Top 10 things you need to know about AAHA’s Canine Vaccination Guidelines
Vaccination is one of the easiest and most important ways to protect your dog’s health. Yet in this age of “overvaccination” scares and “Dr. Google,” some pet owners are hesitant to vaccinate their dogs—even when it’s in the best interest of their beloved pooch.
To provide fact-based leadership about this issue, AAHA published the 2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines, a regularly updated online educational resource for veterinary teams and the clients they serve.
Top 10 things you need to know about the guidelines
- Get a rabies vaccine for your dog—it’s the law. Rabies is a fatal—and preventable—disease that can be spread to humans by contact with saliva, so it’s mandatory in all 50 US states. Your veterinarian is bound by law to give your dog a rabies vaccine to protect you as well as your pet; if an unvaccinated dog is scratched or bitten by a wild animal, it can lead to your pet being quarantined or euthanized. Learn the specifics about the rabies laws in your state at rabiesaware.org.
- Not all dogs need every vaccine. Your veterinarian will ask you questions about your dog’s lifestyle, environment, and travel to help tailor the perfect vaccination plan for him. AAHA’s Lifestyle-Based Vaccine Calculator uses factors such as whether your dog visits dog parks, groomers, competes in dog shows, swims in freshwater lakes, or lives on converted farmland to help you and your veterinarian develop your dog’s individualized vaccination plan.
- There are “core” and “noncore” vaccines. Vaccinations are designated as either core, meaning they are recommended for every dog, or noncore, which means they are recommended for dogs at risk for contracting a specific disease. However, your veterinarian may reclassify a “noncore” vaccine as “core” depending on your dog’s age, lifestyle, and where you live—for instance, in a region like New England where Lyme disease is prevalent, that vaccine may be considered “core.”
- Titers, or quantitative antibody testing, can help determine your dog’s protection from some diseases. Titer testing can be useful when a dog’s vaccination history for distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus is unknown—a positive result typically means he is considered protected. However, no test is 100% accurate, so in areas where these diseases run rampant, your veterinarian may still recommend vaccinating. While titer testing for rabies is available, the law still requires that the dog be vaccinated since this is a fatal, zoonotic (i.e., can be spread to people) disease.
- Some vaccines only need boosters every three years. For example, the distemper vaccine, a combination of distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus vaccines that protects against very serious diseases, can be given every three years after a dog has completed his initial series of inoculations. However, a dog’s immunity is as individual as he is, so if you want to have more certainty that he’s protected, have a titer performed to measure the amount of antibody response he has to these diseases.
- Protect at-risk dogs annually from certain complex diseases. If your veterinarian believes your dog is at risk for Lyme disease, leptospirosis, influenza and/or Bordetella (kennel cough), you’ll want to vaccinate him every year instead of every three years because of the differences in how a dog’s immune system responds to these specific germs.
- Serious vaccine reactions are rare. The risk of contracting a dangerous disease by not vaccinating a dog outweighs the potential for vaccination side effects. Still, seek veterinary attention if your dog begins vomiting and scratching, develops bumps (hives), facial swelling, or has difficulty breathing within a few hours of being vaccinated. Long-term side effects, like behavioral changes, immune-mediated diseases, and other complex conditions, have not been formally linked to vaccinations. Studies continue on this topic.
- Don’t administer vaccines to your dog by yourself! While vaccines are available through sources other than your veterinarian, they may not protect your pet against disease unless they are properly stored, handled, and administered. Your veterinary team is trained to do this correctly. It’s important to note that in many states and provinces, it is against the law for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian to give a rabies vaccine.
- AAHA’s Canine Vaccination Guidelines are based on science. A task force of five expert veterinarians created them, along with 18 contributing reviewers, based on practical clinical experience and 123 references to scientific evidence. The guidelines also underwent a formal, external review process.
- Communicate any concerns to your veterinarian. You and your veterinary team should have the same goal: to provide the best possible care for your pets. If, say, you are worried about a puppy or small dog receiving too many injections in the same visit, ask if there are noncore vaccines that can be postponed. Your veterinarian will offer a recommendation based on knowledge of your dog’s specific circumstances and veterinary medicine.
Questions to ask your veterinarian
- Why are you recommending these vaccines for my dog? What risk factors does he have that led you to those recommendations?
- Can you discuss the risks and benefits of titer testing with me? How accurate is it?
- Is the vaccine less expensive than the titer test?
- How often does my pet need to be vaccinated for rabies by law?
- What additional side effects should I watch for after my pet is vaccinated?
- Will you please document the injection site and vaccine type in my dog’s medical record?
- My dog is small. Is there a vaccine we could delay until a later time or is now best?
- When will my dog need a booster to stay protected?