Canine Vaccines and Vaccination Schedule

Canine vaccination plays an important role in disease prevention and can save lives in young puppies. The purpose of vaccination is to stimulate a dog's body to produce antibodies (germ-fighting proteins made by specialized white blood cells) and "memory" cells, so that if the dog ever encounters the disease again, his system will be primed and ready to defend against it.

However, it is also a fact that canine vaccines can cause side-effects and very often pose health risks to our dogs. Therefore, it is important for dog parents to understand clearly what canine vaccines can and cannot do, and whether it is necessary to vaccinate our dogs on a yearly basis.

Before vaccinating your puppy, consider the risks. The decision about vaccinations is very individual, and should be guided by your knowledge on the subject before you go to the veterinarian.

In this page, you can find information on the following topics:

What are Core and Noncore Vaccines?

Chihuahua The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) released a set of guidelines in 2003 (and revised in 2006 and 2011) regarding canine vaccines and vaccination.

In the revised guidelines, the AAHA classified canine vaccines into core and noncore (optional).

According to AAHA, core vaccines are those that all dogs should receive in order to 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 (1-year vaccine or 3-year vaccine).

Noncore vaccines should be given selectively, depending on a dog's particular geographic and lifestyle exposure. According to the AAHA guidelines, canine vaccines for Bordetella, Canine Parainfluenza, Canine Adenovirus (Intranasal), Canine Coronavirus, Canine Influenza, Lyme disease, and Leptospirosis are noncore vaccines.

Can Canine Vaccines Prevent Diseases?

Dog Lying Down Before answering this question, we need to understand that there are two types of disease - acute and chronic.

Acute diseases are generated by an infectious organism - the infection itself creates the illness. Examples of acute diseases are canine distemper, canine hepatitis, rabies, and canine parvovirus.

Chronic diseases, on the other hand, are usually caused by immune system malfunctioning which can be either immune system overactivity or immunodeficiency.

In the case of immune system overactivity, the immune system attacks the dog's own body systems because it has problems distinguishing between host and foreign tissue. Chronic diseases resulting from an overactive immune system are called autoimmune diseases.

Chronic diseases can also be caused by immunodeficiency. Although very often, immunodeficiency diseases seem like acute diseases since an organism may be associated with these diseases, in most cases the organism is NOT the cause. The root cause of immunodeficiency diseases is a weakened immune system and the organism may just be a trigger that brings on an infection. In other words, illness precedes the infection. Examples of immunodeficiency diseases are kennel cough complex and Lyme disease.

Returning to the question ... Canine vaccines can only potentially prevent acute diseases but not chronic diseases. As mentioned above, acute diseases are truly caused by an infectious organism, therefore vaccination can help prevent a dog from getting infected by stimulating the dog's immunity to produce antibodies to fight against the organism. Even so, bear in mind that vaccines are not 100 percent effective for acute disease prevention.

For chronic diseases, vaccination simply does not work as the true underlying cause is NOT the infectious organism. Only by addressing the underlying cause (i.e. strengthening or regulating the immune system) can chronic diseases be cured/prevented.

Can Canine Vaccines Cause Diseases?

Vaccinations put a lot of stress on a dog's immune system. More and more holistic veterinarians have reached the conclusion that vaccinations can not only cause immediate side effects and allergic reactions, but they also contribute to a lot of long term chronic health problems, including skin allergies, arthritis, thyroid disease, recurrent ear and respiratory infections, inflammatory bowel disease, liver and kidney diseases, neurological conditions (such as aggressive behavior and epilepsy), compromised immune systems and autoimmune diseases, glandular changes, and cancer. In fact, it has been established that the rabies vaccine can cause cancer at the site of injection (vaccine particles have been found within the cancer mass in a number of cases) and many veterinarians now refer to this type of cancers as vaccine-site sarcomas.

A Low-Risk Way to Vaccinate Your Dog

As canine vaccines can potentially cause a lot of health problems, you may wonder if it is absolutely necessary to vaccinate your dog, and if so, what is the safest approach.

Dr. Hamilton, a holistic veterinarian and author of Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, suggests that we should only vaccinate our dogs against diseases that meet all of the following criteria:

  1. The disease is serious, even life threatening.
  2. The dog is or will be exposed to the disease.
  3. The vaccine for the disease is known to be effective.
  4. The vaccine for the disease is safe.

Also, many holistic vets (e.g. Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Pitcairn) stress the importance of using single or simple vaccines instead of the combination vaccines which have become very common these days. This means vaccinating for one disease at a time. Dr. Hamilton rightly points out that natural exposure to diseases is usually one at a time, and so the body is more successful at responding to one vaccine at a time and producing immunity without adverse effects.

Where possible, use only "killed" or "inactivated" vaccines as opposed to "modified live" since "killed" vaccines cannot grow in the body and therefore are safer to use.

It can be difficult to find a vet who has single vaccines readily available. It is also possible that some non-core vaccines are included and given together with some core vaccines. Therefore, it is important to double-check with your vet and make sure that none of the non-core vaccines are included in the core vaccines that are to be given to your dog.

You may have more luck to get single vaccines if you seek help from a holistic veterinarian.

When Not to Vaccinate Your Dog

As vaccinations put a lot of stress on your dog's immune system, vaccinations should NOT be given to the following dogs:

  • Too Young Puppies: Vaccinating young puppies too early and too often can prevent vaccines from having the desired effect. One reason is that young puppies (4-9 week-old nursing puppies) get maternal antibodies from their mother's milk. The antibodies identify the vaccines as foreign infectious agents and destroy them. Also, vaccinations that are given too closely spaced interfere with a puppy's immune system response because immune components from the earlier vaccine nullify the following one. To prevent this from happening, the interval between the first vaccine and the next booster shot should be 3-4 weeks.
  • Stressed Dogs: Dogs who are stressed have weakened immune systems and should not be vaccinated. So, for example, if you are moving to a new house or taking your dog on a plane, do not vaccinate the dog during these stressful periods. If you have just adopted a new puppy, keep him at home for a week or so and let him get used to his new environment before getting him vaccinated.
  • Dogs on Certain Medications: Some medications suppress the immune system and dogs who are on such medications should not be vaccinated. Steroids (e.g. prednisone, prednisolone) are one such med that significantly suppress the immune system (a short bout of steroids can reduce immune function for over 75%.)
  • Dogs with Cancer or other Serious Illness: Dogs diagnosed with cancer (even those in remission) should not be vaccinated. Ditto for dogs with other chronic illnesses such as liver or kidney problems, chronic infections, immune dysfunction problems, etc.
  • Pregnant Dogs: Vaccinating pregnant dogs can result in birth defects or abortions. Pups may also develop vaccinosis problems later on in life.

Which Canine Vaccines are Absolutely Necessary?

As mentioned above, the AAHA guidelines define distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and rabies as core vaccines. Most holistic veterinarians, however, believe that the absolutely essential vaccines are distemper and parvovirus. Rabies vaccination poses a lot of health risks on a dog; however, it is required by law and we do not have too much of a choice.

Are Yearly "Booster Shots" Necessary?

Vaccinations do not magically lose their effectiveness 366 days after the last shot. In fact, previous studies have shown that the vaccines for parvovirus and canine distemper provide extremely good, long-term protection from the diseases for 8 to 10 years or more.

"Booster shots" do not increase a dog's immunity, but they do increase the risk of adverse reactions. There are no benefits and many risks to re-vaccinating for a disease your dog is already immune to.

The good news is, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccination Taskforce, in their 2011 revised guidelines, finally acknowledges that yearly re-vaccinations are not necessary.

Specifically, the Taskforce has done studies to confirm that, in case of core canine vaccines, immunity lasts much longer than one year. It has been found that for distemper and parvovirus, immunity lasts for at least 5 years; whereas for adenovirus, at least 7 years.

The Taskforce therefore advises that dogs can be re-vaccinated at 3-year or greater intervals for all core vaccines (except the 1-year rabies vaccine).

Instead of automatically giving booster shots to your dog, insist on getting titers first. (A titer is a blood test that can show if your dog's antibody levels for parvovirus or canine distemper remain high enough to resist infection).

As regards rabies shots, a study is currently being done by Dr. Schultz who is an expert in the field of veterinary vaccines, and a professor and Chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin. The study is to try to determine the duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines. It is Dr. Schultz's goal to find conclusive evidence that immunity duration of rabies shots is longer than the current limit, so that state and local laws can be changed to extend the required interval for rabies boosters to 5 and then to 7 years.

Safe Puppy Vaccination Schedules

An example of a safe puppy vaccination schedule as suggested by Dr. Pitcairn is as follows:

  • From 0 week to 22 weeks - keep the puppy isolated from other dogs
  • First distemper - 16 weeks
  • First parvo - 20 weeks
  • Second distemper - 24 weeks
  • Second parvo - 28 weeks
  • Rabies - 32 weeks

Another minimum vaccination protocol is recommended by Dr. Schultz - which is just one DAP (Distemper/Adenovirus/Parvo) at 15 to 16 weeks, followed by a simple blood titer test 2-3 weeks later, with the rabies vaccine given at about 20 weeks of age.

Use Homeopathic Remedy Thuja to Prevent Vaccinosis


If you know that your dog suffers from vaccinosis (adverse reaction to a vaccine), give a dose of Thuja (30C) to your dog within two hours of the injection. It is also helpful in case of immediate vaccine reactions such as vomiting or diarrhea occurring within a few hours of the shot.