Just like humans, dogs also need to be vaccinated. It’s a simple, practical way to protect them from common diseases that can threaten their health and even their life. The most important shots for dogs are mandatory; not getting them can even subject you to administrative sanctions.

Vaccines aren’t extremely expensive, but we understand that in times of crisis, it could be a little complicated for some people to pay for them. Local governments, the humane society and other organizations will sometimes have campaigns offering vaccinations at very reduced costs. They offer to give your dog his shots at a low cost, sometimes even free of charge.

There are many vaccines for dogs, but only some of them are mandatory. Many others are recommended, and although it seems odd, there are others that aren’t even advisable in some cases (according to our criteria). Here, we explain the vaccine schedule for dogs and what they are for.

doggy in vet

What are vaccines?

Vaccines are a preparation of antigens that are injected into the patient with the goal of provoking the immune system to create antibodies to eliminate the pathogen. In simple terms, a vaccine is a weakened version of the virus itself so that it can’t infect or harm the patient.

They are used so that the patient (your dog, in this case) creates antibodies for that virus, so that if they ever come into contact with the real virus in their lifetime, they’ll be prepared to fight and beat it.

It’s an effective way to stimulate their immune system against diseases.


Which shots are required for dogs and when are they given?

The rabies vaccine is required in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States and most provinces in Canada. It is also required in order to bring your dog into the United Kingdom from another country. This vaccine is given at 3 or 4 months old and again when the dog is 1 year old.

Local laws may also apply, so we recommend you consult your local administration or veterinarian to stay up to date.

Additionally, the AVMA (US), BSAVA (UK), and CVMA (Canada) recommend the following “core” vaccines for dogs:

United States: Distemper, Canine adenovirus-2, and Canine parvovirus-2 (usually included in multivalent/combination vaccine), Rabies.

United Kingdom: Distemper, Canine adenovirus-2, and Canine parvovirus-2 (usually included in multivalent/combination vaccine), Leptospirosis.

Canada: Distemper, Canine adenovirus-2, Canine parvovirus-2, Canine parainfluenza virus (usually included in multivalent/combination vaccine), Rabies.

  • Puppy 6 weeks old: combination vaccine
  • Puppy 9 weeks old: combination vaccine
  • Puppy 12 weeks old: combination vaccine
  • Puppy 16 weeks old: combination vaccine, rabies (they are usually microchipped at the same time)
  • Dog 1 year old: combination vaccine (booster) and rabies (booster)
  • Every year: combination vaccine (booster) and rabies (if your vet uses a 3-year vaccine, then boosters can be administered every three years).

puppy bathing

As with everything in medicine and science, the most recent medical advances indicate that some vaccines don’t need to be given as yearly boosters, but since exact data have not been provided yet, it’s advisable to follow the current vaccine schedule for now.

Remember that each country, state or province has its own vaccine schedule and requirements. It is the responsibility of every dog owner to stay informed through their veterinarian as to which shots their dog needs.

single-dose vaccines

Which vaccines for dogs are recommended and which are not recommended?

Your vet is the only one who can determine which non-core vaccines are recommended for your dog based on his risk of exposure, age, breed, health, etc. Non-core vaccines include:

United States: Leptospirosis, Coronavirus, Canine parainfluenza, Bordetella, Lyme disease

United Kingdom: Canine parainfluenza, Bordetella, Rabies, Canine herpes virus (breeding females), Leishmaniosis*, Lyme disease

Canada: Leptospirosis, Coronavirus, Bordetella, Lyme disease, Giardiasis

*Leishmaniosis may be indicated for dogs living in or traveling to endemic areas, primarily Mediterranean countries. Here, we will explain the reasons why it is and is not recommended.

It is a fairly recent vaccine, making it not very recommendable in that regard (it’s advisable to use medications/vaccines with at least a few years in the market to guarantee their effectiveness and look for possible side effects).

It’s a vaccine that doesn’t always sit well with dogs, especially in small or lightweight dogs where it is NOT recommended. For reasons that are still unknown, small or lightweight dogs often do not tolerate this vaccine well, in some cases even dying as a result. When we say small dogs, we’re usually referring to dogs that weigh 5 kg (11 lbs) or less.

This vaccine can be given to dogs 6 months or older after first deworming them and doing a test to make sure they aren’t infected.

Once vaccinated, you’ll have to give them an annual booster shot. You can get more information on this disease here: Leishmaniosis disease in dogs.


What happens if I don’t vaccinate my dog?

If you have a puppy and don’t vaccinate him or if you have an unvaccinated adult dog, you’re not only exposing him to a huge risk of catching potentially lethal diseases, but also putting other dogs in your community at risk. Your dog could be a carrier of some disease and give it to another dog who is in the process of being vaccinated or has a weakened immune system.

Depending on local laws, you could also be subject to administrative sanctions including fines and potentially serious problems if your dog is not vaccinated against rabies and your area is put under rabies quarantine. A dog that is unvaccinated against rabies and is bitten by a feral animal must be confined for 6 months and observed for signs of rabies; if any signs appear, the dog will have to be put down.
If your dog really matters to you, if he’s part of your family, don’t make excuses. You must get your dog properly vaccinated – it’s the only way to protect him from dangerous diseases.

If you have a puppy who hasn’t been vaccinated yet, don’t let him come in contact with other dogs or even take him outside for a walk. All it takes is a little urine from an infected dog, cat or rat to infect your puppy and kill him. It’s not a joke, you have to be extremely cautious when they are that young and vaccinate them when the time comes.

doggy and vet

Your vet can advise you better than anyone about vaccines, their effects, cost, and most of all, the right vaccine schedule for your dog.