essential vaccines for dogs

Protect Your Dog with These Required & Recommended Vaccines

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“Which vaccines are required for my dog, and which vaccines are good to have?”

The rabies vaccine is mandated by law in Alaska. The distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus (DAP) vaccine, while not required by law, is essential for the health of your dog. If you travel with your dog to Canada or the lower 48, also consider vaccinating them against leptospirosis, Lyme, and influenza. Your vet can help you determine which vaccines your dog should receive based on their activities and exposure.

Prevention is the best way to keep your dog healthy, and vaccines are a critical part of canine preventative care. At Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center, our clients often ask which vaccines are essential for dogs, and which are simply recommended. Vaccinations protect your dog from potentially fatal diseases and you from the heartache of losing your dog to a preventable cause. In this article, Dr. Brooke Wilson provides information on the essential vaccines for dogs in Alaska, as well as some vaccines that may be beneficial depending on your dog’s lifestyle.

Essential Vaccines for Dogs


The Alaska state law requires that dogs are vaccinated against the rabies virus. A puppy first receives the rabies vaccine at around 12 weeks of age, and the vaccine is boostered when the puppy is one-year-old. Then, every three years, the dog must get their rabies vaccination updated.

As a potentially deadly virus for both dogs and humans, protecting against the spread of rabies is essential. The virus transmits when the saliva of an infected animal enters the bloodstream of another. The time of infection to when symptoms begin appearing, referred to as the incubation period, can take anywhere from a few days to several months. Rabies symptoms in dogs range from the “furious” form to the “paralytic” form. Dogs exhibit the furious form by expressing heightened anxiety, aggression with little provocation, and the stereotypical foaming at the mouth. The paralytic form is expressed by hypersalivation and reduced swallowing ability. As the virus progresses in this form, paralysis and then death follows.

While vaccination poses the best defense against rabies, you should also be vigilant when you see wild animals on your property and avoid leaving trash out that could attract such animals.

Distemper, Adenovirus, & Parvovirus (DAP)

Although not mandated by law, another vaccine that is essential in Alaska is the Distemper, Adenovirus, and Parvovirus vaccine. This is commonly referred to as the DAP vaccine. Similar to the rabies vaccine, the DAP vaccine is first administered when your dog is a puppy. It is then boostered at one year of age and renewed every three years thereafter.

As indicated by its name, the DAP vaccine protects against three viruses.

  • Distemper affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of canines. It spreads through airborne exposure and also affects wildlife populations. No cure exists for distemper, so prevention is key.
  • Adenovirus causes upper respiratory tract infections and targets the liver, kidneys, eyes, and endothelial cells. When left untreated, it leads to canine hepatitis. Adenovirus spreads from one dog to another through saliva, mucus, feces, or urine.
  • Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus. We do see a lot of Parvovirus up here in Alaska, and it is a very devastating disease for pups. It spreads between contact with infected dogs or their feces. Even small, trace amounts of their feces infecting their kennels, collars, or bedding can cause the virus to spread to other dogs. Symptoms of parvovirus include loss of appetite, bloating, lethargy, and bloody diarrhea. If parvo is not caught early, it results in death.

Vaccinating your pup against these viruses does not eliminate the possibility that they contract the illness. However, the DAP vaccine does increase your dog’s ability to fight off these viruses if they are exposed. Additionally, practicing proper hygiene with your dog reduces their risk of acquiring the viruses.

Titer Testing

When it comes time to renew your dog’s DAP vaccine three years after it is boostered, we can first run a Titer test. A Titer test involves drawing some blood and then measuring the number of antibodies present against the Distemper, Adenovirus, and Parvoviruses. If their antibody count indicates that they are still protected against these viruses, renewing their DAP vaccine is not necessary at that time.

Recommended Vaccines for Some Dogs

At Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center, we recommend additional vaccines if you and your dog travel often. Some scary diseases exist down in the lower 48, and we want your pets to stay protected. These diseases include leptospirosis, Lyme, and influenza.


Leptospirosis occurs most commonly in dogs, but the disease can also spread to people. A dog can catch lepto through exposure to infected urine present in water or soil. Signs vary greatly between cases. Some infected dogs show no signs of the disease, while others develop flu-like symptoms or experience acute organ failure.


Lyme disease spreads through ticks. While ticks are not common in Alaska, your dog is at risk for a tick bite if you travel to a warmer climate. Ticks hide in tall grasses and latch onto your dog as they walk by. Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include lethargy, joint swelling, fever, and loss of appetite. Giving your dog a monthly flea & tick preventative also reduces their risk for contracting this disease.


While rarely fatal, canine influenza is an unpleasant experience for dogs and their parents. Similar to the strains of flu that affect humans, canine influenza spreads through airborne secretions from a dog’s respiratory system. They release these secretions when they bark, cough, sneeze, drink from a water bowl, or chew on a toy. Symptoms of influenza in your dog can be coughing, sneezing, fever, runny nose, and trouble breathing.

Preventing Potentially Fatal Diseases

Responsible dog parents take their pup’s health very seriously, and they understand that the best way to protect their dog from fatal illnesses is prevention. Depending on your lifestyle, it might make sense to give your dog for additional vaccines beyond what is essential for all dogs. Talk to your vet about developing a preventive plan for your dog that will help keep them happy and healthy for years to come.

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available for emergencies, walk-ins, and by appointment. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Sean McPeck

A 2010 Graduate of Colorado State College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Sean McPeck developed his leadership as a Sniper Team Leader and Veterinarian with the US Army Special Operations, 75th Ranger Regiment.

Dr. McPeck has multiple combat deployments, totaling almost 2 years in combat theaters of operation.

He is the recipient of the Combat Action Badge, and is Ranger, Sniper, and Airborne qualified. While serving as an officer in Special Operations, Dr. McPeck was repeatedly recognized for his Honor, Integrity, Courage and Selfless Service in the name of the United States. He was recognized with not one, but two, Meritorious Service Medals.

Under his leadership, Dr. McPeck worked with Working Dog handlers, and canine units, to detain and seize enemy combatants. The canines that Dr. McPeck worked with are credited with savings thousands of United States soldiers deployed in combat areas.

Dr. McPeck authored The RCAP, Ranger Canine Athletic Program, which was the 1st comprehensive Military canine conditioning program.

His specific training and certification classes for Dog handlers to be proficient in Canine Tactical- Combat Casualty Care, and knowledge of current medical equipment and procedures, which led to the successful life saving interventions by handlers in real world operations.

Dr. SaraRose McPeck graduated from Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. A Massachusetts native who attended Becker College for her undergrad, Dr. McPeck has lived and worked around the country and even the world. She served four years in the United States Army as a Veterinary Officer, during which she was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, and completed a 12-month tour in Afghanistan.

Her time serving in the Army provided her the experience as the primary veterinarian for over 350 Military Working Dogs, in which she provided all emergency, trauma, surgical, critical, and primary care. In addition to caring for animals, she trained, mentored, and led six Non-Commissioned Officers and twelve junior enlisted Soldiers, giving her not only impressive veterinary experience but also exceptional interpersonal and leadership skills.

As a Veterinary Corp Officer, she received a variety of awards, including a Bronze Star, a NATO Medal, a GWOT Medal, two Army Accommodation Medals, among many others. She gained experiences in which she exemplified impressive leadership skills and the ability to adapt to both clinical and combat support situations. Her years of experience serving our country and in veterinary medicine have equipped her with the knowledge and skills to provide exceptional care to our patients.