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A guide to dog vaccines

The essentials

  • Vaccinations have specific timing — Certain dog vaccines are meant to be administered during particular periods in your dog’s growth.
  • There are core vs. non-core shots — Core vaccines are required for dogs no matter their lifestyle. Non-core vaccines are recommended based on the geography, lifestyle, and risk of illness of your dog.
  • First rounds of vaccines can cost more — Vaccine costs vary, but initial puppy vaccinations will cost more than adult booster shots.

Bringing a new furry friend home is an incredible feeling, and we know you as pet owners want to provide them with the best care and life possible. One way to do that is to make sure your dog gets the necessary shots they need to protect your pet’s health from a whole host of infectious preventable diseases.

What are vaccines and how do they work?

A vaccine is a preparation that is used to stimulate an immune response within the body against a given disease. Once administered, the body learns to fight whatever disease was introduced so that if the body is ever exposed to the disease again, it will either not get sick at all, or will have a less severe illness. 

For dogs, some vaccines will be given by injection so that their immune system receives maximum stimulation. This can either be done just under the skin or directly into the muscle. Other times, a vaccine may be given locally, such as up into the nose or orally.

Killed vaccine vs live vaccine

Two types of vaccine can be administered to your pet with the same result but through varying means.

Killed vaccine. Also known as inactivated vaccines, these vaccines use a killed version of the particular germ that causes the disease. Since these vaccines don’t contain a live form of the microorganism, they can typically be administered to dogs that aren’t in perfect health. Inactivated vaccines do not always create long-lasting or as strong immune responses as a live vaccine does, in which case boosters or repeated doses may be necessary.

Live vaccine. These vaccines, which can be referred to as attenuated vaccines, contain a weakened version of the whole bacteria/germ/microorganism that helps the body create an immune response but doesn’t disease the dog. These create stronger and longer lasting immune responses.

Core vaccines

In the United States, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) provides vaccine recommendations to veterinarians to make the most educated decisions for canines. It’s always important to consult state laws to ensure you’re following local ordinances.

There are many vaccines available to dogs, but not all may be relevant given the likelihood of infection, your geographic location, and your dog’s lifestyle. However, there are a handful of vaccines that are recommended for all dogs to receive to protect against common diseases:

  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine parvovirus
  • Canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis)
  • Rabies virus


DA2PP is one of the core vaccines recommended for your pup and is commonly referred to as a five-in-one vaccination. It prevents canine distemper (D), adenovirus 1 and 2 (A2), parainfluenza (P), and parvovirus (P). 

  • Canine distemper. This virus attacks your dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are most likely to get this disease, which can also be contracted by other mammals like cats though they are unlikely to become ill. 
  • Adenovirus 1. Canine adenovirus 1 can result in infectious canine hepatitis and upper respiratory disease in dogs. 
  • Adenovirus 2. Canine adenovirus 2 oftentimes results in acute upper respiratory disease, which is one of the causes of kennel cough. This virus can also cause serious liver disease. 
  • Parainfluenza. The parainfluenza virus causes respiratory symptoms in dogs that can cause infectious tracheobronchitis, better known as “kennel cough,” and an organism associated with an entire gamut of canine respiratory disease complex.
  • Parvovirus. Parvovirus, or “parvo,” is highly contagious and typically manifests in acute gastrointestinal illness in puppies.

Rabies virus

Rabies is a viral disease that affects mammals, including dogs and humans. To protect yourself and your pet, it’s important to know how it’s transmitted, what the signs are, and how to prevent it. Transmission occurs through the bite of an infected animal onto another but can be transmitted through infected saliva in any form. Once bitten, the virus reproduces in the mammal’s tissues and travels along nerves and through the spinal cord and finally, the brain, causing extreme damage and probable death.

The only surefire way to know if an animal has rabies is through lab testing. However, you may notice behavioral signs that are out of the ordinary such as intense aggression or increased drooling. 

In dogs, the incubation period of the virus can be from two weeks to four months, but once infected, there are stages. 

  1. The first stage comes in the form of behavioral changes. 
  2. The second stage can either come in the form of intense excitable behavior and a strange appetite for non-food items like dirt and rocks or in an almost paralytic distortion of the dog’s musculature and ability to swallow.
  3. Following this second stage, the dog will pass away as rabies is a fatal disease.  

Due to the prevalence of the use of rabies vaccines, most domestic dogs will never experience rabies. In the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control , every year there are around 60-70 dogs and 250 cats reported as rabid.

With that, it’s important to vaccinate your dog against rabies as the vaccine itself is completely effective in preventing the disease if given before infection occurs such as keeping them away from wildlife that are found to be carriers (bats, foxes, raccoons, etc.).

Non-core vaccines

These vaccines are options dependent on your geography and your pet’s lifestyle. Your veterinarian will determine which of these vaccines will be most beneficial for your pet by considering the overall health of your pet, the risk of disease in your location, and other factors like whether your dog regularly interfaces with other dogs.

Some non-core vaccines are:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough) vaccine
  • Leptospira (Leptospirosis) vaccine
  • Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme) vaccine
  • H3N2/H3N8 (canine influenza) vaccines

Kennel cough

If your dog is regularly present at places where a large number of animals congregate like dog parks, boarding kennels, or daycare, kennel cough prevention may be necessary. Kennel cough is an easily treatable respiratory disease that can be spread by airborne droplets, contaminated surfaces, or by direct contact with an infected dog. 

There is an unknown infection affecting dogs in multiple areas of the United States as of 2023 and 2024 associated with severe respiratory disease. The organism that causes this infection, and what other factors may lead to susceptibility, have yet to be determined by veterinarians and researchers. However, the same behaviors you would follow to avoid other illnesses in your pets, such as isolation, and removing yourselves from crowded places (boarding, daycare, dog parks) are the preventative measures you can follow in this case.

Lyme disease

Like humans, dogs can easily contract Lyme disease. If you happen to live in a wooded area that your dog has access to, you may want to consider the Lyme vaccine as well. Lyme disease is caused by an infected tick biting your pet and symptoms may not present themselves until two to five months after the initial infection.

Ticks aren’t the only insects you’ll want to avoid. Fleas and mosquitos can also infect your dog with diseases like heartworm, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Bartonella. Check out how to get rid of fleas, treat mosquito bites, and address heartworm.

Human and dog illnesses

Humans can sometimes contract an illness from animals. These are called zoonotic diseases and are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. As such, these diseases are a public health concern and should be addressed immediately if you believe your dog has one. Examples of zoonotic diseases commonly found in dogs include rabies, brucellosis, leptospirosis, hookworms (which aren’t visible to the naked eye but have a hook-like appearance), and others. It’s important to seek medical treatment immediately if you believe you may have contracted an illness from your pet. As always, the best way to prevent most of these occurrences is through preventative care like vaccines and vaccine boosters.

Puppy & annual vaccination schedule

Your pup relies on you to take care of them and one way of doing that is to keep up with necessary vaccinations. From puppyhood to adulthood, your dog’s needs will change and that’s why talking with your veterinarian and creating a plan for your pet can be a great way to stay on top of their health. 

It can be stressful dealing with a new puppy, or even a younger dog that is new to your home. We’ve laid out the basics for how, when, and what vaccinations to get your new furry friend to set them up on a path to success.

Can dogs have adverse reactions to vaccines?

While rare, adverse reactions can occur to routine vaccinations. Common side effects include soreness at the injection site as well as general discomfort and swelling. Some dogs may experience tiredness or lack of appetite, even fever. If your pet experiences any symptom longer than 24 hours following a vaccine, contact your veterinarian. 

More serious side effects that can stem from an allergic reaction should be reported to the veterinarian can include vomiting and diarrhea but also:

  • Itchy skin and/or hives: Small red bumps or general itchiness across the body that persists. Some dogs scratch themselves to the point of bleeding or pulling out hair.
  • Difficulty breathing: This can sound like wheezing, choking, or coughing. They may sit or stand in a wide position with their neck outstretched and mouth open.
  • Swelling around the face and neck: This can be symmetrical or lopsided (one side of their face/neck is more swollen than the other). If severe enough, this swelling can cause difficulty breathing. Should your pet lose consciousness, follow these steps and get them to the emergency vet.

How much do vaccinations cost?

Vaccinations are an important part of your dog’s health and can be a financial investment. Work with your veterinarian to find the best vaccination schedule and wellness plan for your pet during their puppy vaccination years and well on into adulthood.

While this chart is for educational purposes, we want to note that over the last few years, many veterinarians will opt to vaccinate less frequently for DA2PP and rabies (to about every 2-3 years) for routine medical needs after the puppy series instead of annually. Speak with your veterinarian about vaccine series that make sense for your dog and their lifestyle.

Puppyhood vaccines

Vaccine Required? Average cost
DA2PP Yes $33-38
Rabies Yes $23-27
Lyme No $36-42
Leptospirosis No $20-24
Canine influenza No $45-51
Bordetella No $28-32

Annual vaccines

Vaccine Required? Average cost
Rabies (every three years) Yes $23-27
Bordetella No $28-32
Lyme No $36-42
Leptospirosis No $20-24
Canine influenza No $45-51

You can also consult low-cost vaccination clinics for your pet if you find the cost of routine pet vaccinations to be a strain financially.

With regular visits to your veterinarian and staying on schedule with vaccinations, your dog can live a healthy life.

Frequently asked questions

What vaccines do puppies need?

Puppy vaccines include the DA2PP vaccines: canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis), and rabies virus. 

What vaccine do dogs really need?

At the very least, dogs should be given the core vaccinations of canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis), and rabies virus. These will help protect them against the most common illnesses. 

However, if your dog has a certain lifestyle such as being boarded, then additional vaccines will be necessary to protect your dog and other dogs like the kennel cough vaccine. 

At what age do dogs need shots?

Puppies should be given their core vaccines beginning at around 6-8 weeks until at least 16 weeks of age unless they live in high-risk areas, then they should receive vaccines until ages 18-20 weeks.

Adult dogs should receive their shots annually or in some cases, every three years as directed by their vet.

What is the five-in-one vaccine for dogs?

DA2PP is a combination five-in-one vaccination. This vaccination replaces the need for your dog to receive separate vaccinations to protect them against five serious illnesses: canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis), and rabies virus.

Other vaccination protocols may involve a series of shots due to any potential risks of inoculating against different illnesses at the same time.

At what age can I stop vaccinating my dog?

Like most dogs, senior dogs receive their vaccinations once or every three years, which come in the form of boosters. Your dog’s age doesn’t necessitate the need to stop vaccinating, but it’s important to be vigilant in their health as their immune systems likely won’t be as strong as in their younger years. 

Do indoor dogs need vaccinations?

Yes, at the very least your dog should receive the core vaccinations of canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis), and rabies virus.

Does my dog need to be vaccinated before they’re spayed or neutered?

Yes, males going in for a neuter procedure and females going in for a spay procedure need the necessary antibodies from their core vaccinations to undergo surgery. Our handy guide to dog spaying and neutering can help answer any other questions you have. 

Is parvo in puppies bad?

Parvo is one of many serious diseases that your pet can contract. It causes a number of health issues including abdominal pain, vomiting, and lethargy and can potentially lead to death. The best way to prevent parvo is through administering the parvo vaccine to all young puppies to give them the best chance at a long, healthy life.

What vaccines does my cat need?

For kitten vaccinations, reference our kitten vaccine schedule which covers feline diseases like feline panleukopenia, feline leukemia, and rabies.