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Understanding dog vaccinations

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Dog vaccinations have undergone a major change in recent years. It used to be simple: When your dog was a puppy, you went to your veterinarian to have it vaccinated against every disease for which a vaccine was available. Then, every year after that, you went back for boosters. Now, all that has changed.

Beginning as long ago as 1989, veterinary researchers became aware that at least some canine vaccines conferred disease protection for longer than had previously been thought. Over the next decade, new vaccines were produced that provided longer term protection. In 2006, the Canine Vaccine Task Force of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) released its revised Canine Vaccine Guidelines.

At the recent AAHA convention, Amy Stone, DVM, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Outpatient Medicine at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, gave a presentation of the revised guidelines. As Stone explained, there has been a shift from vaccinating every dog with every type of available vaccine to assessing the particular needs of each dog in light of its own risk profile, health status and lifestyle.

Vaccines: Assessing risks and benefits

In addition to confusion regarding the duration of vaccination protection, some dog owners have expressed concern about the risk of adverse reactions to some vaccines. Not every dog should receive every vaccine. But which ones are appropriate for which dog, and how often? How do you know what is right for your dog?

No medical treatment or intervention – including vaccination – is without risk. Any vaccine can have side effects or adverse reactions, the risk of which may vary according to breed, health status, and age. Therefore, determining which vaccines to administer represents a balancing of risks and benefits. For example, a dog that has frequent exposure to other dogs is at greater risk of exposure to infectious diseases than one that is more solitary; a city dog's exposure to nature is often limited to a daily walk in the park, and so will probably be exposed to fewer of the disease-causing microorganisms than a dog that spends its time in tick-infested woods. If you travel frequently with your dog, it is at greater risk of disease exposure than if it stays at home.

Getting specific: Core vs. non-core vaccines

The new guidelines identify the “core” vaccines that every dog should have, and the “non-core” vaccines, which should be administered on an “as needed” basis to those dogs which, because of breed, medical history, or lifestyle, are at particular risk of contracting certain infectious diseases.

Core vaccines:

  • Parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Adenovirus-2
  • Rabies (required by law; the particular type and frequency is determined on a county-by-county basis)

Non-core vaccines:

  • Distemper/ measles virus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Lyme disease
  • Leptospirosis
  • Western Diamondback rattlesnake vaccine

A joint decision

This list is only a summary. Your vet is the best source of detailed information concerning precise vaccination schedules as well as which non-core vaccines may be advisable for your dog. The decision to administer non-core vaccines is yours. You can make that decision an informed one by discussing the risks and benefits thoroughly with your vet.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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