The American Animal Hospital Association’s Canine Vaccine Guidelines
The American Animal Hospital Association’s
Canine Vaccine Guidelines
Vaccinating Your Dog
Vaccinations are a critical component to preventive care for
your dog. Thanks to the development of vaccines, dogs have been
protected from numerous disease threats, including rabies, distemper,
hepatitis and several others. Some of these diseases can be passed from
dogs to people — so canine vaccinations have protected human health as
Recently, studies have shown that vaccines
protect dogs for longer than previously believed. There have also been
improvements in the type of vaccines produced. In addition, there is
increased awareness and concern that vaccination is not as harmless a
procedure as once thought. These factors have led to a growing number
of veterinarians who recommend reduced frequency of vaccinations while
at the same time tailoring vaccine recommendations to specific risk
To assist veterinarians with making vaccine
recommendations for dogs, the American Animal Hospital Association has
issued a set of canine vaccine guidelines. Developed by a group of
infectious disease experts, immunologists, researchers and practicing
veterinarians, these guidelines were first released in 2003 and revised
with new information in 2006.
One of AAHA’s key recommendations is that all
dogs are different — and thus vaccine decisions should be made on an
individual basis for each dog. Issues to consider include the age,
breed, health status, environment, lifestyle, and travel habits of the
dog. Health threats vary from city to city and even in various sections
of cities. You can work with your veterinarian to tailor an
immunization program that best protects your dog based on his risk and
Is vaccinating my pet a risk to his or her
Vaccination against disease is a medical
procedure and, like all medical procedures, carries some inherent risk.
As in any medical procedure or decision, the benefits must be balanced
against the risks. Veterinarians recommend that no needless risks
should be taken and that the best way to accomplish that is to reduce
the number and frequency of administration of unnecessary vaccines.
As is the case with any medical decision, you
and your veterinarian should make vaccination decisions after
considering your dog’s age, lifestyle, and potential exposure to
What possible risks are associated with
Vaccine reactions, of all types, are
infrequent. In general, most vaccine reactions and side effects (such
as local pain and swelling) are self-limiting. Allergic reactions are
less common, but if untreated can be fatal. These can occur soon after
vaccination. If you see such a reaction, please contact your
veterinarian as soon as possible.
In a small number of patients, vaccines can
stimulate the patient's immune system against his or her own tissues,
resulting in diseases that affect the blood, skin, joints or nervous
system. Again, such reactions are infrequent but can be life
There is a possible complication of a tumor
developing at the vaccination site in a small number of pets, most
frequently cats. Please contact your veterinarian for more information.
How do I know which vaccines my pet needs?
There are two general groups of vaccines to
consider: core and noncore vaccines.
Core vaccines are generally recommended for
all dogs and protect against diseases that are more serious or
potentially fatal. These diseases are found in all areas of North
America and are more easily transmitted than noncore diseases. The AAHA
guidelines define the following as core vaccines: distemper, adenovirus,
parvovirus and rabies. Noncore vaccines are those reserved for
patients at specific risk for infection due to exposure or lifestyle.
The AAHA guidelines classify kennel cough, Lyme disease and
leptospirosis vaccines within the noncore group.
How often should my dog be vaccinated?
Make sure that your dog completes the initial
series of core vaccines administered at the puppy stage, as well as
booster shots at one year of age. Following these one-year boosters,
the AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines recommend that the distemper,
adenovirus and parvovirus core vaccines be administered once every
three years. States and municipalities govern how often rabies boosters
are administered. Some areas require a rabies booster be administered
annually. Others require a three-year-effective rabies booster be given
every three years. Still others allow either a one-year or a three-year
rabies vaccine to be utilized.
Noncore vaccinations should be administered
whenever the risk of the disease is significant enough to override any
risk of vaccination. For example, kennel cough vaccine may need to be
administered up to every six months in a dog repeatedly being kenneled
or exposed to groups of dogs at grooming salons or dog shows.
There is a history of yearly vaccinations
boosters, and some veterinarians do not feel it is prudent to change
that recommendation just yet. However, the AAHA Canine Vaccine
Guidelines reflect that there is growing support for extended duration
of protection. Thus more veterinarians are vaccinating less frequently
and more selectively.
Does this mean I only need to see my
veterinarian every three years?
Regular wellness examinations — at least once
or twice a year — are the most important preventive measure that you
can provide for your dog. Vaccinations are just one component of the
wellness visit. To help keep your dog in optimum health, regular
wellness examinations are critical — regardless of how often vaccines
Remember, dogs age at a much faster rate than
humans, so a once-yearly exam is similar to a human getting a physical
every 5-7 years. Plus they don’t always show signs of early disease,
and they can’t easily communicate discomfort to us. During the wellness
exam, your veterinarian has an opportunity to detect and prevent
problems at an early stage.
Can my veterinarian conduct a test to see
if my dog needs to be vaccinated?
Tests that measure protective antibody levels
for diseases are called titers. In recent years reliable titer tests
for some diseases such as canine distemper and parvovirus have become
more readily available and economical. Veterinarians may recommend
using these titer tests in some cases to determine whether or not
vaccinations are needed. Your veterinarian can provide you with more
information on titer testing.