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Posted on 12-08-2016

Why Do We Vaccinate?

Dogs are given several different vaccinations over the course of their lifetime. The vaccines that we give protect them from a variety of diseases that are both highly contagious, and potentially deadly. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the widespread use of vaccinations in the last century has prevented the deaths of millions of animals. If an unvaccinated pet contracts a preventable disease, supportive care becomes extremely expensive and may not be effective.

The question I get most often from our clients regarding vaccines is, “Does my dog really need this?” The short answer is yes. To understand the specific reasons we vaccinate, you’ll need a better understanding of the diseases that we are preventing.


As a puppy, your dog likely received a complete series of this vaccination. Most people remember that this vaccine protects against parvovirus, but what are the other three letters for?

  • ‘D’ stands for Distemper Virus, which is highly contagious. It is spread through all bodily fluids and excretions, especially oral and nasal secretions. Signs of this disease include fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, eye and nose discharge, and may also progress to seizures and changes in behavior. The only treatment is supportive care and antibiotics for secondary infections. This is a very uncommon disease today thanks to vaccinations.

  • ‘H’ stands for Infectious Canine Hepatitis, a contagious disease spread through stool, urine, or saliva. Signs of the disease include fever, jaundice and loss of appetite. This disease is also treated through supportive care similar to distemper, though we don’t see much of this disease due to vaccination.

  • The first ‘P’ stands for Parainfluenza, a disease spread through nasal secretions. It causes infectious bronchitis and is commonly seen along with Bordetella (or Kennel Cough). This is a very common illness in shelters or large populations of unvaccinated animals with unknown backgrounds. Dogs who contract this are sometimes treated with antibiotics for secondary infection, as well as a cough suppressant if needed.

  • The final ‘P’ stands for Parvovirus. Parvo is spread through the feces of an infected dog. Pets with this disease commonly have frequent, bloody diarrhea as well as vomiting, fever, and dehydration. Puppies are especially susceptible to this disease and often don’t survive even with supportive care and treatment. Early detection and treatment is essential to improving your dog’s chance of survival.

Bordetella (a.k.a. Kennel Cough)

Kennel Cough is well known by dog owners, as many have experienced it first hand. This disease is spread through the nasal secretions of infected dogs. Most dogs at the shelter either have or have had kennel cough at one point or another, and is also common in animals that visit a groomer or boarding facility. This vaccine is recommended for all puppies, and then given depending on risk thereafter.

Kennel cough is one of the most common preventable diseases that we see, and it opens the door to other respiratory infections such as pneumonia, parainfluenza, and mycoplasma. We administer this vaccine in three different forms: intranasal (up the nose), oral (by mouth) and injection. Your veterinarian will decide which type is most appropriate for your pet depending on life stage and personality.


Arguably the most important disease we vaccinate for is Rabies. This vaccine is required for cats, dogs, and ferrets. Rabies is considered a zoonotic disease meaning it can be transmitted to humans, so it is very serious. Every pet is required to have a current rabies vaccine in order to be treated at a veterinary hospital.

 Rabies is a virus spread when an infected animal’s saliva or other bodily fluids enters a person’s open cuts, wounds, mouth, or eyes. Symptoms include sudden onset of rage and aggression, as well as paralysis.

In dog bite cases where pets aren’t vaccinated, there may be sad consequences depending on the state’s quarantine requirements. The only sure way to diagnose rabies is by testing the brain matter post-mortem. Even if your pet spends 100% of it’s time indoors with no contact with people, it should still be vaccinated for rabies. Nobody can be absolutely sure that his or her pet won’t get out or bite a visitor. It is better to be safe rather than sorry.

Non-Core Vaccines

There are a few other vaccinations that are available at our office that we call non-core vaccines. This means that they aren’t recommended for every pet, and we only give them based on the need of the individual. Some examples are vaccines for Lyme disease, Influenza, Leptospirosis, Corona, and Rattlesnake venom.

 In an effort to reduce over vaccination, we cater our vaccine schedules to your pet’s specific needs. Be sure to communicate with your veterinarian about any travel or activities your dog participates in so we can help them be better protected!

The Bottom Line

All puppies MUST be vaccinated according to the schedule set forth by your dog’s doctor. If you aren’t comfortable vaccinating your pet, discuss your fears with your veterinarian. Creating a vaccine schedule that is appropriate for you and your pet is vital, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and take the time to educate yourself.

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