Canine Vaccination: What, When, & Why?

Here is my latest video from SkeptVet TV. I discuss vaccine recommendations for dogs as well as the basics of how vaccines work and why we use them the way we do. Below are some reliable resources for more information:

Canine Vaccination- What, When, & Why

American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Guidelines

World Small Animal VeterinaryAssociation (WSAVA) Guidelines

From SkeptVet- Rational Decisions on Routine Vaccination for Dogs and Cats

All SkeptVet Vaccine Articles

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18 Responses to Canine Vaccination: What, When, & Why?

  1. art malernee says:

    My own pets are vaccinated once or twice as pups and kittens, then
    never again except to go along with local license requirement. The usda needs shut down and pet vaccine regulation turned over to the FDA who are more consumer friendly and regulate human vaccines. Humans get vaccines every year but not the same vaccination they got last year. Been vaccinated for rabies in vet school but my MD is not allowed to vaccinate me with same rabies vaccine every 1-3 years. Kids come out of vet school knowing if the don’t revaccinate for rabies a year from the first they cannot get a job. Not a good way for a new doctor to start their profession.

    Veterinarians Question Vaccination Procedures
    Vaccinations can have adverse effects, studies show
    By Rhonda L. Rundle

    July 31

    After receiving a reminder in the mail from his veterinarian, Jim Schwartz
    took his 11-year-old poodle, Moolah, for her annual rabies shot. A few
    weeks later she fell ill and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. As
    her suffering worsened, Mr. Schwartz put her down.

    THERE’S NO PROOF that the rabies shot killed Moolah and Mr. Schwartz didn’t
    immediately suspect any link. But when the retired financial planner
    learned that some veterinarians are vaccinating pets less frequently
    because of possible fatal side effects, he was furious. “No dog should have
    to go through what Moolah did,” he says.
    Evidence is building that annual vaccination of dogs and
    cats performed for diseases such as rabies, distemper and parvovirus may
    not be necessary and could even be harmful. Vaccines licensed by the U.S.
    Department of Agriculture are tested to ensure they protect pets against
    disease, usually for one year. But the tests don’t detect long-term side
    effects, or measure the duration of a vaccine’s effectiveness. Recent and
    continuing studies at several universities suggest that protection from
    vaccines may last for years, which would make annual shots for some
    diseases a waste of money at the very least.

    Fears of vaccine-induced diseases date back more than 40 years. But a sharp
    increase during the past decade in cancerous tumors among cats, between the
    shoulder blades where vaccines typically are injected, has spurred studies.
    Some have found a higher-than-expected incidence of side effects. “We see
    health problems in dogs for which we have no explanation. The classic one
    is autoimmune disease,” says Larry Glickman, professor of epidemiology at
    Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Ind.,
    who is studying possible links with vaccinations. “We see an epidemic of
    hyperthyroidism in cats today, and we suspect that these are happening
    because we’re over-vaccinating our pets.”

    Dr. Glickman and his colleagues theorize that repeated vaccination
    causes dogs to produce antibodies against their own tissue. The antibodies
    are caused by contaminants in the vaccine introduced in the manufacturing
    process. While the amounts are minuscule, they gradually accumulate with
    repeated vaccinations over the years. But Dr. Glickman cautions that more
    research is needed before a clear link can be established between antibody
    levels and autoimmune disease.

    Vaccination recommendations for cats and dogs vary around the country. Most
    states require rabies vaccinations every three years, while a handful of
    states as well as some individual cities and counties have mandated
    annual shots due to local problems with rabies in wild animals. Some other
    vaccinations are given only when a pet’s lifestyle or environment exposes
    it to a particular risk, such as Lyme disease.

    Pet diseases other than rabies aren’t a threat to people, thus vaccinations
    aren’t required by law. But veterinarians and vaccine makers have
    traditionally recommended annual booster shots against potentially fatal
    diseases such as distemper and parvovirus in dogs and herpesvirus in cats.
    In a policy statement last year, the American Veterinary Medical
    Association acknowledged that the practice of annual vaccinations is based
    on “historical precedent” and “not on scientific data.”
    The emerging evidence of health risks is prompting some vets to
    change their practices. “We’re now doing 40% less vaccinations than five
    years ago,” says Kathleen Neuhoff, a veterinarian in Mishawaka, Ind., and
    president of the American Animal Hospital Association, Lakewood, Colo.

    “My own pets are vaccinated once or twice as pups and kittens, then
    never again except for rabies,” Ronald D. Schultz, chairman of the
    University of Wisconsin’s Department of Pathobiological Sciences, wrote in
    the March 1998 issue of Veterinary Medicine.

    Some critics of annual shots accuse some vets of ignoring research
    about vaccine risks for financial reasons. “Vets are afraid they will go
    broke” without regular vaccines, which account for about 20% of their
    practice income, says Bob Rogers, a Spring, Texas, veterinarian and
    outspoken critic of current practices.
    Other vets deny that financial motives are involved. (“No one who
    is motivated by money would ever become a veterinarian,” Dr. Neuhoff says.)
    “The concern is that if we move too quickly to decrease vaccine frequency
    across the board, we may be opening the door for some animals to become
    infected when we could have prevented the problem,” says Todd R. Tams,
    chief medical officer of VCA Antech Inc.,in Los Angeles, the nation’s
    largest owner of veterinary hospitals.”
    No one truly knows how long protection from vaccines lasts. Vaccine
    makers say that proving their duration would be expensive and would require
    large numbers of animals to be isolated for years.
    One company, Pfizer Inc., decided to test its one-year rabies
    vaccine on live animals and discovered it lasted for at least three years.
    It sells the identical formula simply packaged under different
    labels Defensor 1 and Defensor 3 to satisfy different state vaccination

  2. skeptvet says:


    The implication that vaccines cause autoimmune disease and hyperthyroidism has no convincing evidence to support it despite decades of research trying to find some. There are also no challenge studies showing lifelong immunity for core vaccines, so you and others are simply hypothesizing they may protect most pets for this long. This may turn out to bee true, but until there is real evidence to support the implied harms or the implied duration of immunity behind your approach, it is not any more science-based or reasonable an approach than anybody else’s. The same is true for noncore vaccines. If you want to convince people these last longer than their label indication or that giving fewer would reduce the incidence of autoimmune disease, produce the evidence that these claims are true.

    As for the suggestion of financial motives leading to vets giving unnecessary vaccines, that is the usual shill BS always trotted out when someone wishes to criticize a medical practice and doesn’t have real evidence to support their claim, and I know you know better than that. There is always resistance to change in any profession, but the guidelines and vaccine practices have changed repeatedly as the evidence has been developed to justify the changes, from 3-year rabies vaccines to lifestyle-determined use of noncore vaccines, to non-adjuvanted feline vaccines. Further change will happen as the evidence justifies it, and the idea that we will just keep doing something we know is harmful or unnecessary to make a buck is just an unjustified and unconvincing innuendo.

    Finally, the article you copy is over 15 years old. The research Dr. Glickman did on this subject is a decade in the past, and the theories he put forward still haven’t been shown to be true.

  3. Camille says:

    Just watched your video on vaccines. My question is: if an adult human can be antibody tested (titred) for many diseases and we accept the result as definitive, why is that same titre process not acceptable as proof that a dog is protected against distemper/parvo etc?(Not including rabies vaccine in this question, recognizing the seriousness and legalities of vaccinating for rabies)
    Next question: do the vaccine doses differ in quantity and/or version for puppies versus adult dogs?
    Thank you.

  4. skeptvet says:

    Thanks for the questions!

    To begin with, titers are often not used in humans, and most of us get our childhood vaccines and any needed boosters on a fixed schedule just like our pets. Titers are mostly used to indicate an appropriate response to the recommended vaccination schedule, not to decide whether or not to defer vaccination.

    There is also some controversy about what antibody level indicates protection. A low titer can never be assumed to indicate susceptibility because other factors (e.g. cell-mediated immunity) may still protect an individual. And how high a titer has to be to protect one against disease isn’t always clear. The best way to establish this is with challenge studies, in which individuals are exposed to a disease at different titer levels and researchers see what level permits illness to develop. Obviously, we can’t ethically do this to humans, and while it is done in dogs and cats to establish protective titer levels, this is ethically problematic as well as being expensive and time-consuming. In humans, protective levels are determined by a combination of lab animal testing and large-scale epidemiological studies of humans. Such large-scale studies aren’t often possible in veterinary medicine, so challenge studies are more commonly used.

    My point is simply that your assumption that titers are used to determine immunity and whether or not to vaccinate in humans is not actually the case much of the time, so it is not a simple matter of doing in dogs and cats what we do in people.

    The other point I would raise is that the whole reason people argue for using titers to determine immunity, even if we have the evidence to do so reliably, is to reduce the number of vaccines given with the belief that this will reduce harm from vaccines and be healthier for our pets. However, there is no evidence that this is true. If a dog receives 2 DAPP vaccines in a lifetime (puppy and 1-year booster) instead of 6 (puppy, 1-year booster, every 3 years until 12 years of age), there is no evidence that dog will be any healthier or safer. So the uncertainty about the value of titers does matter if we aren’t even sure that our goal, fewer vaccines, has any benefits.

    As for your second question, I have addressed the idea of vaccine “dose” in a couple of other articles (1 and 2) and there is no reason to give less vaccine to a puppy versus and adult dog.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Actually titers are sometimes given instead of vaccines for humans. When I applied to college they wanted my vaccine records. However I didn’t have them. They told me I could get titers or revaccinated instead. I went to the local health unit and got titer tested. The college accepted this. Maybe people don’t always know their options but that doesn’t mean titers aren’t used to prove immunity for the bureaucracy.

  6. skeptvet says:

    Yes, there are cases in which this is done, and others in which it is not. During childhood, for example, vaccines are given on a schedule, and titers are not done to determine if they are needed or not. Similarly, we get a flu vaccine annually because the virus, and the vaccine, change annually, so titers are not useful here. Your original question was if we accept titers in lieu of vaccination for humans, why don’t we for dogs? The answer is that we often do not use titers in lieu of vaccination for humans, though sometimes we do, and the same is true for dogs. When we do or do not depends on the type of infectious agent and type of vaccine, the usefulness of titers as a predictor of resistance, and many other factors.

  7. Miguel Santos says:

    Hello, nice video!

    My dog was a stray when I got him and he was already an adult, so I have no idea if he got any vaccines as a puppy (I would say probably not). My question is if the 3 to 5 year interval is enough for dogs that were not vaccinated as puppies and only started vaccinations as adults?

    Thank you in advance.
    Best regards,

  8. skeptvet says:

    The guidelines recommend a booster 1 year (AAHA) or 6 months (WSAVA) after the initial vaccine regardless of when they were given. Theoretically, immunity should last 3 years in adult dogs with an appropriate response to the vaccine, but not all have an appropriate response, so revaccinating or checking titers for CPV and CDV (not for rabies, yet) 1 year later is recommended.

  9. I’m glad you mentioned that the most important way to protect your pets from infectious diseases is by having them vaccinated. My sister wants to adopt a dog, but she wasn’t planning on getting it vaccinated. I’ll be sure to let her know that this is something that she needs to have done.

  10. Jennifer Towne says:

    I love your website and the information you provide. We have a dog that we adopted 6 years ago who is around 7-8 now. I was recently cleaning out some of her old vet bills, and noticed that, as part of each of her last 5 annual exams, the vet has given her a DAPP and rabies booster, despite her receiving the 3 year rabies vaccine each time. She’s scheduled for her another annual exam next month and I’m sure they will suggest she receive these boosters again. We really like this vet, but I don’t understand why they’d be doing this every year and I’d be very interested in whether you think this is necessary. Your video seems to indicate every 3 years for both vaccines is sufficient, so it feels like they are over-vaccinating. Thank you.

  11. skeptvet says:

    To be clear, DAPP vaccines are all officially licensed for annual use only.There are both annual and 3-year vaccines for rabies. Most guidelines recommend an annual poster following the very first vaccination for DAPP or rabies, and then boosters every 3 years. There is good evidence that these DAPP vaccines generate immunity lasting a minimum of three yeas, and likely longer, so they are widely used triennially regardless of the label guidelines. I doubt there will be any real harm from using them annually, but it almost certainly isn’t necessary, so I would feel free to decline more frequent vaccination.

  12. art MALERNEE says:

    I doubt there will be any real harm from using them annually>>>

    when i stopped following the official licenced annual recommendation on the vaccine bottle there was a half dozen diseases i was vacccinating annually for listed on the bottle. Its been more then a generation of dogs and cats years since i stopped. I think i was the first vet to stop that was local. Vets are not required to report annual vaccine reactions. If you knew the vaccine you were giving annually was not needed annually would you report the reactions to the government? The USDA who already knew what you knew? Waste of time telling the USDA something they already know’. Love to see a randomized controlled study where dogs and cats got vaccinated for 6 diseases every year for their life. From my antidotal experience seeing pets vaccinated annually for 50 years I would put my money on the fact vaccines are not innocuous. It has been said that the new vaccines are a lot safer then the old so called “dirty”pet vaccines of the past. that may be true but it may also be like the new drugs that come out with fewer side effects until we find the new drugs have different side effects.

  13. skeptvet says:

    Of course, the same kind of “in my experience” anecdotal evidence is used to argue all vaccines are toxic and no vaccine ever hurt anyone, neither of which is true, so we can’t make much out of just our own subjective impressions. The idea that more frequent vaccinations leads to more negative effects is popular and intuitively appealing, but we haven’t yet found evidence for it. It seems to be largely based on the misconception that more vaccine is like more drug, with greater blood levels being more likely to cause adverse effects, but that isn’t how vaccines work.

    People also talk about “overloading” the immune system, but a week of paper cuts and tooth brushing and ordinary living exposes our immune system to as much antigen as the entire childhood vaccination series, so that doesn’t hold much water either.

    I’m all for avoiding unnecessary procedures, and I haven’t used DAPP or rabies vaccines annually in 20 years, but I also don’t think we should frighten people about the effects of doing so without good evidence.

  14. art MALERNEE says:

    was looking for A good vaccine harm RCT but could not find any but came across this prospective study.
    J Feline Med Surg. April 2014;16(4):275-80.
    Cleon G Hendricks 1, Julie K Levy, Sylvia J Tucker, Shaye M Olmstead, P Cynda Crawford, Edward J Dubovi, Cathleen A Hanlon

    tried to go to sci-fi to read it but its been shut down i suspect by the government for a few weeks so article is behind a pay wall. I did find a review of the article estimating some annual cancer counts from vaccination and how we might avoid them by vaccinating in the tail so the vaccine caused tumor can be removed with the tail rather than a leg. Seems to me that people would not be doing prospective studys on tail vaccination if we did not have a problem with multiple vaccinations.
    J Feline Med Surg. April 2014;16(4):275-80.
    Cleon G Hendricks 1, Julie K Levy, Sylvia J Tucker, Shaye M Olmstead, P Cynda Crawford, Edward J Dubovi, Cathleen A Hanlon
    Pilot, prospective study on tail vaccination in cats

    Study design
    – introduction on adverse effects of vaccination in the cat
    – sarcomas reported to occur in 1-10 of every 10,000 cats vaccinated
    – resulting in several thousand new cases each year in USA
    – feline injection-site sarcoma (FISS)
    – tumor is refractory to the following:
    – conservative surgery
    – chemotherapy
    – radiation therapy
    – in a recent report of radi¬cal excision by surgical specialists
    – surgery included the following:
    – surgical margins of at least 5 cm laterally
    – resection of 2 muscle planes deep
    – procedure provided long term survival for most cats
    – historically, cats typically were vaccinated in interscapular region (easily done)
    – American Association of Feline Practitioners recommendations
    – subcutaneously below elbow joint of right forelimb
    – vaccines containing antigens of the following:
    – feline panleukopenia virus (FPV)
    – feline herpesvirus-1
    – feline calicivirus
    – below stifle joint on left hind limb
    – vaccines containing antigens of the following:
    – feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
    – feline immu¬nodeficiency virus (FIV)
    – below stifle joint on right hind limb
    – vaccines containing antigens of the following:
    – rabies virus (RV)
    – World Small Animal Veterinary Association
    – recommends vaccines be injected in lateral thorax or abdomen
    – study population: cats part of a community cat trap-neuter-return program
    – 60 adult cats presented for spaying or neuter¬ing
    – procedure:
    – surgical, radiation and medical oncologists surveyed
    – preference for vaccination sites based on ease of tumor resection
    – vaccination subcutane¬ously with 3 ml syringe with a 23 gauge needle
    – modified live virus vaccine (Fel-O-Guard Plus 3; Boehringer Ingelheim)
    – inacti¬vated RV vaccine (Rabvac 3 TF; Fort Dodge)
    – cats received vaccines at different sites
    – traditional site, 31 cats
    – lateral hind limb below the stifle, 31 cats
    – FVRCP in left leg and RV vaccine in right leg
    – alternative sites, 29 cats
    – dorsum of distal third of tail
    – RV vaccine 2 cm distally to FVRCP vaccine
    – 6-point Likert scale to measure cat’s behavioral reaction to vaccination
    (score was from 0-6 with 6 being vaccination was impossible)
    – serum collected before and 1-2 months after vaccination tested for:
    – antibody titers against feline panleukopenia virus (FPV)
    – hemagglutina¬tion inhibition
    (College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University)
    – titers of ? 40 consist¬ent with protective immunity against FPV
    – antibody titers against rabies virus (RV)
    – virus neutralization via the rapid fluores¬cent focus inhibition test
    (College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University)
    – 0.5 IU/ml or greater is considered an acceptable response

    – preferred sites for vaccination by 94 oncologists
    – below stifle, 41%
    – tail, 30%
    – below elbow, 21%
    – other, 8%
    – no significant differences in behavioral reaction to vaccination at different sites
    – mean acceptance scores not significantly different between sites
    – cats accepted 95% of tail vaccinations and 77% of hind limb vaccinations
    – with acceptance score of 2 or less (P = 0.03)
    – mean acceptance scores for 1st vaccine (1.5) lower than scores for 2nd vaccine (1.9)
    – among cats seronegative for FPV at time of vaccination
    – all developed protective antibody titers ? 40 against FPV
    (1-2 months following vaccination)
    – among cats seronegative for RV at time of vaccination
    – all but 1 developed acceptable antibody titers against RV

    “Vaccination in the tail required very superficial needle placement and a slow injection technique to avoid increased pressure and leakage of vaccine.”

  15. skeptvet says:

    This has nothing to do with the relative risk of more or less frequent vaccination. The paper was a test to see if cats would tolerate vaccination in the tail since if we vaccinate them there and they develop fibrosarcomas (which occurs in about 1 out of 10-15,000 vaccinations) it is easier to bet a curative amputation than if vaccinated in the scruff of the leg.

  16. art malernee dvm says:

    This has nothing to do with the relative risk of more or less frequent vaccination.>>>

    your right about that. No Randomized controlled trials that i can find of the economically not medically created annual labeling on the pet vaccine bottles. Annual pet revaccination vaccine bottle labeling of over a half dozen different diseases and the consensus from the profession seems to be
    “doubt there will be any real harm from using them annually”
    If you go and count up the number of pet vacccines with revaccinate annual labels on them i suspect there are at least a dozen different diseases you can revaccinate for following usda approved vaccination guidelines on the vaccine bottle label. Even pups and kittens vaccinated with a three year vaccine labeled vaccine get revaccinated again next year in all the medical records i have reviewed. anyone seen anything other than that?

  17. Deb Davis says:

    This year I was due for several vaccinations; my doctor scheduled them a month apart so as to encourage the best immune response. That got me to wondering if my vet shouldn’t do the same. Is there evidence one way or the other for dog vaccinations?

  18. skeptvet says:

    There is no reason to think giving multiple vaccines at the same time generates a less effective immune response. It does, however, increase the risk of adverse effects, particularly in small dogs, so it is common to divide vaccines up so that a dog only gets a couple at a time. If you do this, however, it is important to have an interval of at least 2 weeks between sets of vaccines because the immune response to the first set can interfere with an adequate response to the second if they are given less than 2 weeks apart.

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