even with the best care, not all dogs survive. Without treatment, parvovirus is deadly in as many as 90% of cases. Puppies are particularly at risk and can quickly deteriorate and die of dehydration or secondary infections.

Preventing parvovirus

  • If you are getting a puppy, make sure you buy from a responsible breeder or reputable rehoming centre, that you see the puppies with their mum, and that she has also been vaccinated. Take a look at the Puppy Contract for more information.
  • Many breeders and rehoming centres will provide the first shots of the puppy vaccination course, make sure you ask for proof. You then need to arrange the second set of jabs.
  • Puppies should be healthy and bright, and not showing any signs of diarrhoea. 
  • Keep puppies indoors for two weeks after they have finished the primary vaccination course, and don’t allow them to meet any unvaccinated pets before this time.
  • It’s advisable to keep puppies in an area where outdoor shoes aren’t worn, and anyone visiting the puppy should be asked to wash their hands first.
  • If you think your dog has parvovirus, keep them away from any unvaccinated dogs and call your vet immediately. They might ask you to bring your dog in through a difference entrance to prevent contamination in the waiting room.
  • Dogs that have recovered from parvovirus can be contagious for several months afterwards. Keep them away from other dogs or areas where lots of dogs go, like local parks. Your vet can test to see if your dog is still carrying the virus.
  • If you have lost a dog to parvovirus, remember that the virus can survive in the soil for up to a year. Any new dogs coming into your home need to be fully vaccinated first.


Canine distemper

What is canine distemper and how is spread?

Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that attacks a dog’s lymph nodes before attacking the respiratory, urinary, digestive, and nervous systems.

Vaccinations have been so successful at stopping canine distemper in the UK that it’s really rare to see outbreaks. However, it is more common in Europe and could be brought in from outside the UK. The virus is passed easily from dog to dog through saliva, blood, or urine.

Distemper can also infect other animals, such as ferrets and foxes.

Symptoms of canine distemper

Initial symptoms include:

  • watery discharge from the nose and eyes
  • reddened eyes
  • a high fever.

Later symptoms include:

  • lethargy
  • persistent coughing
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • seizures.

Distemper can also cause hardening of the footpads and nose, so is sometimes known as ‘hardpad disease’.

How is distemper treated?

There is no cure for distemper. Vets will managing the symptoms, such as giving fluids to prevent dehydration, and medication to help control seizures. Dogs will need intensive care and are usually kept in an isolation ward to stop distemper spreading to other dogs. Sadly, even with the right treatment, distemper can be fatal to as many 50% of dogs that catch it.

Preventing distemper

  • Vaccination is the best way to prevent distemper.
  • Keep puppies indoors until a few weeks after they have completed their primary vaccination course.
  • Don’t allow them to meet unvaccinated pets or unknown dogs until this time.



What is leptospirosis and how is spread?

Leptospirosis - also known as lepto - is a bacterial infection which attacks the body’s nervous system and organs. It can affect many species in the UK, including humans (Weil’s disease). The two main strains of lepto are carried by dogs and rats.

It is spread through infected rat wee and contaminated water, so dogs are at risk if they swim or drink from stagnant water or canals. Outbreaks can often happen when there’s lots of flooding.

Symptoms of leptospirosis

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • muscle tremors
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • increased thirst
  • jaundice
  • breathing difficulties.

In severe cases dogs can develop kidney damage and liver failure.

How is leptospirosis treated?

Dogs are given antibiotics to help fight the infection, and supportive treatment such as fluids to manage the symptoms.

Dogs with mild symptoms can recover, but in severe cases it can be fatal even with the best treatment. Weil’s disease can also be fatal to humans.

Preventing leptospirosis

  • Vaccinating your puppy or dog will protect them from the main strains of leptospirosis present in the UK.
  • Keep dogs away from any places where you know there are rats and other rodents.
  • Make sure puppies are kept indoors and away from other unvaccinated pets until they have completed their primary course of vaccinations.
  • Keep dogs away from stagnant water or flooded areas.
  • Dogs that have recovered from leptospirosis can carry the bacteria for some time afterwards. Keep them away from other vulnerable animals and humans for several months as their urine can still pass on the infection.


Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH)

What is ICH and how is spread?

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is a viral disease that targets the liver, kidneys, eyes and blood vessel linings. It is spread through the bodily fluids – wee, saliva, blood, poo or snot –of infected dogs. The virus can survive in the environment for up to a year, is very dangerous and can spread quickly.

Although there is a human version of hepatitis, it is a different strain and can’t be passed from dogs to humans or vice versa.

Symptoms of canine hepatitis

Symptoms range from mild to very severe, and can include:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • coughing
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pain.

In very severe cases the disease can go on to cause jaundice and liver failure, and can result in seizures and coma.

How is ICH treated?

There is no cure for ICH. Vets will treat a dog with ICH by managing their symptoms – e.g. by putting them on a drip to stop dehydration.

In mild cases the chances of recovery are good. Severe cases may need intensive care including fluid therapy, blood transfusions and medicine to prevent liver failure. Sadly, even with the best treatment, ICH can be fatal.

Once recovered, dogs may need to be put on a special diet.

Preventing hepatitis in dogs

  • Vaccination is the best way to prevent canine hepatitis, and is included in the primary series of puppy vaccinations.
  • Your dog will need a regular booster to stay protected from ICH – ask your vet if you’re not sure if your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.
  • When a dog has recovered from ICH, the virus can remain in their kidneys for up to a year. This means their urine might still be infectious to other dogs. Give them their own toilet area that other dogs can’t access so they can’t pass the disease on.

Why vaccinate?

There's a lot of myths and misinformation out there about vaccinations. Our vets put the record straight. 

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