two dogs smiling with a veterinary employee


Just like in human medicine, vaccinations are designed to help protect your pet from many dangerous, and potentially fatal diseases including rabies and lyme disease. Some of these vaccines are administered annually at your pet’s yearly appointment, some vaccines are given every 6 months, and, finally, a few are done every three years. But, remembering when to vaccinate your dog can be a bit overwhelming for many folks. This is where your pet’s trusty veterinary office comes in! Knowing when and how often these vaccines should be administered, along with maintaining other healthy habits, will help you keep your pet happy and healthy for as long as possible.

But exactly how do vaccines work?

Essentially, vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize and combat pathogens. A pathogen is a bacterium, virus, or other micro-organism that can cause disease. The vaccine will contain a weak or man-made version of the disease you want to protect your pet against. By triggering your pet’s natural immune system, your pet will begin to produce their own antibodies to combat the disease. That way, if they catch the same disease in the future, their body will be able to recognize the disease. And, most importantly, fight it off more effectively.

And the earlier the better!

However, it’s important that you vaccinate young pets early to provide the best protection for them. Since it takes time for younger animals to develop a healthy immune system naturally, animals younger than one year of age are at a much higher risk of catching serious illness. These diseases often carry the risk of being more fatal to younger animals, leaving surviving animals with lifelong health issues.

A Very, Merry Vaccination Schedule

dachshund sitting on a veterinary exam table getting a vaccine

There is no one agreed upon schedule for when to vaccinate your dog, and not all dogs get the same treatment.

There are many contributing factors your veterinarian considers when he or she forms your pet’s medical plan. This can include the individual risk for your specific pet, your lifestyle, the region of the country/world you live in, and if you and your pet travel frequently. However, some dogs simply do not need every vaccine. For example, your pet is a wee pampered pooch, enjoying lazy days being carried around the house and avoiding other animals. There is little chance they will need to be protected against something like leptospirosis or Bordetella. However, bringing your four-legged friend with on your outdoor adventures means you’ll want to make sure they are more protected.

But what about the dogs who we cannot vaccinate? Dogs with compromised health conditions, like autoimmune disorders and certain types of cancers, may be unable to receive vaccines for extended periods, if ever. However, the decision between you and your veterinarian to withhold a vaccination is individual, flexible, and will grow and change, as your pet does.

With that in mind, here are the generally accepted guidelines, set forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), for when to vaccinate your dog:

Dog’s AgeRecommended VaccinationsOptional Vaccinations
6 – 8
Distemper, parvovirusBordetella
10 – 12
DA2PP (vaccines for distemper, adenovirus
[hepatitis], parainfluenza, and parvovirus)
Leptospirosis, Bordetella,
Lyme Disease
DA2PP, RabiesCanine Influenza (H3N8/H3N2)
14 – 16
DA2PP, RabiesLeptospirosis, Lyme Disease,
Canine Influenza (H3N8/H3N2)
12 – 16
Rabies, DA2PPLeptospirosis, Bordetella,
Lyme Disease, Canine
Influenza (H3N8/HN2)
6 – 12
Assuming pet has adhered to above vaccination schedule, no core vaccines are due at this pointBordetella (some hospitals
suggest bi-annual vaccines)
Any SINGLE year distemper, adenovirus (hepatitis), parvovirus, parainfluenza, Rabies (as required by law)Leptospirosis, Bordetella,
Lyme Disease, Canine
Influenza (H3N8/H3N2)
3 Years
DA2PP, Rabies (as required by law) 

Post-Puppy: Vaccine Boosters and Titers

There seems to be a difference of opinion about whether having your adult dog vaccinated every year is medically necessary or not. On one side, many vets believe too many vaccinations in adult dogs pose health risks however, the other side disagrees. They argue that vaccinations given yearly will prevent dangerous diseases. So, what is the truth?

The truth is, we don’t know.

Just like with humans, many dogs handle their vaccinations fine and have no issues, while other dogs suffer reactions and medical complications. Your veterinarian will take all of your concerns into account to create your pet’s individualized medical plans. There are some dog owners, though, that opt for “titer tests” to determine whether or not their pet needs annual vaccinations. A blood test that measures the presence and amount of antibodies in the blood, a titer test assesses your dog’s specific immunity levels, and determines which, if any, vaccinations are necessary.

Here are a few important keys notes to remember about titer tests:

  • Specialized, and often expensive, a titer blood-test can often take more than a week for a doctor to get results back.
  • If your pet goes to doggy daycare, grooming, or boarding, the facility may require your pet to have the vaccination, regardless of the results of a titer test. If you utilize these services, make sure you know the rules of the facility before submitting for testing.
  • Please note that while there is a rabies titer test, it is not a replacement for the vaccine, but used to verify protection for international travel. Your vet can tell you the schedule for your particular state, as well as exactly when to vaccinate your dog.

But, it will all be worth it in the end. For all the late nights, and torn up shoes, and piddle spots on the carpet, your headaches will be worth it. For your effort and care, your beautiful puppy will lavish you with a lifetime of unconditional love and affection. That important first year of their life is a fun and exciting adventure for you both; one that if fostered, will bloom into a wonderful bond between owner and pet that will continue to flourish for a lifetime.

Still have questions about which vaccines are important? Check out Pet Vaccines 101: What We Protect Against