Vaccines are made up of either live or killed pathogens (bacteria and viruses) that cause an immune reaction in the body. Then, during a natural infection, the immune system remembers seeing this pathogen and can kill it easier. This is what we call immunity.
Dogs get exposed to numerous pathogens on a daily basis, some of which the animal has natural immunity for and some that are so virulent that they need vaccines to induce immunity so the pathogen does not kill them.
The big question in most dog owners minds are “which vaccines does my dog really need and how often do they need to be given?”
In the Eastern United states the following canine diseases are endemic, meaning they are always here and should be vaccinated for:
Parvovirus: Causes a severe and commonly fatal GI infection. Most commonly transmitted through infected dog’s feces. Also carried by coyotes and foxes.
Distemper: Usually fatal but dogs that do survive usually have neurological problems for life. This disease also carried by skunks, foxes, coyotes and raccoons and is transmitted through secretions.
Adenovirus: Which causes Infectious Canine Hepatitis is strictly a canine disease. This virus is also transmitted through secretions.
Rabies: Invariably fatal in mammals. The OAH estimates that between 50,000 and 60,000 people die from rabies annually. There have been 16 Rabies positive animals found in Chittenden County this year. Rabies is transmitted through bites or any other secretion coming in contact with wounds or mucous membranes.
Bordetella (Kennel Cough): Is a combination of several pathogens and is transmitted through secretions also. This disease, while rarely fatal causes a severe cough that can occasionally lead to pneumonia and is VERY contagious.
Lyme Disease: Transmitted through the bite of a tick. Lyme disease can cause anything from mild lameness to death.
Leptospirosis: Caused by a bacteria most commonly transmitted through contaminated water. Leptospirosis can cause kidney, liver failure and other very serious and fatal conditions.
Although there are others, these are the most common diseases your dog may run into and also the diseases that are most easily prevented by vaccines.
Parvovirus, Distemper and Adenovirus are given as a combination called DA2P which most people call the “Distemper Shot”. This vaccine requires a series of vaccines 3-4 weeks apart in puppies and until recently was a yearly vaccine but now there is a vaccine that ensures 3 year immunity but can only be given to adult dogs.
Rabies vaccines are also good for three years now but again, only in adults. The initial Rabies vaccine is only good for one year. This vaccine is mandated by law and all dogs and cats MUST be vaccinated.
The Lyme Disease vaccine still must be given yearly and since this pathogen is so very common in this area it is highly recommended.
Most people think they only need the Bordetella vaccine if they are going to kennel their dog. However, since all kennels require this vaccine we rarely see dogs get sick in kennels. It is much more common for dogs to get sick at the dog park and from other dogs they meet on the sidewalk. This vaccine is also required yearly.
These are the common canine diseases and vaccines but every dog is different and your veterinarian may suggest more or less vaccines depending upon your dogs’ level of risk.