Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, nor do I have any formal training in any medical field. The information presented here is not meant to replace your vet's advice or prescribed medications, but only to suggest additional options to explore, based on your dog's condition.
I no longer revaccinate my adult dogs at all, other than for rabies, as required by law. I am convinced that they have lifetime protection against all the viral diseases (Parvo, Distemper, Parainfluenza, Hepatitis/Adenovirus and Rabies). Challenge studies have been published for Parvovirus, Distemper, and Adenovirus (the others have not been studied) showing that protection lasts at least seven years; serology (titer) tests show duration up to 15 years (see Duration of Immunity to Canine Vaccines: What We Know and Don't Know and full text). These studies are ongoing, meaning the duration may be even longer; none of the studies have shown immunity to wear off. I did titers the first year, for peace of mind, but no longer do them, as I'm satisfied my dogs are protected and do not need to test them to reassure myself.
The 2003 Report of the AAHA Canine Vaccination Task Force says, "Dogs have been shown to maintain antibody titers to the core viruses CDV [distemper], CPV-2 [parvo], CAV-1 [adenovirus] and CAV-2 in viral-free environments for many years. In a study reported in 1997, dogs vaccinated with a product containing CDV and then place in an environment without CDV maintained antibody titers for at least 10 years. In a more recent controlled study of puppies vaccinated at 7 and 10 weeks of age (and housed with unvaccinated dogs to ensure CDV, CPV-2, CAV-1 and CAV-2 were not present), it was shown that vaccinated dogs maintained antibody titers for more than 4 years. . . . We now know that booster injections are of no value in dogs already immune, and immunity from distemper infection and vaccination lasts for a minimum of 7 years based on challenge studies and up to 15 years (a lifetime) based on antibody titer."
A study published in 2010 by Dr. Ronald Schultz, vaccination expert, et al, concluded that "even a single dose of modified live virus (MLV) canine core vaccines (against CDV [distemper], cav-2 [adenovirus] and cpv-2 [parvovirus) . . . when administered at 16 weeks or older, could provide long-term immunity in a very high percentage of animals, while also increasing herd immunity. (See Age and long-term protective immunity in dogs and cats and What Every Vet (And Pet Owner) Should Know About Vaccines for more information).
The vaccinations for bacterial diseases, including Leptospirosis, Bordetella, and Lyme disease, do not provide long-term protection and in general must be be given yearly or even more often in order to provide protection.
The benefit vs. risk ratio needs to be taken into account when deciding whether or not to vaccinate against lepto. Lepto is spread through the urine of infected animals, so dogs who spend time outdoors, swim in potentially contaminated water, or drink from water (including outdoor water dishes) that might have come in contact with wildlife are at greater risk than those who spend most of their time indoors. In the past, there were more side effects reported for the lepto vaccine than for all the other vaccines combined, but a large vaccine study showed that the newer lepto vaccines have no increased risk for adverse effects. Giving the lepto vaccine separately from other vaccinations may help to prevent a reaction.
Lepto vaccines protect against two to four (depending on the vaccine) of the most common serovars that affect dogs, and likely provide some cross-protection against other serovars as well. The vaccine does not always prevent the disease but should lessen the severity. The vaccine is considered good for one year, but protection may last 9 months or less. Because lepto infections are most common in the spring and fall, vaccinations should be timed to try to cover those periods.
Update: Merial now offers a recombinant vaccine that addresses some of these issues; see Recombinant Vaccines below for more information. I do have some concern about lepto, which is found in my area. If one of my dogs ever developed any symptoms, I am prepared to treat immediately with amoxicillin (supportive care with IV fluids might also be needed). See A Primer on Leptospirosis (along with the comments below the post) for a discussion on this topic.
Bordetella is one of many forms of kennel cough. Dogs who live in kennels, are boarded, or who are exposed to a lot of other dogs, such as at dog shows, are at greater risk. Kennel cough is rarely fatal but can be very uncomfortable for the dog, and is highly contagious. I do not give the bordetella vaccine, as I believe the risk of exposure is low for my dogs. See Is the Kennel Cough Vaccine a Wise Choice for Your Dog? for more information on the bordetalla vaccine.
The Lyme vaccine can induce the same symptoms as the disease, but they do not respond to treatment, although I'm not sure if this is still true for the newer recombinant vaccine. The vaccine also has limited efficacy (only protects about 50% of dogs that get it, and doesn't last very long). I don't vaccinate my dogs for Lyme disease for these reasons, and because the risk of exposure in my area is quite low.
Note that if you do vaccinate for bacterial diseases, these vaccines should be separated from those given for viral diseases, according to veterinary vaccine specialist Ronald Schultz, and the lepto vaccine should never be given before the age of 12 weeks (see What Everyone Needs to Know About Canine Vaccines and Vaccination Programs, pages 62-64). There is another version of this paper available that offers answers to some commonly asked questions.
It is best to give rabies separately from any other vaccines.
Note that modified live canine distemper virus vaccines can suppress the immune system for up to 9 days when combined with canine adenovirus vaccine. This does not occur when the recombinant distemper vaccine is used (see below for more information on recombinant vaccines). See Canine Distemper & Vaccination for reference.
I get my dogs as adults and so do not have to deal with puppy vaccination issues. I think that if I had a puppy, I would vaccinated only for parvo and distemper, and would titer two weeks after vaccinating to see if the vaccines were effective. If so, I would not revaccinate. If the vaccines did not take, due to interference by the maternal immunity, I would repeat the vaccinations and testing.
For those who prefer to give different vaccines separately, I read secondhand that Dr. Dodds recommends Neopar for parvo. Schering-Plough used to make a separate distemper vaccine but discontinued it in January 2011.
See the following articles for a good overview of puppy vaccinations and revaccination of adult dogs and older puppies:
- Puppy Shots: Vaccination Issues for Breeders
- Re-Vaccination: Vaccination for Previously Vaccinated Dogs and Older Puppies
- Titers: What do they tell us?
- Titers and Canine Vaccination Decisions
Also see Vaccinations for Your Dog: A Complex Issue, written by a vet.
Here are some good websites on vaccination protocol. Note that most vaccines are recommended every three years, with many not recommended at all unless your situation calls for them.2004 Vaccination Protocols for Dogs Includes minimal, moderate and maximum vaccination protocols from Considerations in Designing Effective and Safe Vaccination Programs for Dogs", R.D. Schulz, May 2000.
New Principles of Immunology-Canine Good veterinary site that talks about distemper and parvo lifetime immunity. See the links they have for recommended and not recommended vaccinations for both dogs and cats. Also see Critter Advocacy and New Vaccination Protocols for more information from the same source.
Vaccination Protocol by W. Jean Dodds, DVM as of 2009
The Vaccination Website for Dogs and Cats New Vaccination protocols and lots of information from a panel of veterinarians
Here are the current vaccination recommendations from several veterinary colleges, the American Animal Hospital Association, and the WSAVA (still too much in my opinion but better than the annual vaccines that are still being used by many vets):
- 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force recommendations. 2006 edition included references to challenge studies showing duration of immunity of at least 7 years for Canine Parvovirus, Canine Distemper virus and Canine Adenovirus (Table 1), but 2011 version just says "Among healthy dogs, all commercially available MLV-CPV-2 vaccines are expected to induce a sustained protective immune response lasting at least 5 yr" (for the first two) and "7 yr" for the last. Also includes recommendations for animals in shelter environments.2011 version added information about canine influenza, oral melanoma, and rattlesnake vaccines.
- General Guidelines and Strategies for Vaccine Use in Cats and Dogs (page 16) from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, 2005.
- Colorado State University's Small Animal Vaccination Protocol
- Ohio State University VTH Canine and Feline Vaccination Guidelines (2005)
- Canine Vaccination Protocols from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
- Community Practice Vaccination Protocols from Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
- Vaccination Protocol for Dogs and Cats from the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
- Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats and Vaccination Guidelines for the Owners and Breeders of Dogs and Cats (both 2010) from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). The first document ncludes recommendations for animals in shelter environments.
There are now two in-office titers tests, TiterChek (manufactured by Synbiotics Inc. and distributed by Pfizer) and Canine VacciCheck (produced by Biogal Laboratories), that can help determine if a dog is protected against parvovirus and distemper, plus adenovirus (Vaccicheck only). See What We Need to Know about Vaccination and Titre Testing for more information about both tests.
Most labs now offer titer tests as well. For example, Cornell charges $49.50 (as of 2013) for Adenovirus-1 (Canine Infectious Hepatitis), Distemper and Parvo titer tests, or $33 for all just Distemper and Parvo. They also offer titer tests for Coronavirus, Parainfluenza (kennel cough), Herpesvirus and Influenza. Note that Hemopet (Dr. Dodds) also offers titer testing ($50 for distemper/parvo, $95 for rabies, which is the most expensive of the titer tests, according to their test request submission form). Note that these are what the lab charges; your vet will charge additional fees for drawing and shipping the blood, and may mark these prices up as well.Merial makes a thimerosol-free rabies vaccine called IMRAB 3 TF (the 3 designates a 3-year vaccine, and TF stands for "thimersol free"). There is also a 1-year version, IMRAB 1 TF. Fort Dodge makes a thimerosol-free rabies vaccine called RABVAC 3 TF (while it is not listed on their web site, I did confirm with them that it is still available).
Thimerosal is used in other vaccine products, but I don't know of any specifically thimerosal-free versions.
Merial is now marketing several recombinant vaccines that are safer than either killed or modified live vaccines. The trade name is Recombitek for dogs (distemper, parvo, coronavirus, kennel cough) and Purevax for cats (rabies, FLV and more). These recombinant vaccines do not use adjuvants, which are responsible for many of the side effects of vaccinations. Canine Distemper and Vaccination by Ronald Schultz, DVM, indicates that the recombinant distemper vaccine is just as effective, or even more so in the case of overcoming maternal antibodies, than the traditional MLV (modified live) vaccine, and quite a bit safer. There is also a recombinant Lyme vaccine, but I am unsure if it is recommended, although it should be safer than the traditional Lyme vaccine (Lyme vaccines can cause a form of the disease that cannot be treated with antibiotics, and so should usually be avoided). See the following websites for a little more information:
Update: Merial introduced RECOMBITEK 4 Lepto in August, 2010, but I just learned in November 2013 that this vaccine does not actually use recombinant technology! (See Is One Leptospirosis Vaccine Dose Size Really Right For All Dogs? for more information.) Lepto vaccines are responsible for more adverse reactions than all other vaccines combined (small dogs are particularly at risk). Protection from this new vaccine may last longer than the old ones, which only lasted for three to nine months. The new one says it lasts 15 months, though they tested one serovar only; it's not clear how long protection for the others lasts. It's also good that it protects against 4 serovars (though one offers only partial protection, according to the press release). Older vaccines offered protection against only 2 serovars, though the 4-serovar vaccine has been available for quite awhile now. Note that there are other lepto serovars that can affect dogs, so it is possible for a dog to be infected with lepto even if vaccinated. Vaccination specialist Ronald Schultz, DVM, recommends that if lepto is given, it should be separated from other vaccinations and should not be given before the age of 12 weeks.
What is a recombinant vaccine, and how does it work?
http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?A=524 scroll down to the section on What is a Recombinant Vaccine and is it really better than the other available vaccines types?
The Production & Types of Vaccines
Dog Vaccines and Vaccinations
Merial's Highlights of the 2006 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines
Articles on why there is no need for annual vaccinations, and some of the problems they can cause:
- How Often Should My Dog Receive Vaccinations? What Vaccinations Should My Dog Get?
- Over-Vaccination - Dog Owners Beware WDJ article (you may need to be a subscriber to read)
- Vaccination Decisions by Susan G Wynn, DVM
- Vaccinations: A Word of Caution for Our Animals by Dr. Will Falconer, DVM
- Canine Vaccine Survey by Canine Health Concern, England
- Vaccinations Update by Jean Hofve, D.V.M.
- Vaccination for Cats: Helpful or Harmful? Holisticat article
General Information on Vaccinations
- Vaccination Issues compiled by Marion Mitchell
- Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Vaccination (also see full text)
- Purdue Vaccine Studies from The Hayward Foundation
If you have any questions or comments, you can contact me, but I have less time to answer questions than I used to, and it may be several days to a week before I can respond. My name is Mary Straus and you can email me at either or