Core vs. Non-Core Canine Vaccines

Being a dog owner comes with many responsibilities to ensure your four-legged friend stays healthy and happy. Along with regular vet visits, vaccinations are an essential part of your dog’s health and wellness care. They help prevent deadly viruses and infections, while arming your dog with antibodies in the case that they do come across a life-threatening disease (like rabies, for example). 

When it comes to prepping your puppy’s immune system to fight harmful viruses, canine vaccines fall into one of two categories: core and non-core vaccinations. So which vaccines are essential, and which can you skip? Read on to find out.

Core and Non-Core Vaccines

Vets segment vaccinations into two categories: core and non-core vaccines. You can think of core vaccines as the essential requirements for your pup’s overall health, while non-core vaccines are more lifestyle aligned, and recommended depending on your dog’s day-to-day lifestyle and location.

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines are typically started during the first year of your puppy’s life, with a few followed up every few years with a booster to help maintain immunity. These core vaccines are vet recommended for all dogs, and help shield them from dangerous – and potentially deadly – diseases which, thanks to vaccines, are completely preventable.

  • DHPP: The DHPP vaccine prevents deadly viral infections, including distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus, and is administered every 3 years to keep your pup protected.

    Without this vaccine, you put your dog at risk of contracting canine distemper, a very contagious viral infection that attacks a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological systems, along with the parvo virus, which targets  a dog’s gastrointestinal tract and suppresses their immune system and heart. DHPP also shields your dog from the damage hepatitis can cause to the liver, kidneys, spleen and lungs.
  • Rabies: The rabies vaccine is the only vaccine for dogs that is more than just vet-recommended – it’s actually required by law. That’s because this life-saving vaccine not only protects your dog if they’re on the receiving end of a bite from an infected animal, but also by protecting others if your pup is caught in a fight and bites another dog.

    Beginning at 16 weeks, dogs are required to receive the shot yearly (or every three years, depending on the dose and your state laws). Without it, you could be cited, along with getting your dog taken by animal control. 

Non-Core Vaccines:

Non-core vaccines are just that – not core to a dog’s health, and are therefore not required. Instead, they are typically vet-recommended depending on your dog’s lifestyle. 

  • Bordetella: This vaccine, administered via a squirt in the nose, can help prevent kennel cough. It’s mainly recommended for more social dogs and those who are boarded often. Additionally, senior dogs and those with weaker immune systems are also recommended to get the vaccine. But, if your dog is mainly home-bound, you can usually skip this shot.
  • Influenza: The influenza vaccine doesn’t necessarily prevent an infection, but can reduce the overall severity and duration of canine influenza. If your dog is around other dogs and communal areas a lot (like a kennel or doggy daycare), your vet may recommend this vaccine in parallel with a bordetella vaccine to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Leptospirosis: Leptospirosis is a zoonotic bacterial disease, and is contagious from dogs to humans via exposure to dog or rat urine, or any other bodily fluid, including vomit and saliva. Typically, dogs contract the disease by swimming in, or drinking, stagnant water that has been contaminated with the bacteria.

    The leptospirosis vaccine is not recommended unless there’s a good chance your dog will be exposed to the disease. That’s because the vaccine’s efficacy can be short-lived, and reactions ranging from mild to severe are common. It’s also worth noting that, while the leptospirosis vaccine doesn’t always prevent infection, it can reduce the symptoms.

    If you live in an area that has a leptospirosis outbreak, it’s best to contact your veterinarian to determine if your dog should receive the vaccine or not.
  • Lyme Disease: Also considered a “lifestyle vaccine,” lyme disease vaccinations are mainly recommended for dogs that live in areas known for Lyme disease and high potential for tick exposure. Depending on your location, your veterinarian may or may not recommend this vaccine. 

There are a lot of decisions to make when it comes to vaccinating your dog, especially with non-core and lifestyle vaccines. As with any health-related decision, if you’re wondering what non-core vaccinations your dog should receive, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian to make the best decision for your dog’s wellness needs. 

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