Dog vaccinations

It is very important to ensure your dog is regularly vaccinated. Vaccination protects your pet against several diseases which are very serious and difficult to treat. Vaccines start with a primary course of 2 injections 2-4 weeks apart, and then annual boosters thoughout your dogs life. Here we explain the principles behind the primary and annual vaccinations, and also briefly describe the diseases against which we vaccinate.

Primary Vaccine Courses

  • Primary vaccine courses for puppies generally start at 8 weeks old and finish between 10-12 weeks old.
  • It is possible to vaccinate puppies at 6 weeks old against parvo virus, some rescue kennels or breeders may chose to do this to give pups extra protection, but it makes no difference to the timings of the other vaccinations.
  • When the pups suckle the colostrum from the bitch, she provides them with some natural immunity. This is called ‘Maternally Derived Anti-bodies’, or MDA
  • MDA starts to wane around 8 weeks old, if we started the vaccination course before this, these antibodies would destroy the vaccinations and they wouldn’t work.
  • Puppies are vaccinated twice in order to give them the maximum protection against disease. The second vaccine adds to the protection from the first, raising the levels even further.
  • Some breeds of dog, for example Rottweilers and Dobermans, are particularly vulnerable to parvo-virus infection, in some areas vets may chose to give these dogs an extra vaccine at 14-16 weeks for maximum protection.
  • The primary dog vaccine schedule  can be started at any age, for example if you have a rescue dog, or an adult dogs vaccines have lapsed.
  • Full immunity occurs about 7-10 days after the second vaccination, pups must be kept away from public places until then. They should be able to play in secure gardens as they are generally low risk, they will not catch any viral disease from cats or birds.
  • Adult dogs do not have to be kept in during the initial vaccination course, they should have reasonable levels of natural protection to keep them safe during this time.
  • Puppies have a ‘socialisation window’ which closes around 12-14 weeks old. Before this time they are much more easily introduced to new situations, people and other animals. This is why it is so important to finish the vaccines on time, and get your puppy out to meet the world!

cute baby labrador

Generally puppies can be vaccinated from 8 weeks old, and have a second vaccination between 10 and 12 weeks.

Annual Booster Vaccinations

  • Dogs should be given booster vaccinations every year to keep them protected from disease.
  • Not all the diseases need to be vaccinated against every year, leptospirosis and parvo-virus are generally done on an annual basis, but distemper and influenza, amongst others, can be done every other year.
  • There is some evidence that some of the vaccinations can now last for 3 years, however, this is not true for all dogs and most vets will advise annual vaccinations as the best policy.
  • Overdue boosters are not necessarily a problem, most vets will advise you can go up to 3 months past the vaccination due date and just give a booster, any longer than this and it is advisable to restart the course.
  • If you do not wish to give your dog annual vaccinations, it is possible to measure the levels of protection they have via blood tests. These will show if your dog is still covered, or if their protection has waned.
  • It is important to keep vaccinating your dog regularly, even when they get older. The immune system is not as efficient in older dogs, and they often need the protection more than ever. Remember, it is always the pensioners who get their flu jabs first!
  • Some of the diseases we vaccinate against are now rare, but this is only because a large proportion of dogs are now vaccinated. If enough people let the boosters lapse, they could return with a vengence.
  • The diseases against which we vaccinate are serious illnesses which are often fatal despite treatment, prevention is definitely better than cure!
  • Dog vaccines can have side effects but these are very rare and generally only mild.  They are most commonly seen in young pups or dogs having their first annual vaccination.   The current reported incidence of adverse reactions of dog vaccines are 38 in 10,000 within 3 days of the vaccine (WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines 2010)
  •  The risk of any side effects is far outweighed by the benefits of vaccination.
  • There are homeopathic vaccinations available for dogs. We do not recommend you use these, there is no evidence that they provide any protection against these diseases
  • Don’t forget annual vaccinations are also an ideal time for your pet to have a general check over with the vet, this will help pick up any problems and is also an opportunity for you to discuss any concerns you may have.


Annual vaccinations are a good opportunity to get your dog checked over by the vet, and discuss any questions or concerns you may have.

Cost of dog vaccinations

  • The cost of having your dog vaccinated will vary between clinics and also different areas of the country.
  • Don’t forget the price of the vaccine will also include a full physical examination by your vet and a chance for you to discuss any concerns you may have
  • Some low cost clinics charge as little as £10 for dog vaccines but be aware this is unlikely to include much time for the vet to spend with your pet, although this does make vaccines more affordable for some and your pets will be protected to the same degree.

What’s in dog vaccines?

There are several different diseases we can vaccinate dogs against.  They are listed below;


    • Distemper is a highly contagious and very serious disease. It is a viral disease and is transmitted by the dog breathing in the virus.
    • It is more common in young, unvaccinated dogs, especially those who live in urban environments and have more contact with lots of different dogs.
    • The symptoms of distemper can include; eye and nasal discharges, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea, anorexia, lethargy and in about 50% of cases neurological symptoms such as twitching, loss of balance and seizures.
    • There is no specific treatment for distemper, dogs suffering with it have to have intensive nursing and supportive care, which can be very expensive.
    • The prognosis is very poor and many animals infected with the disease will die.
    • Dogs who have been vaccinated against distemper may develop very mild symptoms if they are infected but generally recover well.
  • Distemper is included in the dogs primary and annual booster vaccinations, and in general is vaccinated against only every third year.


    • Canine herpes virus generally only causes clinical disease in very young puppies within the first few days of life.
    • The virus passes from the mother to the pups while they are still in the uterus, or within the first few days of life.
    • Pups infected can be either still born, or die within the first few days of life.
    • The bitch can be vaccinated against herpes. 2 vaccinations are needed one at the beginning of the season or just after mating, and the second a couple of weeks before birth.
  • Canine herpes is relatively uncommon but some breeders insist on vaccination.

Infectious Hepatitis

    • Infectious hepatitis is an uncommon disease which attacks and destroys the dogs liver.
    • The clinical signs are very variable. Some dogs will only show very vague signs of being ill which they soon shake off, whereas some can die within hours of being infected if their immune system is poor.
    • Infectious hepatitis can also be involved in ‘Fading puppy syndrome’. This is were recently born pups become weak and die, ‘fading away’, in the first few days after birth.
    • There is no specific treatment for Infectious Hepatitis and badly infected animals can only be given supportive care; drips, anitbodies and nursing, while their bodies fight the virus.
  • Infectious Hepatitis is vaccinated against in the standard primary and annual vaccination courses and then generally only every third year.

Kennel Cough

    • Is caused by several different viruses and bacteria, all of which will cause the same symptoms.
    • Your dog doesn’t have to go to kennels to catch kennel cough, it is passed by nose to nose contact, or by the dog walking into a could of droplets coughed up by another dog.
    • However, the most common place to catch it is in kennels. This is because there are often a lot of dogs in one place, and some can be quite stressed, which can lower their immune system.
    • The main symptom of kennel cough is a deep honking cough, often described as the dog having ‘something stuck in its throat’. Dogs can also become listless and depressed.
    • It takes about 7-10 days for the cough to develop after your dog has been infected, so if they have been in kennels, they will often start to cough when they get home.
    • The annual vaccination covers some of the causes of kennel cough but it is also important to have the extra kennel cough vaccine which is given as drops into the nose, especially if your dog is going into kennels where the risk of infection is high.
    • A single dose is all that is required for this.
  • Other viruses for which there are no vaccines also cause kennel cough so vaccinated dogs occasionally develop small coughs, but not the full blown disease.


    • Leptospirosis is a very serious disease, which attacks the liver and kidneys and can result in death within a few hours in the worst cases
    • Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection and is transmitted in the urine of infected animals. Animals can become infected by breathing in the urine or getting it into open wounds or cuts.
    • Symptoms of the disease include; vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, bleeding easily due to poor clotting, jaundice ( a yellow colouring to the skin), and death.
    • Diagnosis of leptospirosis is generally made on the clinical signs and a lack of vaccination. It is possible to identify antibodies in the blood but this often takes too long.
    • Treatment is difficult and can be expensive. It may involve antibiotics, drips and even blood transfusions.
    • The protection from the vaccines does not last long for leptospirosis, so dogs must be vaccinated every year against it.
    • There is no evidence that the Lepto 4 vaccination is harmful.  It has mild side effectes like all vaccinations but no more than average and these are significantly outweighed by the protection it gives your pets.
  • Leptospirosis can pass to people, so it is very important that infected animals are handled carefully and not by people with poor immune systems, eg the very old, young or sick.


  • Parvovirus is a highly infectious disease, and is seen most commonly in young, unvaccinated dogs. There have been a recent increase in cases, which you may have read about in the national press.
  • The virus is shed in huge numbers in the faeces of infected animals and dogs are infected when they come into contact with this faeces.
  • The symptoms of parvovirus are; vomiting, diarrhoea (often with blood), lethargy and anorexia.
  • Diagnosis is based on the clinical symptoms but there is also now a faecal test that can give a result within minutes.
  • There is no specific treatment for animals with parvo, only supportive care such as antibiotics, drips, intensive nursing and some other medications can be given while the animal fights the virus themselves.
  • The prognosis for infected animals is very poor, they are often do not survive.
  • Parvovirus is included in the standard boosters your dog receives, it is generally only every third year.

cute poorly puppy

Young dogs are most vulnerable to Parvo Virus infections and require intensive veterinary treatment to help them survive.


  • Rabies is a disease that is not found in the UK at present. However, animals are allowed abroad under the PETS scheme, which requires them to be vaccinated against it.
  • It is found in most of mainland Europe, and over the rest of the world, which is why vaccination is so important.
  • Rabies is a viral disease which attacks the nervous system and the brain of the animal.
  • The virus is found in the saliva of an infected animal and is transmitted by biting.
  • Clinical signs of infection include; changes in behaviour, extreme over-excitement, aggression, muscle weakness and it will eventually progress to a coma and death.
  • Vaccination against rabies provide excellent protection against the virus.
  • Animals are vaccinated against rabies and then can leave the country at any time but are not allowed back for 30 days.
  • This is a relatively recent change, previously the time before returning was 6 months. There was also a requirement for a blood test, which can still be done (and may be advisable) but this has also been dropped.

Please note, this is an advice only website, if you have any specific queries about your pet, you should contact your vet

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