When it comes to preventative medicine for our canine companions, vaccinations are at the top of the list. You should have a conversation with your veterinarian regarding which vaccines your pet needs. A lot of this depends on your dog’s lifestyle and possible exposure risks.

The core vaccines that every dog should receive are rabies and distemper-parvo. Rabies is required by the county and proof of rabies is needed to register your pet. Rabies is a virus that is generally transmitted via infected saliva when it comes into contact with a mucous membrane or through broken skin (a bite wound). Rabies is usually transmitted to humans or pets from wild animals (raccoons, bats, foxes, etc.). In the Bay Area, almost all of the animals that have been identified as rabies positive have been bats. A puppy generally gets a rabies vaccine at 16 weeks of age, then one year later, then every three years thereafter.

The distemper-parvo vaccine is generally referred to as the DHPP vaccine. This vaccine is also core (meaning all dogs should get it) and protects against distemper, infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus. The most common of these viruses that crop up in unvaccinated dog populations are parvovirus and distemper. Parvovirus is transmitted from virus shed via feces from an infected dog. Parvo causes immense inflammation within the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. It will cause the sloughing of the stomach and intestinal lining and causes vomiting and profound bloody diarrhea. Parvo infection needs to be treated aggressively in a 24-hour vet facility and can certainly be deadly.

Distempervirus is transmitted via coughing or sneezing. It generally causes a fever and respiratory symptoms. It should also be treated aggressively at a 24-hour facility. Even when treated successfully, it can cause permanent neurological damage and can be fatal. Dogs are generally vaccinated for DHPP at eight, 12 and 16 weeks of age, then one year later, then every three years. A puppy should not be allowed into public areas such as dog parks or beaches until five days after their final DHPP vaccine.

The most common “lifestyle vaccines” for dogs include bordetella, leptospirosis and CIV (Influenza). The CIV vaccine is the dog version of the flu vaccine. The biggest reason for a dog to be vaccinated for this is if they are boarding at a kennel facility. If there is an outbreak of dog flu (like there was in June and July of 2019), I would then vaccinate your dog even if they are not boarding.

Bordetella is commonly called the “kennel cough” vaccine. Bordetella is a bacteria that causes respiratory symptoms (dry coughing), but many other organisms (both viral and bacterial) also can cause similar symptoms. Due to the prevalence of Bordetella, the vaccine is recommended for dogs that go to groomers, dog parks or if they are kenneled.

Leptospirosis is a spirochete (a spiral-shaped bacteria). We most commonly vaccinate dogs for Leptospirosis that are hunting dogs, or if they swim/drink from lakes, or if they commonly drink from puddles. Leptospirosis is most commonly transmitted when a wild animal that is carrying Leptospirosis urinates in standing fresh water (like a pond or lake). If a dog or person drinks from the water, they can then be infected with Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can cause acute kidney failure. A dog with Leptospirosis needs to be treated aggressively at a 24-hour veterinary facility. The infection can lead to permanent kidney damage and death.

There are certainly more vaccinations on the market that are less commonly given. They can be given to animals with specific needs. For example, hunting dogs can be vaccinated for Lyme’s Disease, and animals in certain geographical areas can receive the Rattlesnake Vaccine. These vaccines are more niche and should be discussed with your veterinarian depending on your pet’s situation.

Vaccinations are one of the best tools we have to decrease the incidence of potentially deadly preventable diseases. Make sure your puppies are scheduled to see your veterinarian at eight weeks of age to start their vaccine series on time. Also make sure your adult dogs are up to date on vaccines to keep them protected. A discussion with your veterinarian regarding which vaccines your pet should have can be helpful in charting a long-term preventative plan.

Dr. Brandon Wilson is a Pacifica resident. He is a 2009 graduate of University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. He has been a full-time veterinarian at Linda Mar Veterinary Hospital for the last nine years.

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