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Canine Vaccinations Explained

February 27, 2015

What’s in a Name? (part 1 – canine vaccines)

We all know the feeling – you get the annual reminder card from your veterinarian telling you “Spot” is due for vaccinations, many of them a bunch of weird names that say nothing to describe the diseases they protect against. To help you understand what’s being reminded for, here’s a brief run-down of the common canine vaccinations:


Rabies(goes to new website)(opens in a new tab)

An incurable and nearly always fatal viral disease of mammals, Rabies is transmitted through saliva and targets the central nervous system.  Because it is spread from animals to people, the public health implications have led to a legal requirement for all cats and dogs in nearly every state.


DAPP/DHPP – Distemper – Adenovirus – Parainfluenza – Parvovirus(goes to new website)

This combination of vaccines is considered a “core” vaccine by the American Animal Hospital Association (goes to new website)(opens in a new tab)and is highly recommend for all dogs.

  • Distemper virus (in the same class as measles) is highly infectious and spread by respiratory droplets. It targets the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and even the brain in some cases.

  • Canine Adenovirus/Infectious Canine Hepatitis is transmitted through bodily secretions and causes respiratory symptoms followed by liver damage and/or ocular damage.

  • Canine Parvovirus is an extremely contagious and very serious virus that causes gastrointestinal signs, sometimes severe and even fatal. Spread by feces and very hardy – it is ubiquitous in the environment. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are extremely susceptible.

  • Parainfluenza is a respiratory virus transmitted via respiratory secretions. It one of the causes of “kennel cough.”


Lyme(goes to new website)(opens in a new tab) 

This bacterial organism is spread by the deer tick. In dogs, it is most often associated with severe joint pain and fever; rarely a severe, often fatal type of kidney disease or neurologic symptoms can result.  We do not know if dogs can suffer the same chronic effects of Lyme infection as people may.


Leptospirosis(goes to new website)(opens in a new tab) 

This bacterial infection affects the kidneys and/or liver and is transmitted through the urine (rodents, raccoons and opossums are major carriers in this area). Dogs that swim, play in water or live in cities are at the highest risk; humans are also susceptible and suffer similar symptoms.


Canine Tracheobronchitis/Bordetella(goes to new website)(opens in a new tab)

Another cause of “kennel cough”, Bordetella bronchiseptia is a highly contagious bacterium transmitted through respiratory secretions. It causes inflammation of large airways, causing a honking cough; in the young or immune-compromised it can become pneumonia. Typically required by boarding/grooming/training facilities.


Canine Influenza(goes to new website)(opens in a new tab) 

This virus is transmitted similarly to the human flu virus (direct contact, respiratory secretions, or contaminated surfaces).  Most cases of this relatively new disease have been reported at shelters, dog tracks, or areas where many dogs are housed together.  Some boarding facilities may require this vaccine.

Most veterinarians aim to customize vaccine protocols based on each pet’s geographical location, age and sex, and individual lifestyle.  Which lifestyle category does your pet fall in?

  • “free spirit” — spending time hunting, camping, hiking, swimming, potentially likely to eat or drink from unknown sources?

  • “urban socialite”— frequent visitors to dog parks or doggie daycare? exposure to rodents (common in urban environments)?

  • “pampered pooch” — frequent trips to the groomer, often travels along to public places?

  • “homebody” — little or no exposure to other dogs, short leash walks only, no access to unknown dogs, food, or water?

By taking all these factors into consideration, your veterinarian can work with you to develop the best-individualized vaccine protocol for your dog.  

Categories: Pet Health, Veterinary Medicine
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