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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.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Last Updated
30 MARCH 2022
5 min read
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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 dog vaccinations protect 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 – which means all 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. Depending on your policy, you may not be covered for treatment for an illness you chose not to vaccinate against as it could be classed as preventable.

When should a puppy be vaccinated?

Puppies need to be vaccinated when they’re between eight and 10 weeks old, although they can be vaccinated as early as four to six weeks old. 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.

The immunity given by dog vaccines weakens over time, so your dog will need regular boosters for the rest of its life. You’ll need to take your dog back to the vets for its booster injections a year after its second course of puppy jabs.

What vaccines do dogs need?

Dogs in the UK are generally vaccinated against four diseases:  

  • Canine parvovirus (CPV) – passed on through infected dog poo, symptoms include vomiting and bloody diarrhoea as well as severe dehydration. Sadly, there’s no real treatment and puppies that catch it are particularly vulnerable.
  • Canine distemper – this is an airborne virus, usually spread through contact with an infected dog via bodily fluid, such as saliva from a cough or sneeze. 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 can also be spread by infected mice, rats and cows as well as dogs.
  • Canine infectious hepatitis – this is spread through the bodily fluids of infected dogs and can affect the liver and other major organs. Symptoms vary depending on what organ is affected but could include tiredness, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. While it can be fatal, most dogs recover.

Your vet may also recommend you vaccinate your dog against other diseases such as:

Kennel cough – this is recommended if your dog has a lot of contact with other dogs, for example, at kennels, doggy day care, competing in dog shows or on outings with a professional dogwalker. Kennel cough is a nasty infection that gives dogs a hacking cough – not unlike a human cold.

Rabies – you’ll need to get your dog vaccinated against rabies if you plan on travelling with them outside of the UK.

Where can I get my puppy vaccinated?

When welcoming a new puppy into your home, one of the first steps you’ll need to take is to choose a vet. It’s a good idea to register your puppy with a vet before you bring them home, so they can book you in for your puppy’s second course of injections.

Your friends and neighbours might be able to recommend a local vet to you. Make sure you choose a vet that’s registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). If a vet has the initials MRCVS or FRCVS after their name, which means they’re a member or fellow of the RCVS, you can rest assured they’re fully qualified.

What to expect at a puppy vaccination appointment

Your vet will give your puppy a full check-up before their vaccinations to check they’re healthy. They’ll likely ask you some questions about their general health, diet and behaviour. This is a good opportunity to raise any concerns or questions you have.

Most vaccines are given as an injection in the skin on the back of your puppy’s neck, apart from the kennel cough vaccine, which is sprayed in your dog’s nose. The injections shouldn’t hurt your puppy, but they may experience some discomfort.

The vet might ask you to hold your puppy still while the injections are administered, but you can always say no if you don’t feel comfortable doing it.

How often do I need to vaccinate my dog? 

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.

If you’re concerned about over-vaccinating your dog, speak to your vet about titre testing. This is a set of blood tests your vet can carry out to check if your dog still has immunity from previous vaccines.

How much do dog vaccinations cost in the UK?

The cost of dog vaccinations varies depending on your vet, what vaccinations are recommended and where you live in the UK.

As a rough guide, you can expect to pay around £70 for your puppy vaccinations or a little more if you are also vaccinating against kennel cough. Your dog’s annual booster vaccinations should be a little cheaper, at around £50.

Sometimes your vet will package together the cost of puppy vaccinations and dog vaccine boosters with other regular care, such as worming, flea or treatments, and offer a discounted rate. If you’re worried about the expense, it’s worth remembering that vaccines are a lot cheaper than treating a sick puppy.

Can I get help with the cost of dog vaccinations?

If you’re on a low income or receiving certain benefits, you may be eligible for low-cost vet care from animal charities, including:

  • The PDSA: 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.
  • The Blue Cross: may be able to help if you’re on certain means-tested benefits and live in one of its catchment areas.
  • The Dogs Trust: will pay for preventative and emergency vet care for your dog if you’re experiencing homelessness.
  • Battersea Dogs Home: offers free microchipping for dogs if you live in London.

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.

Does pet insurance cover the cost of vaccines? 

Unfortunately, pet insurance doesn’t usually cover routine care. You’ll need to pay for certain procedures and treatments that your dog needs out of pocket, including:

Pet insurance may not cover the cost of your puppy’s vaccines or your dog’s booster shots, but it could save you from a huge vet bill if your canine companion falls ill or gets injured.

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Frequently asked questions

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 a small dose of the virus or bacteria. 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. 

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. They will protect the vast majority of dogs, though. 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 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. 

Will pet insurance cover my unvaccinated dog?

If your dog falls ill with a disease they could have been vaccinated against, your insurance provider might 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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