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Vaccination prevents fatal contagious infectious diseases. Some vaccines are obligatory in certain geographic zones or in a given situation. They will not be effective unless they are administered at the correct time, according to a strict schedule.

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Immunity of the dog

The word “immunity” defines the totality of the body’s defences against infectious or parasitic pathogens.

Puppies receive their immunity from their mother via antibodies in the colostrum, which are transmitted within the first few hours of the puppy’s life (up to a maximum of 24 hours) as it suckles. The success of this depends on the strength of the mother’s own immunity. The puppy’s intestinal cells are immature at birth, thus allowing the antibodies present in the colostrum to cross the intestinal wall within the first 24 hours. Subsequently, the colostral antibodies are digested like “normal” proteins. The concentration of maternal antibodies decreases in the puppy as it grows and they finally disappear altogether between the fourth and eighteenth week of life. This is the “critical period” for the puppy: it is no longer sufficiently protected by maternal antibodies, yet there are still enough present to neutralise the vaccinal strain and interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine. The puppy’s immune system is not completely developed at birth and is not mature until about the sixth week. During the first few weeks of its life, the puppy’s only weapon against infection is the antibodies it received from its mother.

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Planning your dog’s vaccinations

Initial vaccinations

Between 6 and 9 weeks of age:
- distemper, infectious hepatitis, parvovirus, leptospirosis [vaccination 1].

Between 10 and 13 weeks of age:
- distemper, infectious hepatitis, parvovirus, leptospirosis [vaccination 2].
- Rabies (minimum age 12 weeks) [vaccination 1].

Between 15 and 17 weeks of age:
- Leptospirosis (If initial leptospirosis vaccine not given between 6-9 weeks).


every 1 to 3 years depending on the manufacturer and the country.

annually as a minimum, twice yearly in high-risk areas.

Distemper, infectious hepatitis, parvovirus:
one year after first vaccination, then every two or three years.

Other available vaccines

Kennel cough:
two initial vaccinations given three weeks apart, then annual boosters.

Babesiosis (available in certain countries):
two initial vaccinations given 3 weeks apart, then boosters every 6 months.

Herpes virus:
two vaccinations during each breeding cycle.

It is important that the maternal antibodies, which may persist until the 10th or 12th week, do not interfere with the puppy’s first vaccinations. However, vaccination programmes can be started as soon as the puppy is 8 weeks old.

The body’s immunity is conferred by antibodies (molecules which circulate in the blood stream or other bodily fluids) and immune cells (certain types of white blood cells). By binding to a specific part of a pathogenic agent, antibodies inactivate it, making it harmless to the body. Immune cells recognise this pathogenic agent to which they have been sensitised and call other white blood cells for help. Together they destroy the virus or the bacteria.

Dogs should be vaccinated against any infectious diseases which could be fatal to them. In addition to rabies vaccination, which in many countries is a legal requirement, dogs should be inoculated against distemper, infectious hepatitis, leptospirosis and parvovirus.

The different forms of vaccine

When a dog is vaccinated, it is inoculated with tiny amounts of pathogenic microorganisms, or parts of them, which have been attenuated or killed so that the body can develop immunity against these viruses or bacteria.

Some vaccines, referred to as “live vaccines”, contain microorganisms which can multiply within the dog without causing disease. This group includes:

- attenuated vaccines: these contain microorganisms with a reduced pathogenic capacity due to mutations obtained, for viruses, by successive passage through cultures of cells from other animals (chicken, guinea pig, etc.). The ability of the virus to cause a reaction in the dog is thus attenuated, or weakened. Other procedures are used to the same effect for bacterial vaccines.

If the strain used for the vaccination is the same as the strain responsible for the disease, the vaccine is said to be homologous. If a different microorganism is used that is closely related to the wild pathogen but is less virulent, the vaccine is said to be heterologous.

- genetically modified vaccines which have been altered so that they lose their virulence.

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What vaccinations are recommended for dogs? Description of a vaccination programme

A vaccination programme for dogs has to take a number of factors into account. The two key questions that most veterinarians ask themselves are: what are the main pathologies in the region and what is the exposure risk for the puppies?

The other aspect that needs to be considered is whether the mother has received “immunological preparation”, which ensures she passes on the best possible protection to her puppies through her colostrum.

An example protocol followed by vets begins when the puppies are six weeks of age, against the major diseases, such as puppy gastroenteritis, corona virus and parvovirus, as well as distemper, leptospirosis and infectious hepatitis. At least two boosters are recommended, at three-week intervals. Once the three doses have been administered, puppies are given the rabies vaccine. The puppies’ immunity is strengthened with a dose of rabies vaccine and a dose of vaccine against other diseases, distemper, hepatitis, corona virus and parvovirus.

The vet can also administer vaccines against canine respiratory diseases in regions where it is deemed necessary.

© Sobrinho

Veterinary Major Carlos de Almeida Baptista Sobrinho
Commander of the War Dogs Section of the 2nd Police Battalion of the Brazilian Army

© Casseleux

Inactivated or killed vaccines contain inert agents which cannot multiply inside the host animal:

- vaccines containing inactivated pathogens that have been killed by chemical means.

- sub-unit vaccines which contain only part of the microorganism responsible for the disease.

Inactivated vaccines are safer than live vaccines, but not as effective. They are therefore often associated with an adjuvant (a substance added to the vaccine to improve the immune response), which prolongs their contact with the body. If an adjuvant is used with the rabies vaccine, a second injection during the initial vaccination course becomes unnecessary.

To avoid the necessity for multiple injections, several vaccines are often given together (meaning that the dog is vaccinated against several infectious diseases at the same time). However, care should be taken not to mix vaccines from different manufacturers.


The most widespread rabies vaccine contains inactivated rhabdovirus. The first vaccination is given to puppies at least 3 months old, with only one injection required if the vaccine is given with an adjuvant. Subsequent boosters are administered every 1 to 3 years depending on the manufacturer and country, and on the requirements of any country it is planned to travel to with the dog.


The vaccine is a live attenuated virus, and therefore not pathogenic. The vaccination is given in two injections one month apart, with the first taking place at about 8 weeks of age. If the puppy is older than three months, only one injection is needed. Booster vaccinations are given one year after the first vaccination, then every two or three years thereafter, depending on the vaccine used.

Infectious hepatitis

Puppies can be vaccinated from 8 weeks old. The vaccine is made from an attenuated related strain (CAV2) and is given as two injections one month apart. If the puppy is older than three months, only one injection is needed. Booster vaccinations are given one year after the first vaccination, then every two or three years thereafter, depending on the vaccine used.


Vaccines for parvovirus are homologous, but the pathogen is attenuated. Puppies are given two injections, one at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, the other at the age of 12 weeks. If the puppy is older than three months, only one injection is needed. Booster vaccinations are given one year after the first vaccination, then every two or three years thereafter, depending on the vaccine used. Breeding dogs in infected kennels are vaccinated every year.


Unlike the preceding infectious diseases, leptospirosis, also known as canine typhus, is caused by a bacterium from the genus Leptospira.


Rodent control and disinfection of the kennels are very helpful in eradicating the disease.


Rodent control and disinfection of the kennels are very helpful in eradicating the disease. Dogs can also be vaccinated with inactivated leptospirosis antigens. They receive two injections 3 to 5 weeks apart, from 6 weeks of age. Booster injections are usually given annually, except in areas where the disease is endemic, where they are given twice a year.

Other vaccines

In at-risk situations or regions, or simply for the dog’s well-being, they can also be vaccinated against tetanus, babesiosis, kennel cough and herpes virus.

- Tetanus.

The tetanus toxin, secreted by tetanus bacilli, affects the nervous system. It is secreted at the site of entry of the bacteria into the body, which is often a very small wound. Tetanus is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that eventually affect the animal’s entire body. Vaccinations are mainly given to working dogs or dogs which live or work in areas where they might easily be injured (rescue dogs, collapsed buildings, building sites, etc.). There is no specific anti-tetanus vaccine for the dog. The horse vaccine, which is made from purified tetanus antitoxin, is used instead. The first vaccination is given as two injections four weeks apart. Booster vaccinations are given after one year, then every three years thereafter, and whenever there is a wound.

- Babesiosis.

© Duhayer/Royal Canin

Dogs which spend a lot of time in densely wooded areas or other areas with large tick populations are at a high risk.


Dogs which spend a lot of time in densely wooded areas or other areas with large tick populations are at a high risk. The height of the tick season is in the spring and autumn. In some countries, dogs can be vaccinated with a vaccine containing parasitic proteins, which is effective for about 6 months. The first vaccination is given as two injections 3 to 4 weeks apart, with a booster every 6 months (preferably in summer and winter). Should a vaccinated dog contract Babesiosis, the clinical severity is reduced.

- Kennel cough.

All dogs going to boarding kennels or a dog show should be vaccinated. The disease can be kept from spreading by placing animals in quarantine before introducing them into a group.

There are various vaccines on the market, made from inactivated viruses or bacteria (Parainfluenza, Bordetella bronchiseptica). The injectable forms of the vaccine are not very reliable. The primary vaccination is given as two injections three weeks apart, with an annual booster injection. A live attenuated virus administered intranasally seems to give better results.

- Herpes virus.

Vaccination against this disease, which causes abortion and neonatal death, is advisable in breeding kennels, even if the disease itself does not generate any other clinical symptoms.

Finally in some countries there are vaccines available against Leishmania, Coronavirus or Giardia, but they are not yet readily available worldwide.

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When and how should my dog be vaccinated?

Vaccination for babesiosis: (this vaccine is only available in certain countries)
Frequently asked questions

– Should I take any special precautions before the vaccination?

Prior to vaccination the dog should be in good physical health and should not be fed a large meal within 12 hours of the visit. Make sure that you tell your vet about any problems that the dog may have had over the past 12 months.

Vaccinations should only be administered to dogs in good health; a thorough physical examination is therefore advisable and the vet will probably take your dog’s body temperature, check for inappetence, any changes in behaviour, and anaemia. If necessary, the absence of early babesiosis can be confirmed with a blood sample.

– Is vaccination effective?

No vaccine is capable of protecting 100% of individuals. Some individuals are incapable of producing sufficient numbers of antibodies for various reasons (age, poor health, concurrent infectious disease, physiological condition, ancestry, some concurrent treatments, recurring babesiosis, etc.).

While it is not specifically contraindicated, it is not advisable to vaccinate such dogs against babesiosis.

– How long does it take for the vaccination to become effective?

Initial vaccination requires two injections, and immunity does not appear until a few days after the second injection. Between injections, the dog is susceptible to the disease and so must be watched carefully during this period.

– How old must the dog be to receive the vaccination?

Puppies under three months of age should not be vaccinated, due to their immunological immaturity in relation to babesiosis. Immunological maturity is not complete until about five months of age.

– How is the vaccine administered?

The initial vaccination requires two subcutaneous injections at an interval of three or four weeks. This interval should never be less than fifteen days or more than six weeks. Boosters are given annually.

– Should the vaccination be given at a certain time of the year?

The prevalence of canine babesiosis is linked to the lifecycle of its arthropod vector, the tick. As a general rule, ticks are less active during cold, dry winters than during the summer. However, depending on the area and the local climate, cases of canine babesiosis can occur year-round. Your vet will know the regional epidemiology of this disease and can advise you accordingly.

– Does the vaccination have any side-effects?

In rare cases, there may be temporary fatigue (lasting up to twenty-four hours), and possibly slight oedema (swelling) at the injection site, which should disappear within a few days. In the vast majority of cases the vaccine is very well tolerated by dogs.

Nevertheless, it is recommended that the dog be allowed to rest for twenty-four hours after the vaccination, and that no great effort (hunting, long walks, training sessions, etc.) is made during this period.

– Can the babesiosis vaccine induce the disease in my dog?

This is impossible since the vaccine is made from dead proteins derived from the parasite’s membrane. However, a dog receiving the vaccine may already be incubating babesiosis and the disease can then flare up within a few days of the vaccination. This is why the vet will perform a thorough physical examination before administering the injection.

– Can my dog be vaccinated for babesiosis and other diseases on the same day?

Currently, the anti-rabies vaccine and leptospirosis vaccine can be given at the same time as the babesiosis vaccine.

– My dog has had several babesiosis infections. Should I have the dog vaccinated?

Although not specifically contraindicated, vaccination is not recommended in such dogs. These animals seem to be unable to protect themselves against this disease.

– My dog has just recovered from babesiosis. When can it be vaccinated?

You must wait eight weeks after the end of treatment before giving the initial injection.

© Duhayer/Royal Canin

Vaccination against rabies

The initial vaccination involves one injection from 3 months of age. A second injection may be given in young dogs.

To be valid, the booster injection must be administered within one year of the first injection in some countries and within three years in others.

Initial vaccination for distemper, infectious hepatitis (adenovirus type 2), parvovirus and leptospirosis

First vaccination:

between six and nine weeks of age.

2e vaccination :

entre 11 et 13 semaines d’âge.

Second vaccination:

between ten and thirteen weeks of age.


The first booster injection against distemper, infectious hepatitis and parvovirus should be given one year after the first vaccination.

Subsequent boosters are given every two to three years, depending on the vaccine used.

The legislation for rabies varies from one country to the next and the booster vaccination may be given within one year or three years of the primary vaccination.

Protection against leptospirosis requires annual boosters, or even six-monthly boosters in endemic areas.

Vaccines which can be given together make annual booster injections much easier to organise.

Important recommendations

1. Dogs in poor general health should not be vaccinated, particularly those heavily infested with ecto- or endoparasites. The dog should be treated for parasites before vaccination takes place.

2. If the vaccination program has not been maintained, it must be started again as soon as possible, no matter how old the dog is, with the same intervals between vaccinations.

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