Are Dog Vaccinations Really Necessary?

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9 May 2024

Are Dog Vaccinations Really Necessary?

Routine healthcare for a dog is one of the key responsibilities you take on as an owner when bringing home a new puppy. This includes their routine vaccinations which are essential for preventing your dog contracting harmful (or even fatal) diseases while they’re out in the world.  

Here, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about your dog’s vaccinations and why they’re so important for any pet in your home.  


Why Do Dogs Need Vaccinations?

Dogs need vaccinations for the same reasons humans do: to prevent them from contracting harmful and potentially fatal diseases. Sadly, not all diseases posing risks to dogs can be vaccinated against, but for those that can, it’s recommended by vets across the country that you stay up to date with the injections as part of your dog’s healthcare routine.  

Not only will this protect your pet from serious harm, but it will also save you a tremendous amount of money in veterinary fees incurred by contracting one of the diseases they could’ve been vaccinated against. Plus, many pet insurance providers will not provide cover for the treatment of diseases that could have been vaccinated against.  

Most of the vaccinations your dog needs can be mixed into a single injection administered to the back of the neck by a vet. Once their course is complete, the vaccine will protect them against:  

  • Canine Parvovirus (also referred to as Parvo) 
  • Canine infectious hepatitis 
  • Canine Distemper 
  • Leptospirosis 

We go into more detail about each of these conditions and the impact they can have on your pet’s health below, but there’s one more key reason why vaccinating your pet is so important.

By staying up to date with your dog’s vaccinations, you are also helping to lessen the spread of these diseases to other dogs in your area, especially those more vulnerable to these diseases. This includes puppies whose immune systems are still developing but are too young for their vaccinations and elderly dogs whose immune systems aren’t as strong as they once were.  

Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus (also known as CPV, canine parvovirus or Parvo) is a highly contagious disease across the UK which can be fatal in dogs, especially in puppies who are more prone to secondary infections.  

Parvovirus in dogs causes significant damage to the lining of your dog’s intestines and the cells inside their bone marrow essential to their immune system. This not only makes it harder for your dog to fight off the virus but can also make it hard for them to recover once they’ve been treated.  

Dogs with parvo experience symptoms like vomiting, bloody, foul-smelling diarrhoea, extremely low energy, abdominal pain and more. While canine parvovirus is treatable, this treatment will likely involve your dog's hospitalisation and IV treatments to fight dehydration, but that’s assuming they aren’t suffering from any secondary infections which complicate things. 

Overall, treating a dog for parvo could end up costing you hundreds, if not thousands in veterinary fees to cover the treatment, hospitalistation, and any other medical expenses following the initial treatment.  

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper (also known as “footpad disease” or CDV) is another virus against which dogs can be vaccinated again.  

This highly contagious virus attacks your dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. All unvaccinated dogs are at risk of contracting distemper, but puppies are at the greatest risk due to their still-developing immune systems.  

Dogs who have contracted distemper can suffer from both physical symptoms, such as fever, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea, and neurological symptoms, such as a lack of coordination, seizures, or even partial or complete paralysis. Distemper can also cause the skin on your dog’s nose and pawn pads to thicken and harden, where the virus gets names like “Hard pad disease” or “footpad disease”. Sadly, 1 in 2 dogs who are diagnosed with distemper will die, and those that survive often suffer lifelong neurological damage.  

The cost of treating distemper in dogs can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds. You’ll need to cover the costs of hospitalisations, treatments, and ongoing checkups, and there are also risks of relapses as dogs age. Thankfully, a vaccine for canine distemper is widely available from veterinary surgeries as part of a vaccination schedule for your dog and is highly recommended by vets.  

Canine Leptospirosis

Unlike the above-mentioned viruses, leptospirosis is a bacterial disease caught by your dog sniffling or licking the urine from an infected animal or by the bacteria left behind entering their body through an open wound. The bacteria can also survive for several months in wet ground or freshwater, increasing the odds of infection.  

Leptospirosis attacks a dog’s vital organs, particularly their liver and kidneys. Dogs with leptospirosis experience symptoms such as fever, jaundice, bleeding from the eyes and mouth, muscle pain and difficulty breathing. The disease can also spread to humans, which you can learn more about on the NHS website. 

While mild cases of leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, fluid drips and other medicines, in severe cases, your dog may die within the early stages of the disease, or your vet may suggest having them put to sleep rather than letting them suffer. Treating a dog with leptospirosis can be incredibly expensive with the costs of veterinary consultations and medications, but with even the early stages of the disease posing a significant risk to your dog, these costs can come on very unexpectedly and may not be covered by your insurance provider.  

Dogs that regularly kill rodents, live on farms, or spend a lot of time in water are at a higher risk of contracting leptospirosis, so if any of these apply to your dog, it’s essential you get it vaccinated against it. 

Puppy getting their primary course of vaccinationsPuppy getting their primary course of vaccinations

Canine Infectious Hepatitis

The final disease you should vaccinate your dog against is Canine Infectious Hepatitis. This virus attacks your dog’s liver, kidneys, lungs and heart, as well as the blood vessels and immune system. The symptoms dogs with hepatitis experience can vary depending on the severity of their infection and which organs are affected. In mild cases, dogs may experience low energy, lack of appetite, vomiting, coughing and diarrhoea, whereas more severe symptoms include fevers, bruising, seizures or fits, and even sudden death.  

Because Hepatitis is a viral infection and not a bacterial one, antibiotics are useless at fighting the disease. Dogs with hepatitis can be treated with intensive nursing and feeding, which will require hospitalization, as well as fluid drips, symptom-controlling medicines like anti-seizure or anti-sickness drugs, and even blood transfusions in some cases. Depending on the severity of the infection, some dogs can survive, but in severe cases, vets may recommend putting them to sleep to stop their suffering.  

The cost of treating a dog for infectious hepatitis can quickly become very expensive, especially if your dog needs to be kept in intensive care during the treatment. Many insurance providers will not cover the costs for diseases that could have been vaccinated against.  

Rabies & Kennel Cough Vaccine for Dogs

Other diseases can be vaccinated against in dogs, but these are not typically included in their main vaccinations. This is because they’re not considered “essential” to every dog but may be necessary depending on their lifestyle.  

For example, if you’re planning to travel abroad with your dog, you’ll need to vaccinate them against rabies. If your dog is going to spend time in kennels, dog groomers, or a doggy daycare facility, you may need to vaccinate it against Kennel Cough at the facility's request or for your own peace of mind. 

Dog Vaccination Schedule

When you bring a new dog into your home, whether a puppy or an adult dog, it becomes your responsibility to manage its vaccination schedule. You can organize this with your vet when you register your pet with them.  

This vaccination schedule will be split into two courses: the primary course and the boosters. 

The primary course consists of two injections spaced 2-4 weeks apart. These can be administered to puppies as young as 4 weeks old, but it’s often recommended to wait until they’re between 8 and 10 weeks (about 2 and a half months). This way, you can register your puppy with your vet, and they’ll hold all the records for the vaccinations rather than risking information being lost between clinics.  

Once the primary course of vaccinations is complete, your dog won’t need any more until a year later, when they will need their booster. It is crucial that you remain up to date with your dog’s annual booster shots to maintain their protection against harmful diseases. 

When Do Dogs Need Vaccinations?

Puppies should get their core vaccinations when they’re brought into their new home, which is usually between 8-12 weeks, depending on the breed. These two shots should be given within 2-4 weeks of each other.  

How Often Do Dogs Need Vaccines?

Adult dogs who have already had their primary course of vaccinations will only need their booster shot once a year, typically 12 months from their last one, although there may be some wiggle room either side which your vet can advise you on.  

Other than those annual boosters, your dog shouldn’t need any more vaccinations unless you’re choosing to have them vaccinated against other conditions, such as Kennel Cough.  

Vet speaking with a dog owner Vet speaking with a dog owner

How Much Do Dogs Vaccinations Cost?

How much your dog's vaccinations cost can vary depending on your veterinary clinic’s pricing and whether you’re just vaccinating against the core diseases, or if you’re having extra vaccinations on top.  

Booster vaccinations tend to be cheaper than the primary course as it’s just the single injection needed to protect your dog. The average costs of cost dog vaccinations in the UK at the time of writing (2024) are:  

  • Primary course - £70  
  • Booster - £50 

If you are looking to give your dog additional vaccinations for whatever reasons, then you should expect to pay, on average, 

  • Kennel Cough - £43 
  • Rabies - £78 

There are initiatives in place with animal rescue charities that may charge significantly less to vaccinate your dog, assuming you meet their criteria. While this can be great for owners in low-income households, the decision is down to individual charities, and you should be prepared to pay the full cost should your claim be denied.  

Are Dog Vaccines Required by Law?

While there is no legal obligation for you to vaccinate your dog, it is highly recommended for owners across the country, and even the world. While there’s no guarantee your dog will contract any of these diseases if they’re not vaccinated, prevention is always the best course of action. Not only will this protect your pet from these horrible diseases, but it could also save you tremendous amount of money and stress that would otherwise be spent on veterinary treatments since many pet insurers will not cover the cost of treating preventable diseases.  

If you’re still deciding whether to vaccinate your new puppy or want to learn more about the diseases mentioned, please speak with your vet. They are an invaluable source of information about your pet’s health.

While we can’t provide you with vaccinations for your dog, we can help you save money in other aspects of their routine healthcare, such as flea and worming treatments for dogs, eye and ear care products, and even food supplements so you can do all you can to help them live a happy and healthy life.  

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This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should thoroughly discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle with your vet before starting any program or treatment.