Vaccines Give Your Dog A Shot At A Long, Healthy Life

Congratulations on your new puppy! As you get to know your new best friend, you are probably stocking up on nutritious puppy food, puppy-proofing your house to prevent accidental injury, and making sure to allow for plenty of exercise. Part of your puppy's health also includes routine vaccines. You can take your dog to the local pet store, veterinary clinic, or pet hospital for these shots. But how much do you know about these vaccinations and the diseases they prevent?

Core and non-core vaccines

The ASPCA categorizes vaccines as "core" and "non core." Core vaccines prevent transmission to humans and target severe diseases to which dogs are frequently exposed. Non core vaccines are not mandated, but rather depend on diseases that your dog may encounter because of where you live. These include leptospirosis, bordetella, and borrelia burgdorferi.

The four core vaccines listed by the ASPCA are rabies, distemper, canine parvovirus, and canine hepatitis.


Rabies is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected animals such as skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes--animals your pet will probably come into contact at one point or another during its lifetime. This vaccine is required in order to license your dog.

Symptoms of rabies begin, for dogs, about 3-8 weeks after infection. They begin to isolate themselves and display anxiety or excitability. A few days later, dogs will show hypersensitivity to sound and light, wandering through the house and displaying aggressive behavior. They may bite with no provocation. This stage of the disease is quickly followed by paralysis that spreads through the central nervous system, eventually causing death through respiratory failure. This final stage is when rabid animals will display the trademark drooling or foaming at the mouth. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for rabies.


Distemper, another preventable virus, has a 75% fatality rate in dogs. Like rabies, there is no cure for this disease, but vaccination will prevent infection. Distemper affects various body systems, such as

  • eyes

  • skin

  • brain

  • respiratory tract

  • intestinal tract

The virus is airborne, so it can spread through kennels, dog parks, and your home. Symptoms include nasal/eye discharge, diarrhea, coughing, vomiting, and fever. It is sometimes called "hard pad disease," because dogs' paws often develop thick callused surfaces from the illness. Only symptomatic treatment is available. If dogs recover, they often have mottled teeth and vision problems.

Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a constant threat wherever multiple animals live together, especially in kennels and breeding facilities. It is highly resistant and thrives on the surfaces of feeding bowls, dog beds, floors, and counters. Spreading rapidly through direct contact with infected dogs as well as contaminated stool, parvovirus wreaks havoc in the gastrointestinal system. Vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), and fever quickly dehydrate and deplete dogs; death can occur in under 72 hours. Like the other diseases described here, there is no cure for parvo, although supportive treatment can reverse dehydration.

Canine Hepatitis

Canine hepatitis spreads through the air, as well as through dogs' urine and nasal discharge. The virus can live on the surface of feeding bowls and floors. Once a dog has become infected, symptoms include

  • fever

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • light colored stools

  • abdominal swelling

Complications of the disease are jaundice, tonsillitis, and swollen lymph nodes. The mortality rate for dogs with hepatitis ranges from 10-30%. Treatment is, again, supportive and may include intravenous fluid replacement.

As you can see, vaccinating your puppy for these diseases is just as critical to his or her good health as is nutritious food and frequent exercise. Schedule vaccinations soon if you haven't already done so--your new best friend deserves this 'shot' at a long life!