It seems like every week you get an email from your veterinarian about vaccines your puppy and your cat are due for. Are all these vaccines really necessary? Is it really safe to give puppies so many vaccines? Does a 17-year-old dog really need a rabies vaccine every year? Dogs should have a vaccine plan in place from their veterinarian in Annandale. One size does not always fit all for pets and vaccines. Age, lifestyle, overall health, and other factors all work together in a vaccine plan to keep your dog happy and healthy. Vaccines protect from diseases that can be fatal if your pet gets them. We will go over dog vaccinations below and what diseases they protect from.


Rabies is (usually depending on the local situation) the only vaccine that is required by law for animals to have. Rabies is zoonotic (it can be passed to people) virus that is transmitted though infected saliva by bites (or sometimes scratches). It is usually fatal (in all species), so it is important to keep vaccines up to date. If your cat or dog gets no other vaccine, it will still receive the rabies vaccine. Depending on the state, a rabies vaccine can be good for one year (the first rabies vaccine received no matter the pet’s age will always be a one-year vaccine) or up to 3 years.

Distemper Combination Vaccine (dogs)

Along with the rabies vaccine, the distemper combo vaccine is known as a “core vaccine.” This means your vet will recommend them no matter your dog’s lifestyle. Distemper has nothing to do with demeanor or attitude. It is a virus that affects multiple organ systems (including the central nervous system) and can be fatal. Distemper is easily spread between dogs, including those that are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, and too young to have a full set of vaccines. Puppies receive a series of 3-4 distemper combo vaccines, and adult dogs without vaccine history will receive a series of two vaccines. After the first set, the distemper combo vaccine is done yearly. Boarding kennels, grooming facilities, dog parks, and other facilities with multiple dogs commonly require the distemper combo vaccine before a dog is allowed to visit the business. The other diseases covered in the distemper combo vaccine (abbreviated DAP, DHPP, DHPPC, or DHLPPC) include adenovirus/ infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvo virus, and corona virus. Infectious hepatitis or adenovirus is a virus that causes liver inflammation. It is spread through direct contact with infected animals or from drinking water contaminated with the urine from infected animals. Parainfluenza is an upper respiratory virus that is also very easily spread between dogs. It is one of the viruses that can lead to kennel cough. Parvo virus affects mainly the digestive tract, causing vomiting and diarrhea. This can be fatal in all ages of dogs, but particularly in puppies. It is very contagious and is spread through contact with an infected animal or from contact with the infected animal’s feces. Parvo virus is very hard to get rid of on surfaces or in the soil and only strong disinfectants can kill it. Corona virus in dogs is a different strain than those we see in humans. It causes mainly gastrointestinal symptoms in affected dogs. Like the other viruses covered in the distemper combo vaccine, corona virus is highly contagious between dogs. Though these viruses are easily transmissible, the change of your dog getting them if they have a full set of vaccines is basically zero.

Bordetella vaccine for dogs

You’re probably familiar with the Bordetella vaccine if you’ve ever boarded your dog or had them groomed, as most facilities require it every 6 months no matter the dog’s age. Bordetella is a bacteria that affects the respiratory system of dogs (it is the other agent responsible for kennel cough). The bacteria can lead to continual coughing and lower your dog’s immune system, which can lead to secondary infections and severe illness. Bordetella is also very contagious, which is why the vaccine is recommended every 6 months if your pet is in contact with other dogs. If your dog is a homebody, your vet may recommend you skip the Bordetella vaccine and only get it if you plant to board or travel with your pet.

Leptospirosis and Lyme vaccines for dogs

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is spread through the urine of infected animals, usually through contaminated water or ground. If your pup spends a lot of time hiking or outdoors, they should have a lepto vaccine to keep them safe. This is not a core vaccine, so it will depend on your dog’s lifestyle whether they get it or not. Leptospirosis causes liver and kidney damage as well as vomiting, depression, and increased drinking and urination. Jaundice (a yellow color to the skin) can occur as the disease progresses. Lepto can be fatal. You have probably heard of Lyme disease in regard to people, but dogs can get it as well. It is spread through infected ticks and can cause systemic sickness and long-term medical effects. Ticks are usually found in wooded areas or in long grass. Again, this vaccine will be given depending on your dog’s lifestyle. If you like to hike or explore outside with your pup, you should ask your veterinarian about the Lyme and lepto vaccines. These vaccines will be given to puppies with their last two vaccine visits if needed, and adult dogs will need a series of two vaccines the first time they receive them, then annually.

Vaccine titers

If you worry about giving your dog too many vaccines or vaccines too often, vaccine titers may be an option. A titer is a blood test that will determine how much immunity your pup has for each disease covered by vaccines. Often, if you travel overseas with your dog, vaccine titers are needed in addition to vaccine records. If your dog is showing adequate immunity, your vet may recommend you not vaccinate and recheck at a later time. Immunity is different for every individual animal, so just because one of your dogs is showing immunity still for a vaccine disease, another may not and will need to be re-vaccinated.

Vaccines prevent many easily transmissible diseases in dogs that can be fatal, especially in puppies or immunocompromised animals. Your veterinarian will tailor a vaccine program for your dog and their lifestyle and needs, and titers may be an alternative to vaccinating each year.

Columbia Pike Animal Hospital
& Emergency Center

4205 Evergreen Ln.
Annandale, VA 22003

(703) 256-8414