How many vaccines do dogs really need?

Vaccinating dogs is an important part of keeping them healthy and protected from dangerous diseases. However, there is often confusion around how many vaccines dogs really require and the vaccination schedule that should be followed. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the core vaccines recommended for dogs, optional vaccines that may be given based on risk factors, and the vaccination schedule that veterinarians typically follow.

Do puppies and adult dogs need the same vaccines?

No, puppies and adult dogs do not need exactly the same vaccines. Puppies have a different vaccination schedule than adult dogs. This is because when puppies are born, they receive maternal antibodies from their mother’s milk that help protect them from disease. However, this immunity starts to fade around 6-8 weeks of age, leaving puppies vulnerable to infections. Therefore, a series of puppy shots is necessary to build up the puppy’s own long-lasting immunity.

Once dogs reach adulthood, they typically require fewer vaccines to maintain immunity. Core vaccines are generally boostered 1-3 years in adult dogs, rather than every 2-4 weeks for puppies. Adult dogs may also not require certain non-core puppy shots like parainfluenza or coronavirus vaccines. Adult dogs may however benefit from additional non-core vaccines not typically given to puppies, like the Lyme vaccine.

What are the core vaccines all dogs should get?

There are certain “core” canine vaccines recommended for all dogs, regardless of lifestyle or risk factors. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) canine vaccination guidelines, the core vaccines are:

  • Rabies – protects against rabies virus
  • Distemper – protects against distemper virus
  • Adenovirus – protects against hepatitis and adenovirus-1 infections
  • Parvovirus – protects against parvovirus infections

These vaccines are considered core because the diseases they protect against are highly contagious and life-threatening. Maintaining up-to-date core vaccines is the foundation of a prevention plan for all dogs.

What non-core vaccines may be recommended?

In addition to the core vaccines, certain “non-core” vaccines may be recommended by your veterinarian depending on your dog’s individual risk factors. These include:

  • Bordetella (kennel cough) – recommended for dogs boarded, groomed, taken to dog parks, walks, or classes where they will interact with other dogs.
  • Canine influenza – may be recommended if canine flu is active in your area or your dog interacts with many other dogs.
  • Leptospirosis – may be recommended for outdoor dogs or dogs exposed to standing water/wildlife urine.
  • Lyme – generally recommended for dogs living in or frequently traveling to areas where Lyme disease is prevalent.

There are also some additional viral and bacterial vaccines only for at-risk dogs. Your vet can help determine if any non-core vaccines may be appropriate for your dog based on health, age, and lifestyle factors.

What is the typical puppy vaccination schedule?

The typical recommended vaccination schedule for puppies is as follows:

Age Vaccines
6-8 weeks Distemper/Parvo combination vaccine; Additional vaccines like Bordetella or influenza may also be given
10-12 weeks Distemper/Parvo combination; Leptospirosis; Additional optional vaccines
14-16 weeks Distemper/Parvo combination; Leptospirosis; Rabies vaccine

Puppy shots are usually boostered every 2-4 weeks until around 16-20 weeks of age. At or after 16 weeks, your vet will administer the first rabies vaccine. Some vets may recommend spreading out the initial puppy shots more, especially in small breeds, giving the first shots as early as 8 weeks then boostering every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks.

When should puppies get their rabies vaccine?

The first rabies vaccine is generally given to puppies at or after 16 weeks of age. In some states, it is mandated by law that puppies receive their first rabies shot at exactly 16 weeks. Other states allow more flexibility in the timing. Prior to 16 weeks, the puppy still has maternal antibodies that can interfere with proper immune response to the rabies vaccine. Waiting until at least 16 weeks helps ensure the vaccine will be fully effective.

Giving the rabies vaccine any earlier than 12 weeks is not recommended and may require revaccination. Puppies’ immune systems are still developing, so proper timing is important. A veterinarian may allow vaccination a few weeks earlier or later than 16 weeks depending on the puppy’s breed size and other factors.

When do puppy vaccines need boosters?

In most cases, each of the initial puppy shots are boostered every 2-4 weeks until around 16-20 weeks of age. The goal is to provide a series of vaccine doses that gradually builds the puppy’s immunity until the maternal antibodies have fully waned. Giving booster vaccines too early while maternal antibodies are still high can reduce effectiveness. Waiting at least 2 weeks between shots allows the vaccine time to stimulate the puppy’s immune system.

Common guidelines are to give the first vaccine doses at 6-8 weeks, boosters at 10-12 weeks, 14-16 weeks, and a final booster at 16-20 weeks. Some vets may extend the interval slightly longer in small breeds. Rabies vaccine guidelines require a booster 1 year after the initial dose.

How often do adult dogs need vaccine boosters?

For adult dogs, core vaccines are generally boostered every 3 years according to AAHA guidelines. However, some vet practices still recommend boostering core vaccines more frequently:

  • Distemper/Parvo: Boostered every 3 years or longer as an adult (after puppy shots given until 20 weeks).
  • Rabies: Boostered 1 year after initial dose, then typically every 3 years in adult dogs.
  • Adenovirus: May be boostered every 1-2 years or 3+ years depending on risk factors.

Non-core vaccines like kennel cough or Lyme disease may need more frequent boosters such as yearly. Discuss the appropriate vaccine schedule for your individual adult dog with your vet.

Do senior dogs need vaccine boosters?

Vaccination is still recommended for senior dogs, but vets may adjust vaccine frequency or give fewer vaccines. Some considerations include:

  • Low-risk indoor dogs may only require rabies boosters every 3 years after age 7.
  • High-risk senior dogs should still receive at least distemper and parvo boosters every 3 years.
  • Lyme, leptospirosis, or kennel cough boosters may not be necessary for seniors that have limited exposure.
  • Testing antibody levels can help assess if less frequent vaccination is protective for some diseases in senior dogs.

Overall health, lifestyle factors, and medical history help determine appropriate vaccines for seniors. Consult with your vet for recommendations.

Are there potential risks to vaccinating dogs?

Vaccines have extremely low rates of side effects in dogs. However, mild side effects can sometimes occur. The most common include:

  • Soreness, swelling, or rash at injection site
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • GI issues like vomiting or diarrhea

More severe allergic reactions like facial swelling or hives are very rare but require prompt veterinary attention. Long-term risks like autoimmune disorders are not demonstrated by scientific evidence, but some owners may still have concerns to discuss with their vet.

Should dogs get vaccine titer tests?

Titer tests measure the level of vaccine antibodies in a dog’s bloodstream. Some veterinary practices recommend using vaccine titer tests for adult dogs to assess immunity instead of routinely boostering. AAHA guidelines state that dogs with protective titers likely do not immediately need repeat vaccination. However, there are some limitations with titer testing:

  • False negatives are possible, meaning lack of detectable antibodies does not definitively rule out immune protection.
  • Positive titers only indicate immunity for that point in time – they will eventually decrease over months to years depending on the disease.
  • Testing costs may offset potential savings from reducing vaccinations.

Discuss pros and cons of vaccine titer testing with your veterinarian to determine if it is appropriate for your dog.

Can dogs ever skip their scheduled vaccines?

It is generally not recommended to skip any of your dog’s scheduled vaccines without veterinary consultation. Puppies should complete their full initial series as these vaccines are critical for protecting them when maternal immunity fades. For adult dogs, staying current on rabies vaccineboosters is required by law in most regions.

However, in some cases adult dogs may be able to safely go a year or more beyond the standard 3 year recommendation if their risk is very low and antibody titers are measured by a vet. Your vet may advise that a healthy adult dog with adequate titers can temporarily forgo non-core vaccines like kennel cough or leptospirosis boosters. But the core vaccines are rarely skipped on schedule due to the seriousness of the prevented diseases.

Should dogs get parainfluenza and coronavirus vaccines?

The canine parainfluenza virus and coronavirus are two pathogens that can cause mild respiratory illness, often with co-infections alongside other viruses. The majority of vet practices no longer routinely administer parainfluenza and coronavirus vaccines. Reasons include:

  • These diseases typically cause minor cold-like symptoms.
  • Immunity from the vaccines is not long-lasting or complete.
  • The parainfluenza component is included in injectable distemper combo vaccines.
  • Dogs can get recurrent coronavirus infections regardless of their vaccination status.

Puppies at high risk may benefit from a parainfluenza vaccine series for added protection. But for most adult companion dogs, these vaccines are now considered non-essential. The kennel cough vaccine protects against the main respiratory pathogens like bordetella bronchiseptica and canine adenovirus-2.

How much do dog vaccines typically cost?

Vaccine costs for dogs can vary considerably based on your location, veterinary clinic fees, number of vaccines given, and other factors. Some general ranges for common canine vaccines are:

  • Core vaccine: Distemper/Parvo – $15-$30+ per dose
  • Rabies vaccine – $15-$35 per dose
  • Non-core vaccine: Kennel cough – $10-$30 per dose
  • Non-core vaccine: Leptospirosis – $15-$25 per dose
  • Non-core vaccine: Lyme disease – $25-$40 per dose
  • Exam or office visit fees – $40-$75

Initial puppy vaccinations including exams can total $150-$300. Adult dog boosters may range from $65-$150 or more. Some low-cost clinics provide vaccines for $10-$20 per dose. Discuss cost options with your veterinarian when planning your dog’s vaccine schedule.

Should dogs have vaccine records?

Maintaining accurate vaccination records for your dog is strongly recommended. This provides proof of your dog’s vaccine status for boarding, grooming, travel, breeding, or admission to dog parks and facilities that require evidence of vaccination. Most vet clinics or shelters will provide copies of your dog’s vaccine history.

Your vet will track your dog’s vaccines in his medical record. But having your own backup helps avoid gaps in records, such as if you switch vets, adopt a shelter dog, or your pet’s records are damaged. Securely store paper copies or digital photos/files of your dog’s vaccine certificates. Include rabies certificates and ask your vet to document each vaccine with date, serial number, manufacturer, and expiration.


Vaccinating dogs is a vital part of safeguarding canine health. While overvaccination should be avoided, following core vaccine guidelines and your vet’s recommendations provides necessary protection from contagious and devastating illnesses. Maintaining proper vaccination records makes it simple to confirm your dog is current on advised vaccines. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions about appropriate vaccines and schedules for your dog’s individual needs and lifestyle.

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