How many shots do dogs need a year?

Dogs require a series of vaccinations and immunizations throughout their lives to protect them against dangerous and potentially fatal diseases. Vaccinating dogs is an important part of responsible pet ownership. Understanding the vaccination schedule for dogs can help owners ensure their pets stay up-to-date on the shots they need to live long and healthy lives.

Puppy Vaccinations

Puppies require a series of vaccinations starting at 6-8 weeks of age and continuing through 16-18 weeks old. The exact timing of puppy shots varies based on factors like the puppy’s age and breed. However, in general, puppies receive immunizations against the following diseases on the typical schedule below:

  • 6-8 weeks: Distemper, measles, parainfluenza
  • 10-12 weeks: Distemper, measles, parainfluenza
  • 14-16 weeks: Rabies

Some vets may recommend additional vaccines at this stage, such as bordetella, lyme disease, or leptospirosis. However, the core vaccines puppies need are distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and rabies. Parvo and distemper vaccines are usually combined into a single shot. Puppies receive a series of two to four doses of these vaccines, with each dose spaced 3-4 weeks apart. This provides progressive immunization and protection.

Adult Dog Vaccinations

Once puppies have completed their initial series of shots, adult dogs require vaccines less frequently. The key vaccines adult dogs need include:

  • Rabies: This vaccine is legally required and protects against the fatal nervous system disease rabies. Dogs need a rabies vaccine within 1 year of their first vaccine, then every 1-3 years depending on local laws.
  • Distemper/Parvo combination: This vaccine protects against distemper and parvovirus, two contagious and serious diseases that impact the digestive and respiratory systems.
  • Bordetella: Commonly called “kennel cough,” this vaccine protects against the upper respiratory infection bordetella. It’s recommended yearly and may be required by boarding facilities, doggy daycares, shelters, or groomers.

Beyond these core vaccines, vets may recommend certain non-core vaccines based on the dog’s lifestyle, such as leptospirosis or lyme disease. These help protect against diseases prevalent in certain areas that pose a higher risk to some dogs.

How Often To Vaccinate Adult Dogs?

There are different protocols vets follow when it comes to the timing of core vaccines for adult dogs:

  • Every 3 years – This protocol recommends distemper, parvo, and adenovirus titer testing every 3 years, with rabies vaccines every 3 years as legally required. Dogs receive immunizations or boosters only if titers show inadequate immunity.
  • Every 3 years with automatic boosters – Dogs receive rabies vaccines every 3 years as required by law, plus automatic distemper/parvo boosters every 3 years without titer testing.
  • Annually – Some vets continue to recommend annual vaccines for distemper, parvo, and adenovirus. Rabies shots are still given every 1-3 years based on laws.

There is some debate around which protocol provides the best immunity. Factors like the dog’s health, breed, and lifestyle may influence the ideal frequency. Many vets recommend the every 3 years protocol with titer testing to avoid over-vaccinating when immunity already exists. This helps reduce risks of side effects.

Key Timing for Adult Dog Vaccines

While there is flexibility in when adult dog vaccines are administered, some general timing guidelines include:

  • Rabies vaccine 1 year after the initial vaccine, then every 1-3 years depending on laws
  • Distemper/parvo vaccines every 3 years or based on titer results
  • Bordetella vaccine every 6-12 months
  • Non-core vaccines like leptospirosis yearly where prevalent
  • Lyme disease vaccine first dose at 9-12 weeks, then booster every 12 months where prevalent

New to a household, rescue dogs should receive distemper and parvo vaccines immediately if their status is unknown. Always keep rabies vaccines current according to the law. Discuss an appropriate vaccine schedule with your vet based on the dog’s needs.

Importance of Vaccinating Dogs

While side effects are possible, the benefits of properly vaccinating dogs outweigh the risks. Vaccines keep dogs protected against viruses and bacteria that threaten their lives. Without immunizations, dogs are at risk of contracting deadly diseases like rabies and parvovirus that can spread rapidly without proper vaccination protocols. Just one infected, unvaccinated dog could cause an outbreak impacting a neighborhood or community.

The impact of not vaccinating dogs may include:

  • Increased threat of epidemic, potentially fatal disease outbreaks
  • Painful and costly deaths in unprotected pets
  • Higher vet bills to treat preventable illnesses
  • Risk to other pets and people if highly contagious diseases spread
  • Potential legal action and fines for owners of unvaccinated dogs

Maintaining herd immunity through widespread vaccination protects dogs individually and collectively. While vaccine reactions can occur, the American Animal Hospital Association considers the benefits to far outweigh any risks when protocols are followed.

Possible Vaccine Side Effects

While extremely important for disease prevention, vaccines do carry a small risk of side effects. Reactions are usually mild but can in rare cases be more severe. Possible vaccine side effects in dogs include:

  • Soreness, swelling, or redness at the injection site
  • Mild fever
  • Generalized achiness or discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Hives or facial swelling
  • Life-threatening anaphylaxis (very rare)

Severe reactions like anaphylaxis are extremely unusual. Mild side effects may last 48 hours and can typically be managed at home with monitoring. More serious vaccine reactions require prompt veterinary attention.

Are There Any Reasons To Skip Vaccines?

While nearly all dogs should receive core vaccines, there are some exceptions where vets may recommend skipping or delaying certain immunizations. These include:

  • Severely ill dogs – Vaccines may be avoided until health improves.
  • Pregnant dogs – Live vaccines are not given during pregnancy but may be given before breeding or after puppies are born.
  • Dogs with cancer – Vaccine risks may outweigh benefits in dogs receiving chemotherapy.
  • Dogs with vaccine reactions – Pets with prior reactions may switch to alternate vaccine types when available.
  • Very old dogs – Annual vaccines may become less important in older dogs with stable immunity.

There are also alternatives like antibody titer testing that may help reduce over-vaccination when immunity already exists. Discuss options with your vet if your dog has special circumstances.

Steps To Safely Vaccinate Dogs

To safely vaccinate dogs:

  1. Keep a record of all vaccines puppies and dogs have received previously.
  2. Schedule an annual vet exam to discuss needed vaccines for the dog’s lifestyle and risk factors.
  3. Administer only the vaccines specifically recommended by your vet.
  4. Space combination vaccines at least 2-3 weeks apart to avoid potential interference.
  5. Have one person restrain the dog while another administers vaccines to minimize stress.
  6. Give vaccines in rear leg muscles if possible to minimize discomfort.
  7. Soothe vaccination sites with gentle massage; no vigorous rubbing.
  8. Monitor dogs after vaccinations for potential allergic reactions.
  9. Call the vet if any concerning reactions develop.
  10. Limit vigorous activity and resume normal routines gradually.

Staying informed on your dog’s vaccine schedule and following vet recommendations helps provide maximum protection while minimizing risks.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

The typical puppy vaccination schedule consists of the following:

Age Vaccines
6-8 weeks Distemper, measles, parainfluenza
10-12 weeks Distemper, measles, parainfluenza
14-16 weeks Rabies

Additional vaccines like bordetella or lyme may also be recommended based on risk factors where the puppy will live. Core vaccines are repeated every 2-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks of age or as directed by the vet. This provides progressive protection as maternal antibodies decline.

Adult Dog Vaccine Schedule

A typical vaccine schedule for adult dogs includes:

Vaccine Schedule
Rabies Every 1-3 years (according to law)
Distemper/Parvo Every 3 years or based on titer testing
Bordetella Every 6-12 months
Leptospirosis Yearly (where prevalent)
Lyme Yearly booster (where prevalent)

Non-core vaccines are tailored to lifestyle and risk. Most boarding kennels require current bordetella vaccines. Have a vaccination discussion with your vet annually.

Importance of Tracking Dog Vaccines

Keeping accurate vaccination records for each dog is crucial. Core reasons to track vaccines include:

  • Ensuring dogs stay up-to-date on all required shots
  • Providing proof of rabies vaccine to license dogs and avoid fines
  • Accessing boarding, daycare, grooming, or dog parks that require vaccine proof
  • Avoiding duplicate vaccines that may increase side effect risks
  • Monitoring vaccine reactions that may influence future immunization choices
  • Coordinating vaccine timing, especially when combining multiple vaccines

Vets usually provide written vaccine records, but pet owners should maintain their own vaccine history documentation as well. Include vaccine name, date given, and name of vaccine manufacturer. Stores like Petco offer free vaccine record cards. Owners can also create their own vaccine logs to keep with other important pet records.

Signs Your Dog Needs Vaccines

How can you tell if your dog is overdue for vaccines? Common signs include:

  • Annual exam and vaccine due date is passed
  • Unsure of last vaccines received
  • Rabies vaccine more than 1-3 years ago
  • Boarding or dog daycare requires updated vaccines
  • New pet dog with unknown vaccine history
  • Planning to travel with dog to new region
  • Dog being exposed to new environments like dog parks
  • Previously ill dog now healthy enough for vaccines

When in doubt, discuss your dog’s situation with your vet to determine if core or non-core vaccines may be due. Keeping dogs up-to-date provides the best disease protection.

What If You’re Late On Dog Vaccines?

It’s best not to skip or delay core vaccines which protect against deadly diseases like parvo, distemper, and rabies. If you’re late on vaccination schedule, consult your vet but in general guidelines are:

  • Less than 2 weeks late – Administer vaccine as soon as possible
  • 2-6 weeks late – Give vaccine immediately and possibly repeat dose 2-4 weeks later
  • More than 6 weeks late – Start vaccine series over based on pet’s age

For rabies vaccines, get the pet updated immediately to come into compliance with laws. When possible, avoid lapses by scheduling vaccine reminders. But when delays happen, get pets protected at the first chance.

Creating a Dog Vaccine Schedule

Key steps for creating a dog vaccine schedule include:

  1. Consult your vet – Have an annual exam to discuss core and non-core vaccine recommendations based on age, breed, health status, and lifestyle.
  2. Know the law – Understand rabies vaccine laws in your area (every 1-3 years).
  3. Start puppy schedule – Begin initial puppy vaccine series at 6-8 weeks and complete by 16 weeks.
  4. Maintain adult schedule – Continue vaccines like rabies, distemper, and parvo boosters based on vet’s advice.
  5. Update annually – Revisit vaccine schedule at yearly checkups as risks and laws may change.
  6. Use reminders – Set calendar or phone app reminders for upcoming vaccine due dates.

Individualize your dog’s vaccine routine based on age, breed, location, and lifestyle factors with guidance from your veterinary team.

Answering Common Dog Vaccine Questions

Some common questions dog owners have about vaccines include:

Are dog vaccines really necessary?

Yes, core vaccines are absolutely essential to protect your dog against highly contagious and deadly viruses and bacteria. Unvaccinated dogs are at risk of parvo, distemper, and rabies – diseases that can mean a slow, painful death.

How much do dog vaccines cost?

Typical costs for dog vaccines range from $15-$35 per vaccine. Puppy vaccine series usually cost $75-$200 depending on included vaccines. Adult boosters and single vaccines like rabies cost less. Veterinary exam fees add to costs. Shop around if cost is prohibitive.

Do dog vaccines have side effects?

Most dogs tolerate vaccines well with only mild side effects like soreness and fatigue. More severe allergic reactions are very rare but may occur. Seek immediate vet care if dogs have facial swelling, hives, vomiting, or distress after vaccines.

At what age do puppies stop getting shots?

The initial puppy vaccine series continues until about 16 weeks of age when maternal immunity fades. Rabbies vaccine is usually given around 4 months. After this series ends, dogs transition to adult vaccine boosters according to vet recommendations.


Vaccinating dogs is a crucial part of maintaining their health and preventing dangerous, highly contagious diseases. Puppies require a series of vaccines and adult dogs need boosters, with rabies vaccine being a legal requirement. While side effects are possible, the risks from vaccines are far lower than the threats posed by deadly viruses. Work with your vet to ensure your dog stays up-to-date on the vaccines recommended for their lifestyle and risk factors. Keep accurate vaccination records and follow reminders to give your dog the best protection possible.

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