Vaccinations are an important part of caring for your dog as they prevent or reduce the severity of infectious diseases such as canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus, and canine parvovirus, which can cause serious health consequences and even death.
Core and non-core vaccines
Core vaccines are those that all dogs should receive as these protect against potentially fatal diseases. The core vaccines for dogs are canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus and canine parvovirus . They are combined within a single vaccine commonly known in Australia as the C3 vaccine.
Non-core vaccines are those that are administered depending on the risk. This is based on an assessment of the dog’s location, lifestyle, and risk of exposure to the infection . Therefore, it is important to ask your veterinarian about which vaccines are most appropriate for your dog. Non-core vaccines in Australia include those which provide protection against infections caused by canine parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica (these both contribute to kennel cough) and leptospirosis . The canine parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine (more commonly known together with the core vaccines as a C5 vaccine) is recommended for dogs who regularly come into contact with other dogs, such as on walks, at the park, day-care, puppy preschool, or boarding .
The leptospirosis vaccination is recommended for dogs who are in at-risk areas, have access to stagnant bodies of water, or have contact with livestock or rodents [1, 2]. Leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease, which means animals, including dogs, can pass the disease on to humans .
Australia is a rabies-free country and thus a rabies vaccine is not necessary for dogs remaining in Australia. If you are planning on taking your dog overseas, you will need to speak to your veterinarian about what vaccinations will be necessary for your dog to travel to and live in the destination country.
The first core vaccine should be given at 6-8 weeks of age, then a booster vaccine given every 2-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. The final vaccination should not be given any earlier than 16 weeks of age . The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) provides an example vaccination schedule for a puppy to start at 8 weeks of age, where a 4-week interval between vaccinations would total three puppy vaccinations by 16 weeks of age . A booster vaccine is recommended at 6 months of age to ensure that a protective immune response develops in any dog that may not have responded to any of the first three vaccines .
Puppies should have had all their routine puppy vaccinations before going to public places like the park, to reduce their risk of coming into contact with other dogs or an environment that could be a source of infectious disease. Check with your veterinarian when your puppy will be fully vaccinated, and can safely go to public places. Before your puppy is fully vaccinated you can take them out but you should carry them and limit their exposure to other dogs and areas where dogs might have been. The Australian Veterinary Association advises that puppy preschool properly conducted in a clean environment should not pose a risk to a puppy that is not yet fully vaccinated.
If your veterinarian has recommended the canine parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine, this is usually given as a single intranasal vaccine (dripped into the nostrils, with the dog’s head held slightly back), with your puppy’s second core C3 vaccine, and then annually . This vaccination can also be given by a needle under the skin (as a single injection mixed with the core vaccines) with the core C3 puppy vaccines in two separate doses, 4 weeks apart (usually with the 2nd and 3rd puppy vaccine), and then annually. Different veterinarians may use different protocols, so it is best to check with your veterinarian which vaccine they use.
If your veterinarian has recommended the leptospirosis vaccine, this is usually given with the core puppy vaccines in two separate doses, 4 weeks apart (usually with the 2nd and 3rd core C3 puppy vaccines), and then annually .
The non-core vaccinations may be given at the same time as a core vaccination, to reduce veterinary visits or alone (for example, if your dog needs to go into boarding at short notice).
Puppies and dogs are not routinely vaccinated against tetanus because of the low occurrence of tetanus in dogs . However, some veterinarians may recommend your puppy or dog gets vaccinated against tetanus in certain situations. Puppies and dogs who engage in activities that could result in a deep penetrating wound may be at risk of contracting tetanus . We recommend talking to your veterinarian about a tetanus vaccine for your dog if your dog or puppy lives or regularly goes near horses, farms, or bushland.
Adult dog vaccinations
Once your dog has completed all their core puppy vaccinations and the booster, your dog requires their core vaccination every 1-3 years , depending on the duration of immunity provided by the vaccine your veterinarian uses – it is best to check with your veterinarian which vaccination they use. If your veterinarian has recommended any of the non-core vaccinations (canine parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica or leptospirosis), they are required annually .
If you attain a dog of any age with an unknown vaccination history, you may need to ensure that the dog has a full initial course of vaccines like a puppy does to ensure adequate protection. It is best to speak to your veterinarian about this and also if you intend to relocate interstate or to a new country.
Your veterinarian will always do a health check before administering a vaccination to ensure your puppy or dog is healthy. The core vaccines used in dogs are very safe with a very low incidence of adverse reactions. The benefits of protection from serious infectious disease significantly outweigh the risks of developing an adverse reaction . If you have any concerns about adverse vaccine reactions or the health of your dog, it is best to speak to your veterinarian.
 Day M et al (2015) Guidelines for the vaccination of dogs and cats compiled by the Vaccination Guidelines Group (VGG) of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). Journal of Small Animal Practice, 57:1-45.
 Johnson A (2014) Canine Infectious Disease. In Small Animal Pathology for Veterinary Technicians; John Wiley & Sons Inc.: Iowa; pp. 7-19
 Fawcett A & Irwin P (2014) Diagnosis and treatment of generalised tetanus in dogs. In Practice 36(10): 482-493.