Vaccinations: protecting your dog or puppy

Vaccinations are critical in helping your dog fight off infectious diseases, many of which can be fatal.

Our vets always recommend getting your dog vaccinated as they can make a huge difference to your dog’s health. Also, many boarding kennels, dog walkers or doggy day care will require you to have your dog fully vaccinated, including against kennel cough, so you need to consider this if you plan on using them.

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Why vaccinate my dog?

Vaccinations can help protect your dog against some potentially fatal diseases, such as parvovirus, canine distemper, leptospirosis and infectious canine hepatitis.

Vaccinating your dog also stops them from catching and spreading deadly diseases to other dogs. Vaccinated dogs are less likely to catch diseases and won’t spread them around – meaning the whole of the dog population is also a little safer!


What vaccinations are available?

Your dog should be vaccinated as a puppy and then get regular boosters throughout their life.

Vaccinations for puppies

Puppies are vulnerable to serious diseases like parvovirus and canine distemper. Your puppy can start their vaccinations from around 8-weeks-old and will need a second set of injections, usually 2-4 weeks after their first set. For some high-risk puppies, a third injection may also be recommended by your vet.

Some breeders and rehoming centres may have started your pup’s vaccinations before you adopt them. You’ll need to check what they have already had and get your puppy booked in for their remaining jabs. If you’re not sure, bring your ‘puppy paperwork’ to your local vet practice who’ll be able to help you make sure your puppy is fully protected.

It’s important to keep your puppy away from unvaccinated dogs until they’ve had their full course of vaccinations and are fully protected. This is usually two weeks after their second injections.

Where you get your puppy from can have a huge impact on their health and happiness. If they have a vaccinated mum, new born puppies get some protection against diseases through their mother’s milk that can help keep them healthy before they are able to get vaccinated themselves. Unfortunately, puppies that have been illegally imported or that were bred on puppy farms could be much more likely to suffer serious illnesses like parvovirus as their mums won’t have been vaccinated so can’t pass on their immunity. If you’re thinking about getting a puppy, take a look at our advice on how to avoid these breeders.

Booster vaccinations for dogs

After having their initial vaccinations as a puppy, your dog will need regular booster injections throughout their life. This is to help keep them protected as over time their immunity could otherwise go away. If you do not keep on top of your dog’s vaccinations they will be more at risk of catching infectious diseases.

Booster jabs for distemper, parvovirus and canine hepatitis are usually needed every three years. Booster jabs for leptospirosis are needed every year.

Can my dog get a titre test instead of a booster?

For certain diseases, some vets may offer blood tests called ‘titre testing’ to check your dog’s level of immunity.

Titre testing isn’t an alternative to boosters, but it can give an idea of how well protected your dog is from vaccinations they’ve had in the past. It isn’t available for every disease and it can’t be 100% relied on to make sure your dog is protected.

Your vet might recommend a titre test if you’re unsure whether to vaccinate your dog or not, especially if you are avoiding vaccinating because of a specific worry (e.g. if your dog previously had an allergic reaction to their booster or if their immune system isn’t working properly). In these cases, titre tests can give an idea of if your dog will be able to fight off the diseases they have previously had vaccines for and help decide whether it’s safer to vaccinate your dog or miss a booster.

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.

Vaccinations for travel

If you’re planning on taking your dog abroad, they might need extra vaccinations just like we humans do. They won’t be able to get a passport or travel abroad without having the right up-to-date vaccinations, which usually includes being vaccinated against rabies. Although rabies isn’t a problem in the UK, it can be common in other countries.

Depending on where you go, the vaccinations your dog needs may vary. It’s best to check with your vet before you travel to make sure your dog has the right ones and all the paperwork they need to travel. Also, make sure you know if there’s anything they need to get before coming back in to the country.


What do vaccinations protect my dog from?

There are four main diseases that your dog can be vaccinated against. These are:


Canine parvovirus

What is parvovirus?

Parvovirus – or parvo – is a highly contagious disease that causes severe vomiting and bloody diarrhoea in dogs. It’s a very serious illness that can be deadly without treatment.

You can find out more about parvovirus and how it is treated on our Pet Health Hub pages.

How can I stop my dog getting parvovirus?

It’s really important to have your dog regularly vaccinated to protect them against parvovirus.

If you think your dog has parvo, call your vet immediately.


Canine distemper

What is canine distemper?

Canine distemper is a contagious virus that attacks a dog’s lymph nodes before attacking their respiratory, urinary, digestive and nervous systems. It is passed easily between dogs through saliva, blood and urine.

The success of vaccinations in the UK mean it’s rare to see outbreaks, but is more common in Europe and can easily be brought over. It can also infect other animals, such as ferrets and foxes.

Symptoms of canine distemper

Early symptoms include:

  • Watery discharge from nose and eyes
  • Reddened eyes
  • A high fever.

As the virus progresses, 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’.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for distemper and usually vets will try to manage the symptoms. Dogs with distemper need intensive care and are usually kept in isolation so they don’t spread the virus. Sadly, even with the right treatment, distemper can be fatal to many of the dogs that catch it.

How can I stop my dog getting distemper?

The best way to prevent your dog getting distemper is to keep their vaccinations up-to-date. Remember to keep newly vaccinated puppies indoors until at least two weeks after their full course of vaccinations and don’t let unvaccinated pets near them during this time.



What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis – also known as lepto – is a bacterial infection. It attacks your dog’s nervous system and organs. It can also be passed on from dogs to us – in humans it’s known as Weil’s disease.

Lepto is mainly carried by dogs and rats and spread through infected pee and contaminated water, which means your dog is at risk if they swim or drink from stagnant water or canals. Outbreaks of lepto increase after flooding, when there’s a lot of contaminated water around.

Symptoms of leptospirosis

Symptoms of leptospirosis include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Increased thirst
  • Jaundice
  • Breathing difficulties.

In severe cases, dogs can develop kidney damage and liver failure. For dogs, the disease can be fatal even with the best treatment. Weil’s disease can also be fatal to humans.

Dogs with mild symptoms may recover. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection and offer other treatments to help manage their symptoms.

How can I stop my dog getting leptospirosis?

It’s best to keep your dog’s vaccinations up-to-date. Keep puppies indoors until two weeks after their primary course of vaccinations and keep them away from unvaccinated pets.

The vaccination covers the most common types of lepto but your dog can still get other strains, so it’s good to take other measures to prevent lepto as well. Try to avoid letting your dog drink or swim in stagnant water or flooded areas. Though rats can get almost anywhere, it’s best to keep your dog away from places that you know rats have been present to try and reduce their risk.

Dogs recovering from leptospirosis should be kept away from vulnerable animals and humans for several months until your vet is happy they are no longer carrying the infection. You need to be careful where they go to the toilet during this time as they can spread the virus in their wee.


Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH)

What is ICH?

ICH is a viral disease that attacks a dog’s liver, kidneys, eyes and blood vessel linings. It is spread through the bodily fluids – pee, 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 humans get infectious hepatitis, it is a completely different virus, so infectious hepatitis can’t be passed from dogs to humans, or vice versa.

Symptoms of ICH

Symptoms can range from being quite mild to sudden and unexpected death.

Symptoms of ICH include:

  • Fever or high temperature
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal pain.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for ICH but vets will treat your dog’s symptoms. In mild cases the chances of recovery can be good but your dog may need a special diet to help their liver once they have recovered.

In severe cases the disease can go on to cause jaundice and liver failure and result in seizures and coma. Sadly, even with the best treatment, severe ICH can be fatal.

How can I stop my dog getting ICH?

The best way to protect your dog against ICH is by getting them vaccinated regularly. Your dog will need boosters every three years to stay protected from ICH – ask your vet if you’re not sure when their next vaccination is due.

If your dog gets ICH and recovers, they can continue to spread the virus in their wee for up to a year. To prevent the disease spreading, keep them away from unvaccinated dogs (like young puppies) and try to have them toilet away from public areas where other dogs could pick up the disease.