Which Dog Vaccines are Necessary and Which are Optional?

which dog vaccines are absolutely necessary

Are you a dog parent? If so, then you should know which vaccinations are necessary. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that all dogs over six months have rabies and distemper vaccines. However, additional vaccine requirements depend on your pet’s lifestyle and breed.

For example, if your dog is frequently around other animals or spends time outdoors in areas where wild predators live, then he may need more than just the essential shots to stay safe. 

To learn more about what kind of vaccines your pet needs to be based on his lifestyle and breed, check out this blog post!

You might also like to read can dogs have collard greens and elbow pads for dogs review which is available on a separate page.

Which injections are required for Dogs? Are any optional? What inoculations come with an annual schedule?

The schedule varies by state, but for dogs in the US, it goes like this:

Rabies (1 year or three years) – required by all states Distemper/Parvo (6 months or one year) – combination vaccines are allowed; generally required by all states Bordetella (required before boarding at most kennels)

How Do Vaccinations Work?

Different combinations are available to protect your dog against diseases. Each vaccine is made up of dead pieces of virus or bacteria that have been purified.

These vaccines train the body’s immune system to recognize and fight off disease-causing entities that it may see in the future. Because these viruses are dead, they cannot cause illness.

Which Dogs Need Which Vaccinations?

Dogs who go outdoors should be vaccinated regularly against common canine ailments, including distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, rabies, and more.

For dogs whose lifestyle takes them outdoors regularly, these vaccinations are required by law in most areas of the country for a good reason – pets can easily pick up deadly diseases from other animals during outdoor activities.

What Vaccines are Necessary?

Every dog needs to get a vaccination for rabies. While local authorities may implement additional requirements, every dog must receive a 1 year or 3-year shot for this disease.

The law requires that your dog be vaccinated against rabies if he’s 4 months old or older.

In addition to protecting against rabies, vaccines prevent distemper and parvovirus infection in dogs. These diseases can cause a range of symptoms, from vomiting and diarrhea to respiratory problems, central nervous system damage, and death.

Parvovirus is transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids. So if your pet gets into a fight with another animal carrying the virus, then it could potentially contract parvo even if it doesn’t bite or scratch.

Parvovirus is extremely serious, and it’s almost always fatal if left untreated by a veterinarian.


Rabies is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the brain in warm-blooded animals.

This disease is nearly always fatal once symptoms appear, and it’s very contagious between dogs, other mammals, and humans. Thankfully, rabies is also almost always preventable with vaccination!

Distemper is caused by a virus that attacks multiple parts of the body at once – including the skin, gastrointestinal system, nervous system, respiratory tract, and more.

Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea as well as coughing and sneezing brought on by a high fever.

Parvo doesn’t only affect puppies either – unvaccinated adult dogs can contract parvovirus as well. Adult dogs typically show less severe symptoms than those displayed by pups, but it’s still life-threatening nonetheless.


 A combination vaccine called the “Distemper shot” typically protects against canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and parvovirus.

This single injection is available as a trivalent vaccine – meaning it contains three components designed to protect against three different diseases – or as a pentavalent vaccine that adds protection for another illness into the mix.

The fifth disease included in this type of shot is infectious hepatitis which can cause fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), liver damage, seizures, and even death in dogs with weakened immune systems.

In addition to his distemper/parvo shots, your dog may also need to get a kennel cough/infectious canine hepatitis vaccination.

What is Kennel Cough Vaccination?

The Bordetella vaccine protects against the bacteria that causes kennel cough. It’s available in an intranasal form or as part of a combination distemper shot, and it only takes two doses to be effective.

What is the Difference Between Distemper, Hepatitis, and Lepto?

These three diseases are somewhat closely related because they’re all caused by viruses.

Distemper affects a dog’s gastrointestinal system and its respiratory and central nervous systems – leading to vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, seizures, lethargy, and even death.  

Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver, leading to jaundice (yellowing of the skin), loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, and more – especially in older dogs.

 Leptospirosis is also known as Weil’s disease. It infects a dog’s kidneys and urinary tract, and it can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, anorexia, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), and more. In severe cases, it can even damage a dog’s brain as well as its red blood cells.

Canine Influenza

The H3N8 strain of canine influenza virus is typically found in the southeastern United States, but there have been recent confirmed cases as far north as Illinois and New York.  

H3N2 has been confirmed in Arkansas and Indiana dogs and is suspected elsewhere throughout the Midwest and East Coast regions. Both strains are spread through droplets from coughing or sneezing – so you will want to avoid boarding your pup at places with known outbreaks!

What Vaccines are Optional?

  • Bordetella
  • Leptospirosis
  • Canine Influenza
  • Lyme Disease
  • Rattlesnake Vaccine
  • Kennel Cough Vaccines

As canine influenza spreads, Bordetella shots will become more and more common in boarding kennels, so be sure to check with your vet before trying to board your pup anywhere to be safe.

Leptospirosis has been confirmed in the Midwest and South, but it’s still scarce in northern states.

If you live near bodies of water that are known for harboring this type of bacteria, be sure to mention it when speaking with your vet about vaccinating your pup.

 In some cases, a Lyme disease vaccination is also available at an additional cost – but if Lyme disease isn’t prevalent where you live, this vaccine won’t be necessary.

When Should Your Dog Start Getting Vaccines?

Puppies should start getting their vaccines at around eight weeks of age. However, the mother’s antibodies can neutralize the vaccine, so it’s recommended that every pup gets both their initial distemper/parvo vaccinations as well as both kennel cough doses before being returned to his dam.  

Afterward, he will need an annual booster shot for all of these diseases – or more frequently if deemed necessary by your vet.

If your puppy is too young for this year’s combination vaccine, he must receive two separate injections instead – one for each disease – on the same day.

He’ll need another set of shots 28 days later and once back up to date on both.

Annual Vaccines / Booster Shots

In some cases, a Lyme disease vaccination is also available at an additional cost – but if Lyme disease isn’t prevalent where you live, this vaccine won’t be necessary.   

Once your dog reaches adulthood, it’s still recommended that he gets vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis (along with kennel cough), and canine influenza yearly.  

While other diseases like Lyme can potentially exist in certain areas, annual vaccines aren’t necessarily required unless the threat of the disease exists or your vet believes additional vaccinations will be beneficial to your pup’s health.

Are There Risks With Getting Vaccinated?  

Side effects from vaccinations are rare and usually include mild swelling at the injection site; lethargy; loss of appetite; fever; and vomiting.

If these symptoms appear, they will disappear on their own within 24 hours, or your veterinarian may prescribe medication to make them go away more quickly.

In sporadic cases – like once or twice for every 100,000 vaccines given – the vaccine could cause a condition called postvaccinal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Suppose your dog experiences severe symptoms like loss of coordination, seizures, and pain in an area of his body controlled by a particular nerve. In that case, you must get him to a vet immediately.

This type of reaction is most often seen in dogs who experienced convulsions 15 days after getting their initial distemper/parvo vaccinations.

But even if this does happen, it typically only causes temporary seizures lasting no more than two minutes each.

If your pup begins having seizures within 24 hours or so of being vaccinated, talk to your vet about getting a rabies vaccine because that can sometimes affect other vaccines.

Otherwise, it’s safe for your dog to get his next vaccination in 30 days when the effects from the previous shot have worn off.