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Do I really have to vaccinate my dog (or cat) every year?

More and more people worry about over-vaccinating their pets, and unfortunately there’s lots of conflicting and confusing advice out there. We want to keep our pets safe- but how do we do that when it comes to vaccinations? The vaccinations protect against some really nasty diseases (I’ve seen plenty of dogs die from Parvo, you really wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy!), yet some dogs have quite severe reactions to the vaccine itself, and there is concern that vaccinating too much may lead to chronic health issues.


The background bit:

Before we start, you need to know that dogs don’t get the same vaccination every year (cats typically do, more on that next time). For their puppy vaccination course and their first booster, dogs get the full vaccine, against Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvo and Leptospirosis (+/- Kennel Cough), then for the next two years it’s the small vaccine, just Lepto (+/- Kennel Cough), and every 3rd year it’s the full vaccine again.


Puppy Course 1 Year 2 Years 3 Years 4 Years 5 Years 6 Years 7 Years
Full Full Lepto Lepto Full Lepto Lepto Full


We know that the core vaccine (that it given at the full vaccine, and covers Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvo) lasts for at least 3 years, but can last much longer, up to the life time of the dog. But we don’t know for which dogs it lasts longer and for how long, so to be on the safe side, we vaccinate against these diseases every 3 years.

We also know that immunity against Leptopirosis (and Kennel Cough) only lasts up to a year, so we repeat this every year.

It has always been possible to check whether a dog is still protected against the core diseases, but it was so expensive that only very few people had it done.

These days though, titre testing is much more affordable, and in my mind really is the obvious thing to do.


Titre testing is a blood test that will tell you if your dog still has immunity against the core diseases: Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvo. It does not test for immunity against Leptospirosis, because this only lasts for a year anyway and therefore needs to be repeated yearly.


So this is how it could work:

Full puppy course and first booster, then small vaccine at year 2 and 3 (this is how it is routinely done pretty much everywhere), then in year 4, rather than giving the full vaccine again, run a titre test, and only give the vaccine if needed. But do vaccinate against Lepto every year. A positive titre test means your dog is protected for at least 1 year, and it’s recommended to then titre test every year to be sure the cover still lasts.


Puppy Course 1 Year 2 Year 3 Years 4 Years Onwards
Full Full Lepto Lepto Lepto + Titre Test,
Give full vaccine only if needed


Don’t take my word for it, though- check out www.wsava.org/Guidelines/Vaccination-Guidelines and @vaccicheck for their advice on titre testing.

Next time your dog is due a booster, ask for a titre test first instead. Or sign up for one of our popular titre testing sessions.

For more ways in which titre testing is useful check here and for titre testing in cats check here.

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