Labrador Retriever puppy vaccinations

This gentle Yellow Lab puppy

Vaccination is the exposure of a dog's immune system to specific heat-killed germs, live germs rendered incapable of causing disease, or toxins and germ products. Once the immune system is exposed to these disease-causing agents, it manufactures antibodies against them. Antibodies are protein substances that neutralize the effects of an antigen, a disease-causing foreign substance in the body.

Today's dogs are fortunate to have vaccinations against a number of killer diseases, including parvovirus (any of several small DNA viruses that cause several diseases in animals) and distemper (highly contagious, catarrhal, often fatal disease of dogs). Before the development of vaccines for dogs, many died every year because their immune systems weren't strong enough to fight off these diseases.

While vaccinations have been a boon to dogs, too much of a good thing can be just as bad as not having it at all. Veterinarians are currently rethinking the requirement that dogs be vaccinated every year. Overvaccination has been associated with autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs — a disease that can be fatal.

Many schools of veterinary medicine now recommend a standard three-shot series for puppies to protect against parvovirus, adenovirus 2, parainfluenza, and distemper. The first vaccination is given at six to eight weeks of age, the next three to four weeks later, followed by the final shot in another three to four weeks. A rabies shot is given after sixteen weeks of age. After the initial three-shot series, they recommend that dogs receive booster shots for these diseases at one year of age and every three years after that. Note that some states require annual rabies vaccination instead of every three years.

When dogs are naturally exposed to disease, immunity often lasts a lifetime, but immunity stimulated by vaccination is limited, so booster shots at regular intervals are necessary.

Types of Vaccinations

Three types of vaccines are used in dogs: killed virus, modified live virus (MLV), and recombinant. Killed vaccines cannot cause disease and are stable during storage, but they are often associated with vaccine reactions and require more frequent booster shots. Modified live vaccines are stronger and provide longer-lasting protection against disease. In a dog with a weakened immune system, however, they have the potential to cause disease.


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