Dogs need a number of vaccines to live a healthy life. We break down which vaccines are mandatory (versus recommended) and when your pup needs to get each one.
Each shot contains a cocktail of three “core” vaccines against canine distemper, canine adenovirus and canine parvovirus. Your vet may also prescribe “non-core vaccines” for puppies that live in rural areas or are commonly boarded with other dogs. These are for the parainfluenza virus, bordetella bronchiseptica and leptospira interrogans.
This guide explains how these vaccines will help your pup, how you should schedule the vaccines for the best results and how you can keep your pup protected as they grow older.
Which vaccines does your puppy or dog need?
The Australian Veterinary Association has identified two categories of vaccines dogs will typically need. These are core vaccines and non-core vaccines.
Core vaccines are vaccines for three life-threatening diseases that are extremely dangerous to your pup: canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus and canine adenovirus (or canine hepatitis). Your vet will give these vaccines in a single combination called the C3 vaccination and your pup will need 2 or 3 rounds of the C3 between 6 and 16 weeks of age. The C3 is necessary for all dogs no matter how they are raised or where they live in the world.
Here is a little more detail about the three diseases the C3 is designed to stop:
- Canine distemper virus (CDV). This is a highly infectious, incurable and possibly fatal viral infection that starts off by attacking your dog’s respiratory system and can later attack the brain and spinal cord leading to seizures and paralysis.
- Canine adenovirus (CAV). Also known as canine hepatitis, this is a virus that attacks the liver and kidneys leading to jaundice, loss of appetite and bleeding disorders. Most dogs recover but side effects can last for a long time.
- Canine parvovirus (CPV-2). Parvovirus is a highly infectious disease that lives in the faeces of infected dogs and can remain in the environment for up to a year. It attacks the digestive system, bone marrow and immune system (which makes infected dogs even more susceptible to secondary infections).
These vaccines aren’t necessary for all dogs all the time, but they are necessary for certain dogs whose location, environment and lifestyle make them prone to the following diseases:
- Parainfluenza virus (PI). This very contagious but non-life-threatening virus is one of the causes of “kennel cough”. It infects the respiratory system and can be especially devastating to dogs with weak immune systems like puppies and older dogs. It is usually given to dogs who are frequently exposed to other dogs like those being boarded or in a dog show.
- Bordetella bronchiseptica (Bb). This is another cause of kennel cough, although this time a bacteria is to blame. Like PI, this is a non-life-threatening respiratory illness that is commonly found in dogs who are frequently exposed to other dogs.
- Leptospira interrogans (LI). This is a bacteria that is spread through the urine of wild animals (like rodents) and through water that carries the urine. Therefore it is more common in areas with lots of wildlife, high rainfall or both. In many cases the infection is mild, but in severe cases, it can lead to meningitis and death.
If your vet thinks your pup needs these non-core vaccines, they’ll give them to your pup at the same time as the C3.
What is the difference between C3, C4 and C5?
The C3 is a single medication that contains all three core vaccines. If your vet decides to give your dog or puppy any of the non-core vaccines, they’ll do it at the same time as the C3. At that point the treatment becomes known as a C4 or C5.
Here’s how it breaks down:
C3: A single medication containing all three core vaccines.
C4: The C3 plus a second medication containing the PI vaccine.
C5: The C3 plus a second medication that combines both the PI and Bb vaccines (the two “kennel cough” illnesses).
If your dog needs a C4 or a C5, it will usually take the place of only one of your three rounds of C3.
When do I need to vaccinate my puppy?
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) recommends that your puppy gets 3 rounds of the C3 between 6 and 16 weeks of age. The organisation says not to give your pup its last shot before 16 weeks.
Here’s what the ideal puppy vaccination schedule looks like:
- 6–8 weeks: C3
- 10–12 weeks: C3 (C4 or C5 can be given in its place if the vet recommends it)
- 16 weeks: C3
It’s important to stick to this schedule as closely as possible for a number of reasons:
- You need to allow at least four weeks between each vaccination.
- You want to give your pup the final round of puppy vaccination no earlier than 16 weeks because that’s when the dog’s immune system is most capable of responding to the vaccine.
- You want all three rounds of puppy vaccination completed a soon as possible so your pup can get out into the world and socialise freely.
Some vets promote an ”early finish” schedule that consists of only 2 C3 vaccines ending at around 10 or 12 weeks old. The WSAVA recommends against this and stresses that the treatment at 16 weeks is the most important one and needs to be given on schedule.
When do I need to vaccinate my adult dog?
About 12 months after the second round of puppy vaccinations (when your dog is about 15 months old), they’ll need their first C3 “booster”, which is essentially just another C3 shot like they got before. After that, they’ll need C3 boosters every three years for the rest of their life.
If your dog needs any of the non-core vaccines, they will need to get those annually starting at about 15 months old.
When does a puppy get their first vaccination?
Your puppy should have its first vaccination between six and eight weeks of age. In fact, you usually won’t pick your pup up from the breeder until around this time, so it is likely that the breeder will have already taken the pup for their first round of vaccines. If so, they’ll have records so just take these records to your vet who will help you finish out the final two rounds according to schedule.
How much do puppy and dog vaccinations cost in Australia?
According to the RSPCA, you can expect to pay the following for your vaccinations:
- Puppy vaccinations: $170–$250 for all 3 rounds
- Dog vaccinations: $90 per year
Will pet insurance cover puppy and dog vaccinations?
Pet insurance will help cover some of the vaccination costs but only if you have a policy that includes “routine care” cover, which will cover your pup for vaccinations, worming treatments, desexing and even teeth cleaning.
You can find routine care insurance automatically built into most comprehensive pet insurance policies. You can also find routine care cover as an optional add-on to some insurers’ accident and illness policies.
Some insurers will pay up to 100% of your pet’s routine care costs up to the benefit limit listed in your policy. Others will set a benefit limit for each individual treatment (for example, $50 a year towards vaccinations). You will likely still have some out-of-pocket costs.
What is worming?
Worms are nasty little parasites that commonly infect puppies and dogs of all ages. In fact, most puppies are born with intestinal worms. So in addition to their vaccines, they’ll also need plenty of worming treatments!
When you worm your puppy or dog, you’re basically giving them a pill that kills the worms. This is different to a vaccine, which prevents rather than kills an infection.
Puppies typically need to be wormed every 2 weeks from birth until about 12 weeks old. After that, they’ll need treatment every three months. You can buy worming treatment over the counter, but make sure to follow your vet’s recommendation and remember that over-the-counter medications aren’t covered by pet insurance.
When can you let your puppy socialise?
You have to be very careful about letting your pup socialise before they are fully vaccinated because of how easy it is for them to pick up one of the devastating illnesses mentioned above.
Here are some ways you can safely socialise your pup while sticking to the recommended 16-week vaccination schedule:
- Get them used to the home environment. From the moment you bring the pup through the door, you should get them used to all the hubbub of the home. Get them playing with your other pets and introduce them to a variety of stimuli like vacuum cleaners, different types of surfaces and people wearing different clothing like hats.
- Take them to puppy socialisation classes. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour says that it is fine for your pup to do some very limited socialising in a puppy socialisation class as long as it is at least seven days after the first vaccination. Make sure the facility where the class is held is completely clean and sanitised and that all the other puppies are up-to-date with their vaccines.
- Have friends bring their dogs to your home. If you have friends with fully vaccinated dogs, you can have them bring their dogs to your home. Just make sure it is at least seven days after your pup’s first vaccination.
Whatever you do, avoid taking your puppy to dog parks or any other places where numerous other dogs commonly roam.
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