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Why Should You Vaccinate Your Dog?

Whether you are choosing a puppy from a reputable breeder or re-homing a dog from your local shelter, you need to ensure that your dog is both microchipped and vaccinated against a number of diseases. The last thing you want is anything to go wrong with your precious new dog in his first few months and you should therefore seek proper veterinary advice and care.

Modern veterinary medicine is all about prevention. It is preferable that an animal isn’t exposed to sickness whenever possible. Additionally, it will prevent heartbreak and grief and in monetary terms prevention is cheaper than a cure, which can often be very expensive.

AVA (Australian Veterinary Association) spokesperson, Dr David Neck, advises that vaccinations are the best way to protect pets against diseases like canine parvovirus, which are easily spread and are life-threatening.

What diseases should your dog be vaccinated against?


Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes severe, debilitating disease in dogs of all ages but young puppies are most vulnerable to infection. 

Parvovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract of the dog and common signs of infection include profuse vomiting, diarrhoea (often containing blood), severe abdominal pain and depression. There is a high mortality rate but some dogs may survive depending on how quickly they receive treatment, which usually involves intensive care in a veterinary hospital for several days.
Porthos and Aramis - recovering from Parvovirus at the shelter
“Dogs that have not been vaccinated are unnecessarily at risk of contracting the virus. 

Research shows that around 80% of untreated cases of parvovirus result in death. These statistics really highlight the importance of preventing the disease.

Puppies from six weeks of age should be vaccinated to protect them from parvovirus and other diseases. 
Follow up vaccinations are required and until these have been completed puppies should be kept away from any areas where parvovirus outbreaks are known to have recently occurred,” said Dr David Neck.

Australia’s national pet disease surveillance system, Disease Watchdog (, has recorded 158 cases across the country and has identified several hot spots where outbreaks have occurred in the last few months of 2016. These include:

  • Wagga Wagga area in NSW with more than 30 reported cases
  • Tamworth region in NSW with close to 20 reported cases
  • Mildura region in Victoria with more than 25 reported cases
  • Armadale and surrounds in WA with more than 15 reported cases
  • Northampton in WA with more than 10 reported cases
  • Adelaide Northern suburbs in SA with 17 reported cases

It is a hardy virus that can remain in the environment for over 12 months and your local dog parks, dog boarding kennels and nature strips are all potential sources of infection. The virus is usually spread when the dog comes into contact with contaminated faeces or soil. 

Failing to vaccinate against this disease is the leading cause of preventable death from communicable disease in dogs.

Please note that a new form of the common and highly contagious canine parvovirus (CPV) has been discovered in Australia by researchers at the University of Adelaide. While the new strain, known as CPV-2c, is spreading around the world, until now there has been no confirmed evidence of its presence in Australia.

Also, most of the cases reported have occurred in dogs already vaccinated against parvovirus, although the clinical signs are typically milder than in unvaccinated dogs.

Until more is known, it’s important that dog owners continue to vaccinate for Parvo (CPV) and take their dogs to the vet if they are unwell. Signs of CPV infection include some or all of the following: decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhoea. CPV has a high mortality rate.


Canine Distemper is an often fatal viral disease that can affect dogs of all ages but especially puppies and unvaccinated dogs. This virus attacks the nervous system and typical signs include fever, discharge from the nose and eyes, respiratory problems (with the possibility of pneumonia developing), loss of appetite, skin reactions, vomiting, diarrhoea.

Many dogs will also develop muscle spasms, convulsions and progressive paralysis. Dogs that do recover may end up with thickened foot pads, damaged teeth or even permanent brain damage. Outbreaks of canine distemper occur in areas with low vaccination rates and all dogs should be vaccinated against it.


Canine Cough, also known as "Kennel Cough" is a disease primarily caused by the bacteria (Bordetella bronchiseptica) and the canine parainfluenza virus.

This disease is typified by a persistent hacking cough that often ends up with gagging. The coughing is usually made worse by exercise, excitement or pressure on the throat region.

It is a highly contagious disease and despite its name, it is not confined to kennels but it generally spreads from dog to dog in areas where they socialise like dog parks, training classes, dog shows, vet clinics, kennels, and animal shelters.
It is not usually fatal but it causes significant distress to the dog and owner. Some animals will stop eating and may become depressed and lethargic. Canine cough can be treated with antibiotics, nursing and rest, however, it is best to try to prevent the disease in the first instance.

It is possible that severely affected dogs may develop pneumonia as a consequence of contracting this disease. All dogs should be vaccinated annually to help prevent this disease.


Canine Hepatitis is a highly infectious disease caused by the canine adenovirus which causes liver damage. It is particularly severe in young dogs and death may result in 36 hours.

Puppies are most at risk and signs of infection include fever, corneal opacity (also called “blue eye”), depression, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain (due to an inflamed liver). The virus is contracted through contact with the urine, faeces or saliva of infected dogs. 

A carrier dog may recover, but he will continue to spread the virus via its urine for up to six months. All dogs should be vaccinated against Canine Hepatitis.

Other diseases such as Leptospirosis and Coronavirus can be vaccinated against. These vaccines are only given to those dogs that are at high risk of developing the disease which are usually younger dogs. Your veterinarian can advise you if any of these vaccines are required or are appropriate for your dog.

When does my dog need to be vaccinated?

For maximum protection by vaccination, it is recommended that you discuss the vaccination programme with your veterinarian. Below are general guidelines that will provide some direction towards a vaccination protocol for younger dogs, however your vet can offer specific advice for your dog.

Age for vaccination
Vaccinate against
6-8 weeks
Canine Distemper
Canine Hepatitis
Canine Parvovirus
Canine (Kennel) Cough
12-14 weeks
Canine Distemper
Canine Hepatitis
Canine Parvovirus
Canine (Kennel) Cough
16-18 weeks
Canine Distemper
Canine Hepatitis
Canine Parvovirus
Canine (Kennel) Cough

After their primary vaccination course, dogs should be vaccinated annually.

If you have never owned a dog before, you may get confused by the acronyms used by your veterinarian. You will hear them talk about C3, C4, and C5 vaccines. A C3 vaccine (known as ‘core’) protects your dog against parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. The C4 will also protect against parainfluenza, while C5 protects your dog against the aforementioned diseases plus the Bordetella bronchiseptica (primary cause of the Kennel Cough).

A C5 vaccination is a mandatory requirement for most boarding kennels. It should also be administered to dogs such as show dogs or therapy dogs, which are exposed regularly to other dogs and people.

What are vaccines?

Vaccines are health products that trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. They lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection all together. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians.

Fortunately, in Australia there are fewer highly infectious diseases of dogs than are common in other countries (such as rabies) around the world. However outbreaks of canine infectious disease do occur from time to time around the country, and for an animal with a correct vaccination program in place the chances of this occurring are very slim.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines work by exposing the body's immune system to a particular modified infectious agent. This causes the white blood cells to react to fight the infection by producing proteins (antibodies) that are able to bind to and neutralise the infectious agent (antigen). Antibodies work together with other white blood cells (lymphocytes) that are able to identify and kill cells within the body that have become infected by the agent (cell mediated response). 

After exposure to a vaccine, the body 'remembers' the particular antigens so that when they are encountered again it can mount a rapid and strong immune response, preventing the dog from showing clinical signs of disease.

Is vaccination really necessary?

Vaccination is a very important and necessary part of your dog's preventative health program. The immunity your dog gains from being vaccinated will diminish with time. Yearly vaccination is the only way we can ensure protection against several serious and potentially fatal diseases.

Annual vaccinations are mandatory if your dog is to stay in a boarding kennel, attend an obedience school or travel on a plane. Unvaccinated animals will not be accepted in these situations.

Annual vaccinations also provide an ideal opportunity for the veterinarian to perform a complete health and wellness check of your dog and to discuss any concerns you may have.

My dog never mixes with other dogs. Does he still need to be vaccinated?

Yes, your dog still needs to be vaccinated. Many of the diseases we vaccinate against are airborne (such as Kennel cough) or can be brought into the home on your shoes (e.g. Parvovirus). Your dog therefore does not need to come into direct contact with another dog to become infected.

The fact that your dog does not mix with other dogs means it is isolated. This removes any opportunity to be naturally 'vaccinated' and reimmunise themselves. As a result their level of immunity may in fact be lower than dogs that are allowed outside.

My dog never goes to boarding kennels. Why does it need to be vaccinated against kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious disease. It does not require direct dog-to-dog contact to be transmitted. For this reason vaccinating against the disease is advised for all dogs.

When can I take my puppy out now that it has had a vaccine?

Your puppy may not have developed complete immunity against the diseases it is being vaccinated for up to one week after he's received his second vaccine. However puppies are best socialised to other dogs, people and places between the ages of 8 and 14 weeks. This is the same period when they are at the greatest risk of being infected with diseases, particularly Parvovirus. 

If you are to take your puppy out, then avoid public places such as parks and beaches. Your puppy should only socialise with dogs that are known to be fully vaccinated and in an environment that you know has been free of any dogs with Parvovirus.

Is the vaccine 100% effective?

The immune response is a biological response. There are a number of factors that influence this response and as such a vaccination can never be 100% guaranteed. In the vast majority of cases the vaccine will produce an immune response that results in the animal developing adequate immunity to protect against disease. 

There is however a very small number of animals that may not develop this required level of immunity and may still be susceptible to infection.

Do vaccinations have any side effects?

Some holistic veterinarians think all vaccinations are actually harmful and destructive (and ignore the fact that human diseases such as smallpox and polio are almost non-existent today due solely to the use of vaccines to protect the population from these diseases).

It is highly unlikely that the vaccine will make your pet sick or have any side effects. A very small percentage of animals may experience a temporary reaction such as a stinging sensation or be a little lethargic for 24 hours. More serious reactions are extremely rare. If your dog has an allergic reaction to a vaccine then obviously, a different approach is needed than to repeat that vaccine.

If someone tells you that vaccines cause disease or weaken an animal's immune capabilities, ask to see the data that proves that position. Then you can make the call. You are the final authority regarding your dog's health care.

Once you feel you are comfortable with your assessment of the vaccine topic, no one should pressure you into doing something different.

Article updated 11th May, 2017

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