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Vaccinations and Your Dog

Vaccines are a bit of a hot button topic in past years, and this is true of dog vaccinations as well. Dog owners often want information about risks associated with vaccines, which vaccines are recommended, and alternatives to vaccines. Ultimately, this article should address many of these concerns while giving dog owners a better understanding of vaccines, the reason dogs need them, and new canine vaccination recommendations.

Understanding Vaccines

The theory behind vaccines is that they help your dog’s immune system build antibodies to serious diseases without putting your dog at risk. Exposure to many illnesses can actually help you build immunity; consider chicken pox – once you’ve had it, you can’t get it again. This is because your immune system already has the antibodies needed to fight the infection. Canine vaccines expose your dog to low levels of a pathogen so that it can develop the antibodies that provide protection against more serious illness.


In the past, dogs received yearly booster shots because it was believed that vaccines offered protection for only a year. However, in recent years, veterinary guidelines have changed and many vaccines are known to offer longer protection. Now, most vaccines can be boosted every 3 years, while it is still recommended for dogs to have yearly rabies vaccinations. Moreover, with respect to vaccines for distemper virus, parovovirus, and adenovirus, vaccine immunity is closer to 5 years, though boosters should be given more frequently than that. In general, veterinary experts advise 3 boosters before 16 weeks of age, vaccines at age 1 year, and boosters every 3 years after.


All vaccines have risk, and research seems to show that canine adverse effects are underreported. Some common, but short-term side effects of vaccination include loss of appetite, pain at the injection site, lethargy, and fever. In rare circumstances, more severe side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, difficulty breathing, and collapse may occur. Finally, there are also immune-related diseases which may appear after vaccination including mediated hemolytic anemia, immune mediated skin disease, skin cancer, skin allergies, arthritis, leukemia, inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, and neurological conditions. These effects may occur because when a vaccine is injected, sometimes the immune system overreacts and autoimmune, allergic, or other adverse reactions may result.


The main alternatives for vaccines are called homeopathic nosodes. Nosodes essentially carry a mirror image of a disease, and administering nosodes enhances the immune response and helps your dog prepare to defend against the associated disease. However, unlike vaccines, nosodoes do not expose your dog’s body to the full strength of the living disease. Generally considered safe and side-effect free, nosodes may or may not offer the same level of protection as vaccines. Indeed, the effectiveness of nosodes is still under question.

Visit Steveston Veterinary Hospital in Richmond, BC to speak to experienced vets about vaccinations and more.

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