Lately, so much of our news stream and media focus on vaccinations and boosters — how many and how often. So I might as well use this opportunity for a plug on the canine core vaccinations. Many people are actually unsure what vaccines their dogs, especially puppies, need and how often. Rabies and DAPP are recommended for all dogs, and other vaccinations are dependent on your area. There are exceptions that you can discuss with your primary care vet depending on your pet’s individual medical history, needs, and safety.
Recommended Vaccinations for Dogs
The law requires rabies vaccination for all dogs because of the disease’s transmissibility to humans and its lethality. Dogs can receive the rabies vaccine for the first time at approximately 4 months of age. It must be boostered within 1 calendar year. After the first booster, as long as it does not expire, the rabies vaccine is boostered every 3 years. Extensive research on average protective titer length — i.e., how long most dogs maintain a protective titer and how often they require a booster to maintain it — dictates this vaccination protocol. The schedule for rabies vaccination is enforced by legal requirements; if you allow your dog’s vaccine to expire, the next booster automatically reverts to 1 year.
Rabies vaccines must be current to get a health certificate, which is a requirement for air or international travel — so most public travel in/around/out of Alaska. Many veterinary clinics and hospitals, including Tier 1, require a current rabies vaccine status of our patients for the safety of our staff. Don’t worry; we will still see you if your animal’s rabies vaccine is out of date, but ask that you booster at that time. Finally, a dog unvaccinated or out of date on rabies vaccination is also subject to mandatory quarantine or potential seizure and euthanasia for testing should they bite a human.
DAPP – Distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza
Commonly called “distemper, parvo” or just “parvo,” this vaccine generally combines the viruses listed above. This vaccination starts between 6-8 weeks of age with boosters every 3-4 weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks old. This schedule is designed to continually incite an immune response and help the puppy develop a protective immunity to these diseases as the maternal antibodies (protection from the mother given in utero and in the mother’s milk) wane. Like rabies, we booster DAPP one year later, after which time the schedule eases back to every 3 years. Again, this schedule is based on research of the average duration of a protective immunity maintained by your dog. Many of these viruses are lethal, and the vaccine does prevent them; there are extremely rare instances of failure of the vaccine.
Additional Vaccine Considerations:
Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough)
Kennel cough is a contagious bacterial infection of the trachea. Although generally self-limiting, it results in an aggressive, persistent cough that can last weeks. In severe cases, kennel cough can lead to pneumonia. The bordetella vaccine is given once yearly and is available in either oral or injectable forms. I prefer and strongly recommend the oral vaccine; this method results in both IgG (systemic) and IgM (local mucosal) immunity. Especially since the bacteria is encountered in the nasal passages, inciting a local response with IgM to counter it at the source can increase the efficacy of the vaccine. Fortunately, the connection of the oral cavity and nasal passages allows for an oral or nasal administration of the vaccine. A shot in the mouth goes over much smoother with most dogs than a shot up the nose.
An important thing to note: the vaccine is not 100% protective. I commonly equate the bordetella vaccine to the flu vaccine in humans. The vaccine reduces your dog’s chances of getting kennel cough and mitigates the severity and generally the duration of the disease process if they do get it.
Lyme, Leptospirosis, and Canine Influenza
As a general rule, we do not have these disease processes in Alaska. This we know because at least two of them are reportable diseases that we are legally bound to report to the state veterinarian on making a diagnosis. Although there have been reports of Leptospirosis in the area around Sitka. Discuss these vaccines with your veterinarian if you plan to travel, especially with outdoorsy dogs that may have a higher risk of encountering these disease processes, like hikers and hunting dogs. Plan ahead; the vaccines don’t last forever in the fridge, so many Alaskan veterinarians do not maintain them in stock. If you would like to ask about or get these vaccinations from your regular veterinarian or Tier 1, call ahead and make sure we have them in stock prior to your appointment.
To cut right to the heart of it — THEY DON’T WORK. Whether given by yourself or the breeder, no matter how immaculate the technique, the product does not work and will not protect your pet. The desire to protect your pet and do the right thing is admirable, but unfortunately, over-the-counter vaccines simply do not work. If cost is a concern, talk to your veterinarian and get scheduled for a regular appointment; it’s cheaper than a walk-in. You can also check with your local shelter, as some provide low-cost vaccines. Many veterinary hospitals, including Tier 1, also provide yearly vaccine clinics for those on a limited budget.
Like all good medicine, there is no single approach for every animal. It’s not recommended to vaccinate animals that are currently ill. Given the cost of veterinary care and the long wait times, it’s tempting to get it all done at once. But vaccinating a sick animal can make them worse and overburden an already taxed immune system. In the case of animals with long-standing illnesses such as cancer (especially those undergoing chemotherapy) and auto-immune conditions, vaccines may not be recommended and may actually make them worse. The decision to vaccinate these animals is case by case and should be discussed with your regular veterinarian and any specialists involved in their care.
For animals unable to be vaccinated, a blood test to evaluate their antibody levels (a measure of their immune response) can be considered. This should be discussed with your regular veterinarian. Additionally, it’s important to note that it does not fulfill the legal requirement for rabies vaccination or negate the consequences should your dog bite someone.
Vaccine protocols for dogs involve more than just a quick jab; it’s a process, and your veterinarian can help you navigate the minefield. Many animal hospitals also offer packages to alleviate the guesswork and make the process as pain-free (at least for you) as possible. Tier 1 offers a puppy package that includes all the vaccines needed to take your puppy from day 1 to set for a year at a discounted price. Because quite frankly, we don’t want to treat your dog for parvo or any other illness, especially when it’s preventable. Let us or your regular veterinarian help set your pet up for success.
Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. 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. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.