Dog vaccinations – everything you need to know

Vaccinating your dog against harmful and infectious disease should be top of your pet priority list. Here’s everything you need to know about vaccinating your canine companion.

Vaccinating your dog against harmful and infectious disease should be top of your pet priority list. Here’s everything you need to know about vaccinating your canine companion.

Mubina Pirmohamed
Insurance expert
minute read
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Last Updated 8 MARCH 2022

Why should I have my dog vaccinated?

There are several very good reasons to have your dog vaccinated: 

  • It could save your dog’s life 
    Some of the diseases vaccination protects against are fatal – and certainly hard to treat. 
  • It’s good for the whole puppy community 
    If every owner vaccinates their animals, dogs will acquire herd immunity. If each dog is better protected, diseases are less likely to spread. That means all our pooches benefit. 
  • Vaccinating your dog is cheaper than treating it 
    Even if you have pet insurance, you might still have to pay an excess if your dog gets sick.

When should I vaccinate my dog? 

Puppies need to be vaccinated when they’re between eight and 10 weeks old, although they can be vaccinated earlier. They’ll then need a second set of vaccinations two to four weeks later.

It’s common for breeders and rescue charities to give puppies their first set of vaccinations, so when you pick yours up make sure you ask for its vaccination history.

What vaccinations does my dog need? 

Dogs in the UK are generally vaccinated against four diseases: 

  • Canine parvovirus – passed on through infected dog poo, symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea containing lots of blood, as well as severe dehydration. Sadly, there’s no real treatment, and puppies that catch it are particularly vulnerable.
  • Canine distemper – usually spreads through contact with an infected dog via bodily fluid, such as saliva from a bite. Symptoms vary but can include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and coughing. Distemper can be fatal, but even dogs who survive can have long-term neurological and mobility problems, such as seizures or trouble walking.
  • Leptospirosis – severe cases cause liver and kidney failure, and can be fatal to both dogs and humans. Leptospirosis is contracted through infected urine or contaminated (usually stagnant) water. It’s more common in areas with lots of rats.
  • Canine infectious hepatitis – there are two strains of this virus: one causes a cough, the other hepatitis. Symptoms include tiredness, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. While it can be fatal, most dogs recover.

How often do I need to vaccinate my dog? 

Many dog owners assume that once their pet has been vaccinated that’s enough. But your dog will likely need boosters every 12 months to keep them infection free – or every three years, depending on the vaccine.

  • Kennel cough and leptospirosis require a booster every year.
  • Distemper, parvovirus and canine hepatitis need boosters every three years. 

But not all dogs need boosters. It depends on your dog’s general health and how prevalent certain diseases are where you live. Speak to your vet for details.

Does pet insurance cover the cost of vaccines? 

Unfortunately, pet insurance doesn’t usually cover routine care. This includes:

How much do dog vaccinations cost in the UK?

While prices will vary depending on your dog and your vet, here’s a rough guide to how much you can expect to pay for your dog vaccinations:

Dog vaccination


First set of puppy jabs – covering conditions such as kennel cough


Booster vaccination with worming treatment




Animal Health Certificate – this replaces the pet passport if you’re taking your dog abroad


Booster shots should cost less than this because they only involve one injection (puppy vaccinations require two). Still, if you’re worried about the expense, it’s worth remembering that vaccines are a lot cheaper than treating a sick puppy.

Alternatively, if you’re on a low income or receiving certain benefits, you may be eligible for low-cost vet care from animal charities that could help with vaccination costs. 

The PDSA offers help to some pet owners – you might be able to access free or low-cost treatment at one of its hospitals, depending on where you live. It also offers a Pet Care scheme that gives owners access to low-cost treatments. 

If you’re on certain means-tested benefits and live in one of its catchment areas, the Blue Cross may also be able to help.

If you live in London, you can also get your dog microchipped for free at Battersea Dogs Home.

Do I have to get my dog vaccinated? 

No one’s going to force you to vaccinate your dog – it’s up to you. But if you want to leave your pet in kennels or doggy day care, most will want to see proof that your dog is fully vaccinated, including for kennel cough.

How do dog vaccines work? 

Vaccines work by giving you (or, in this case, your dog) a small dose of the virus or bacteria you’re trying to protect yourself from. This allows the body to develop antibodies, which can fight off the disease. Like humans, dogs are given vaccines to prevent potentially fatal illnesses and to stop them spreading.

Will vaccines hurt my dog?

As with any medication, there may be side effects. Look for swelling at the injection site, along with: 

  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing 

Most side effects will pass within one or two days. If you’re concerned, speak to your vet.

What is kennel cough? 

Kennel cough is a nasty infection that gives dogs a hacking cough – not unlike a human cold. It spreads easily in places where lots of dogs gather. That’s why kennels and doggy day-care centres are so keen that dogs are vaccinated.

What vaccinations does my dog need to travel? 

To get an Animal Health Certificate for travel abroad (and so that your pet can re-enter the UK), dogs must be vaccinated against rabies. Some countries also want proof that dogs have been treated for ticks and tapeworm.

Frequently asked questions

How long are dog vaccinations effective?

There’s evidence that most dogs are still immune to hepatitis, parvovirus and viral distemper three years after they’re vaccinated. But leptospirosis vaccines only last a year.

Your dog’s immunity will weaken over time, which is why it’s so important to have annual booster shots. Your vet will give you a vaccination card, or let you know over the phone when your dog was last vaccinated, so you can stay up to date more easily.

Can a vaccinated dog still catch disease?

Unfortunately, vaccines are never 100% effective. But they will protect the vast majority of dogs, and if yours is unlucky enough to still catch one of the diseases, it’s likely to have fewer symptoms and recover quicker if it’s vaccinated.

Will pet insurance cover my unvaccinated dog?

If your dog falls ill with a disease they could have been vaccinated against, your insurance provider may refuse to pay the claim. That’s another reason why it’s so important to get your dog vaccinated if you can.

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