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Canine Vaccines: How many shots does my dog really need?

With the "controversy" over human vaccines being finally put to rest - everywhere but California, it seems - Brooklyn Bark caught up with Dr. Chris Gaylord of North Slope Veterinary to discuss canine vaccines, from new puppy shots to annual boosters. We reviewed what is important for a dog living in urban Northeast.

Brooklyn Bark: Which vaccines does my dog need?

Dr. Chris: That really depends on what kind of life your dog lives. Veterinarians often break vaccines up into “core” vaccines and “lifestyle” (non-core) vaccines. Every dog should have their core vaccines. Your veterinarian can help you determine which other vaccines are right for your dog. Here is a quick rundown.

Core Vaccines

  • Rabies is an extremely deadly disease to both dogs and people. It circulates in wild populations and therefore puts both people and their pets at risk. It is critical that your dog get this vaccine. By lawin New York State, as in most other states, domestic dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated at 4 months of age (3 months in New York City) with a second vaccine within one year of the first. Subsequent vaccinations follow pharmaceutical manufacturer's instructions. Generally these are either annual or triannual.

  • “Distemper” is a commonly used name for what is actually a vaccine for 4 different diseases that dogs get - Parvovirus, Canine Distemper, Parainfluenza, and Canine Adenovirus 1 and 2. You may see this vaccine referred to in your pet's medical records as DAPP, DA2PP, DHPP, DHPPV or some other variant. These letters refer to the diseases that the vaccine protects against. This is also an important vaccine for your dog to have.

Lifestyle Vaccines

  • Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease found in rodents. It is shed in their urine and can survive in puddles and standing water. This vaccine used to be given mostly to hunting dogs but now it is considered to be appropriate for almost all city dogs, as this disease exists in urban environments. “Lepto”, as it is commonly known, can also spread from dogs to people, through contact with infected urine.

  • Bordetella is another bacterial infection and one of a number of different infectious agents that cause a respiratory disease commonly referred to as “kennel cough”. Most boarding places, groomers, and doggy day care facilities require vaccination for kennel cough. It is also a good idea for dogs that spend lots of time at the dog park or in the company of other dogs. The Bordetella vaccine does not prevent all upper respiratory infections, only the ones caused by the Bordetella bacteria.

  • Lyme disease is spread through deer ticks and most commonly causes lameness in dogs, although there are more serious forms of the disease that can be deadly. Named for Lyme, Connecticut where it was first identified in 1982, it is very prevalent in the Northeast. It is a bacterial infection caused by the Borrelia species. Lyme vaccine is recommended for dogs that spend time in areas with high tick prevalence. You might think this is only if your dog summers in the Hamptons or hikes in the Catskills. However, infected deer ticks abound in NYC parks from Central to Prospect to Ft. Greene as well as on the few lawns in the City. Flea and tick preventative medication, avoidance of tick infested areas and thorough examination of your dog to check for ticks are also key measures to prevent Lyme infection.

  • Canine Influenza is a usually mild but potentially serious virus. This vaccine protects against a certain strain of dog flu. Occasional outbreaks of canine influenza have occurred in the past. Canine influenza spreads most readily between dogs in closed conditions such as kennels or shelters. Ask your veterinarianif your dog requires this vaccine.

BBark: Why do puppies need so many shots? It seems like they have to get the same vaccine repeatedly.

Dr. Chris: That is a bit of a complicated question but there are two main reasons. The first is that puppies are born with “maternal immunity”. Puppies get this part of their immune system from their mother both before birth and while nursing. Maternal immunity is crucial for the puppy’s health during infancy, but can interfere with the efficacy of a vaccine. Since we don’t know exactly when maternal immunity wanes in an individual puppy, it is important to give multiple shots to insure full protection. The second reason is that for many diseases (i.e. Lyme, Lepto ) the first vaccine primes the immune system, and then the “booster” shot creates a lasting immune response that provides longer-term protection for months or years.

BBark: When does my dog need to get her first round of shots?

Dr. Chris: Soon after you bring your dog home, you should make a veterinarian appointment. Your veterinarian will review any medical records, and help to determine a vaccination schedule that is right for your individual dog.

BBark: My dog seems sad/lethargic/painful after getting his shots, is this normal?

Dr. Chris: A normal vaccine response includes lethargy, soreness at the injection site, and even a mild fever for up to 24 hours after the shot. These responses are very common, usually self-limiting and do not require treatment.

Allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare but can be quite serious. Almost all vaccine reactions begin within 20 minutes of getting the vaccine. Many allergic reactions are mild and involve hives, swelling, and itchiness. In more serious cases, the swelling compresses the dog’s airway and makes breathing difficult. More severe reactions involve repeated vomiting, diarrhea, wobbly gait and even collapse. ANY vaccine reaction is a cause to seek veterinary treatment immediately.

Christopher Gaylord, DVM, is the practice owner of North Slope Veterinary, 207 6th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217. A graduate of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Gaylord practiced in Manhattan and Jersey City before opening his practice in Park Slope. He can be reached at To make an appointment with Dr. Gaylord, call 718-789-7170, M-F: 9am-7pm or Sat: 9am-3pm. House calls available on request.

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