- Vaccination is an important way of protecting your dog against some serious (sometimes deadly) diseases.
- All dogs living in the UK should be vaccinated for:
- Infectious hepatitis
- Kennel cough vaccination may also be necessary, depending on your dog’s lifestyle.
- Rabies vaccination is only necessary for dog’s that travel in and out of the UK.
- For full protection, your dog will need a primary course of two-three vaccinations (usually at 8-10 weeks old), followed by a yearly booster to keep them up to date.
- Contact your vet to discuss what vaccinations your dog needs.
What vaccinations do dogs need?
All dogs living in the UK should have their 'core vaccinations', which include:
In addition to the non-core vaccinations, depending on their lifestyle, some dogs require other vaccinations such as:
- Kennel cough is not a ‘core vaccination’ (isn’t necessary for all dogs), but your vet may recommend it if your dog mixes with lots of other dogs, or has 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.
- Rabies vaccination is only necessary for dogs that travel in and out of the UK.
How do dog vaccines work?
When your dog is vaccinated, a small amount of the disease (which is changed so it can’t cause illness) is injected into your dog. This allows the body to learn how to defend itself against the disease, so if they then come into contact with the real disease, they can fight it instead of becoming very ill.
What is a 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. Any adult dog that hasn’t ever been vaccinated, or hasn’t been kept up to date with their yearly boosters, will also need a primary course. Your puppy/dog will usually have full protection seven to ten days after the final injection of their primary course, until then, you will need to keep them protected.
Annual vaccination boosters After their primary course, your dog will need a booster vaccination one year later, and every year thereafter to keep them protected. Some components of their vaccines will be included every year (for example leptospirosis), but others are only necessary every few years. Your vet will tell you which vaccines your dog needs each year.
If your dog misses a booster, it's likely that their protection will run out and they will need another primary course.
What to expect at a vaccine appointment
It’s important that your dog is healthy when they have their vaccination, so they will be given a full health check, and you can discuss anything you are worried about.
If you have any questions or concerns about your dog, it’s a good opportunity to discuss them with your vet, for example if you think your dog might be gaining weight, need a worming tablet, or you’re having trouble with dental care.
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). You’ll be asked to hold your dog still while the vaccine is given, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so tell your vet so that they can take steps to help keep everyone stay safe. Vaccinations aren’t usually painful, but they can feel cold or sometimes sting a little, and every dog reacts slightly differently.
Protecting an unvaccinated dog
If your puppy/dog is unvaccinated, their vaccines have lapsed, or if they haven’t quite finished their primary vaccination course, they won’t have protection against parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis (canine adenovirus) or leptospirosis. Keep them safe by following the guidance below:
- They are safe to go into your garden as long as no other unvaccinated dogs have visited recently, and it’s secure from foxes.
- Don’t let your dog on the ground in public spaces until they are fully vaccinated (carrying them is fine).
- Avoid high risk areas where there could have been rats, cows, foxes or other unvaccinated dogs.
- Don’t bring any new dogs into your home until your dog is fully protected.
Any drug, including vaccinations, can cause side effects, but fortunately, they are rare, and most dogs don’t experience any at all. In the unlikely event that your dog does experience any side effects, they are likely to be mild and pass within 24-48 hours. Serious side effects and allergic reactions are extremely rare.
Always speak to your vet if your dog has previously had side effects after a vaccine, or you are worried about vaccinating them. It’s important to remember that the risks of side effects are very small compared to the risk of staying unprotected against potentially deadly diseases.
A titre test is a blood test that shows how much protection your dog has against a disease. Currently, titre tests are available for infectious hepatitis, parvovirus and distemper. If you chose to titre test your dog before vaccinating them, and the results show that they still have some remaining protection against any of the diseases listed above, you may decide to leave those particular vaccines out of the schedule that year*. Unfortunately, there isn’t a titre test available for leptospirosis at the moment, so your dog will still need a booster for leptospirosis even if their results show that they are protected for other diseases (leptospirosis is a yearly vaccine).
Discuss your options with your vet if you are interested in titre testing.
*A limit of titre tests is that they show you the level of protection your dog has at the time of their blood test, but they do not guarantee protection for a full year afterwards (this means that theoretically, your dog’s protection could run out half way through the following year).
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 it 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 symptoms and have a much better chance of recovery.
Can my dog be vaccinated if he/she is 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. But core vaccines are recommended 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 is they’re on medications? Most medications won’t affect your dog’s vaccinations. However, some drugs such as steroids 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 protection from a vaccine 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: July 2020
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.
Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst