The Ultimate Pet Parent’s Guide to Dog Vaccines

05/18/2023 09:00 AM

As pet parents, we like keeping our fur babies strong and healthy. That’s essentially what dog vaccines are for; dog vaccines give an immunity upgrade for our furry companions so that they are at their strongest. 

In many places, certain  pet vaccines are legally required. Depending your region, activities you enjoy with your dog, and how often your dog interacts with other pets, different sets of canine vaccines will be recommended to you by your veterinarian.

For example, required and recommended dog vaccines in Colorado could be different from areas with different climates like Illinois, Florida, or New York. 

Aside from the well-known rabies vaccine for dogs, there are other types of dog vaccines that pet parents need to be aware of. The immunizations you choose for your pet will also need to follow a dog vaccines schedule to ensure a proper immune response. 

We’ll talk all about these dog vaccines as well as the illnesses they protect against in this complete guide. 

What’s in this Guide?

Close up of a vial of Rabies vaccine for dogs, one of the most widely known core dog vaccines

Commonly Required Core Dog Vaccines

Regardless of where you are, the most commonly required and recommended dog vaccines are the following:   

1. Rabies Vaccine for Dogs

The rabies vaccine builds up immunity against rabies in dogs. The rabies vaccine is a must-have because rabies is a deadly viral disease that affects the central nervous system. Rabies is also deadly to humans. Once a person is infected through a scratch or bite from a rabid dog, chances of survival are slim. A whopping 99% of rabies cases in humans are fatal.

More About Rabies


Dogs can contract the rabies virus by getting bitten by a rabid animal or by coming in contact with the saliva, spinal tissue, or brain matter of an infected animal (whether living or dead.)


Rabies produces symptoms in dogs like fever, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, aggressive behavior, seizures, and paralysis. 

Vet Recommendations:

In many areas of the world, the rabies vaccine for dogs is a legal requirement. But legal necessity isn’t the only reason why this vaccine is vital. Survival from rabies is extremely rare for both dogs and humans alike. This puts the rabies vaccine for dogs at the very top of the list for must-have, core canine vaccines.

2. Distemper Vaccine for Dogs

The canine distemper vaccine is typically given as a part of a combo vaccine known as the DHPP vaccine. This vaccine is important because distemper in dogs, caused by the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), is one of the most contagious and potentially deadly viral infections that dogs can get. 

More About Canine Distemper


Distemper can be transmitted from an infected animal to a susceptible dog through direct contact. Dogs can also get distemper by standing near an infected dog that is coughing. 


Distemper affects the dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system. Common symptoms of distemper in dogs include coughing, lethargy, fever, reduced appetite, vomiting, nasal discharge, and thickened skin on the paws and nose.  

Vet Recommendations:

Distemper will also lead to lifelong side effects for dogs that survive the illness. Therefore,  the distemper vaccine, which is typically administered through a combo shot called the DHPP vaccine for dogs, is one of the most important core dog vaccines to get. 

3. Parvovirus Vaccine for Dogs

The vaccine for parvovirus is typically given as a part of a combo vaccine known as the DHPP vaccine. This type of vaccine is considered a core vaccine because canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral, gastrointestinal disease which can produce serious complications. 

More About Canine Parvovirus


It is spread via contact with a contaminated object or through the ingestion of an infected animal’s feces. Though more common in puppies, parvovirus can infect older dogs too.  

This disease is not transmissible to human beings. However, wild animals like raccoons, coyotes, and minks can also be infected with it. Therefore, there is some risk involving these animals leaving droppings in your yard or on a hiking trail where your puppy or dog may go. 


The symptoms of canine parvovirus include depression, lethargy, lack or complete loss of appetite, sudden fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Though CPV is not always fatal, in some cases, it can produce dehydration or shock that leads to death. 

Vet Recommendations:

The parvovirus vaccine, which is a part of a combination shot called the DHPP vaccine for dogs, is a vital core canine vaccine. Given that a parvovirus infection can lead to life-threatening symptoms, getting this vaccine is highly recommended for all dogs. 

4. Canine Hepatitis Vaccine 

The vaccine for canine hepatitis is typically given as a part of a combo vaccine known as the DHPP vaccine. This vaccine is essential because canine hepatitis, caused by the canine adenovirus 1, is a viral, contagious disease that target’s the dog’s liver and can cause chronic problems.

More About Canine Hepatitis


Canine hepatitis is only transmissible between dogs and members of the canine family (e.g. foxes.) This disease is spread via direct contact between infected pets or animals. 


Symptoms of canine hepatitis include fever, lethargy, thirst, loss of appetite, an enlarged abdomen, jaundice, congestion of mucous membranes, deficiency of blood clotting, and a very low white blood cell count.  

Vet Recommendations: 

Acute canine hepatitis, in some cases, can be cured. But If canine hepatitis becomes chronic, it can no longer be cured, and this means the dog will need constant monitoring and treatment. For this reason, the canine hepatitis vaccine, which is administered by vets as part of a combo shot called the DHPP vaccine for dogs, is a must.

A pet parent and fur baby at Sploot Veterinary Care in Denver getting needed dog vaccines

Non-Core Dog Vaccines

The American Animal Hospital Association categorizes the following dog vaccines as “non-core.” These are recommended on the basis of specific lifestyle profiles, geographical locations, upcoming travel destinations, and individual needs.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The term non-core may lead some to mistakenly think that the absence of these vaccines poses little to no danger, even if they’re recommended by the local vet. However, some of these non-core vaccines, when neglected, can lead to fatal consequences for dogs. Furthermore, some of the diseases that non-core dog vaccines protect against are transmissible diseases to humans. 

Therefore, if your vet recommends a non-core vaccine for your dog, it’s best to take it just as seriously as the core dog vaccines. 

5. Leptospirosis Vaccine for Dogs

Leptospirosis vaccine prevents leptospirosis infection in dogs. For dogs that have the chance of contracting this disease, vaccination is important because leptospirosis is potentially fatal. Leptospirosis is an infectious bacterial disease that mainly targets the liver and kidneys of the dog or infected animal. 

More About Leptospirosis 


Leptospirosis is spread via an infected animal’s urine. The bacteria can even survive on contaminated water or soil for weeks to months. Pets can contract this disease from various sources. Sploot’s Medical Director, Dr. Sylvia Berns, DVM states, “This is a bacteria that is commonly seen in backyard wildlife including but not limited to foxes, skunks, coyotes, raccoons and even squirrels. The bacteria can be found in puddles of water and stagnant water."

Humans can also become infected with leptospirosis if they come in contact with an infected animal’s urine, as well as contaminated water or soil. For humans and dogs alike, the symptoms of leptospirosis are serious.  


The symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs include shivering, fever, muscle tenderness, difficulty in moving, lethargy, increased thirst, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and jaundice (i.e. the yellowing of the dog’s mucous membranes and skin). Leptospirosis also causes a painful inflammation within the eyes.

Vet Recommendations:

It is important for dogs who spend time doing outdoor activities and drinking from outdoor water sources to get this vaccine. If leptospirosis causes enough systemic damage, the dog may no longer survive. For the dogs that do survive, leptospirosis may cause lasting kidney or liver damage.

Proper immunization from leptospirosis prevents painful and widespread symptoms, transmission to humans, as well as chronic health problems or death. Vets will typically recommend this type of dog vaccine if there is a chance that pets can get it from the local area or in a place to which the animal is going to travel.

6. Bordetella Vaccine for Dogs

Bordetella vaccine for dogs helps in minimizing the spread of this contagious respiratory disease. Not to be confused with Bordetella pertussis, which is the cause of whooping cough in humans, Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterium that causes a disease in dogs commonly known as kennel cough. 

More about Bordetella or Kennel Cough


Kennel cough is spread via airborne droplets and direct contact between infected animals. Bacterium bronchiseptica can infect humans but cases of this are extremely rare, even with immunocompromised individuals. 


Kennel cough in dogs has a telltale symptom of a dry hacking cough, typically accompanied by retching and clear nasal discharge.

Vet Recommendations:

Though the symptoms of kennel cough are relatively mild compared to other diseases on this guide, the canine bordetella vaccine is highly recommended for dogs that socialize with other dogs or those who will be spending time at a doggy daycare, grooming salon, or boarding facility.

Note: Some establishments require dogs to have this vaccine every 6 months so it’s recommended for pet parents to check with each individual establishment. Kennel cough also has the potential to be transmitted to humans — another reason why immunizing pets to kennel cough is recommended.

A close up of a syringe with a dog in the foreground to represent dog vaccines

7. Canine Influenza Vaccine

The canine influenza vaccine protects dogs from a potentially severe or lethal infection. Canine influenza, also known as dog flu, is a contagious viral disease that targets the animal’s respiratory system. Canine influenza is caused by Type A influenza viruses that infect dogs. 

More About Canine Influenza


Canine influenza is contracted by being in close contact with dogs that have the viral infection and through airborne droplets from the barking/coughing of infected animals. To date, there is no known case of this disease being transmitted to humans. 


Canine influenza produces symptoms like fever, runny nose, cough, lethargy, eye discharge, and loss of appetite in infected dogs. The severity of a canine influenza infection ranges from mild to severe, with some cases leading to pneumonia or fatality

Vet Recommendations:

Due to the chance that canine influenza can produce severe symptoms in some dogs, the vaccine is typically recommended by vets for dogs that regularly socialize with other dogs or will go to a dog boarding facility. 

8. Lyme Disease Vaccine for Dogs

The Lyme disease vaccine protects dogs from a disease that potentially causes lifelong health issues on various systems of the dog’s body. Lyme disease in dogs can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, and nervous system. Lyme disease in dogs is caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi.

More About Lyme Disease in Dogs


This type of bacteria is typically transmitted through the bite of a blacklegged tick that carries the disease. Animals with the tick can pass it on to other animals, thereby spreading the disease. Lyme disease in dogs is different to that of humans and is therefore non-transmissible to pet owners. 


Lyme disease in dogs manifests symptoms such as fever, joint pain, lethargy, swelling of lymph nodes, and loss of appetite. If left untreated, it causes kidney failure, neurological issues, heart problems, and arthritis. 

Vet Recommendations:

In residential areas or travel destinations where a dog has (or will have) a high change of exposure to blacklegged ticks, vets are likely to recommend this type of dog vaccine. 

9. Leishmaniasis Vaccine for Dogs

The leishmaniasis vaccine protects dogs from a potentially lethal disease. Leishmaniasis or leishmaniosis is a parasitic disease that targets the skin of the dog, eyes, and/or internal organs. 

More About Leishmaniasis


The causal parasite for leishmaniasis in dogs is a vector insect known as the sand fly, a species that is prevalent in certain rural areas. Humans cannot contract leishmaniasis from their sick dog — but if the vector sand fly is still around, it can infect people in the area. 


The symptoms of leishmaniasis include lack of appetite, weakness, lethargy, fever, sudden weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding from the nose, and increased drinking. Untreated leishmaniasis in dogs will result in death in around 12 months. 

Vet Recommendations:

Veterinarians will typically recommend the leishmaniasis vaccine in places where sandflies are prevalent — or if you and your pup are traveling to a place with known cases.  

10. Rattlesnake Vaccine for Dogs

The rattlesnake vaccine will help build the dog’s immunity towards a rattlesnake bite. This dog vaccine does not make the dog 100% immune to the bite — but it will help lessen the severity of the effects. 

More About Rattlesnake Bites:

If a dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, the venom causes blood cells and skin tissue to be destroyed. The dog then suffers from tissue swelling and possible tissue necrosis (i.e. tissue death.)

Vet Recommendations:

This type of vaccine is typically recommended for dogs that frequent or live in areas where rattlesnakes live. 

Required Canine Vaccines in Denver, Colorado

If you reside in Colorado, rabies vaccine for dogs is a legal requirement for dogs 4 months and older. 

Furthermore, in places like dog parks and dog boarding facilities, the following are  typically required dog vaccinations. However, this list below is only the bare minimum — meaning establishments are well within their rights if they choose to require more vaccines as they see fit. 

  1. Rabies vaccine for dogs;
  2. DHPP combination vaccine (against distemper, canine hepatitis, and parvovirus + canine parainfluenza); and 
  3. Bordetella vaccine for dogs (against kennel cough.)
Close up of a brown dog brought to the vet to adhere to the dog vaccines schedule

Common Dog Vaccines Schedules

Following a dog vaccination schedule ensures that immunization is built up in the dog and is maintained properly. Here are the dog vaccines schedule for the most commonly recommended canine vaccines

1. Dog Vaccines Schedule: Rabies Vaccine

Initial Vaccination

  • First shot = within 10 - 16 weeks of age
  • Follow-up booster shot = one year after the first shot

Note: The above age range for the first shot is when puppies are typically vaccinated for rabies. Make sure to check with your local city or state’s ordinances or laws regarding when the rabies shot needs to be administered. For example, in Denver, dogs need to be vaccinated against rabies before reaching 6 months of age.  In California, dogs need to be vaccinated against rabies before reaching 4 months of age


  • Regular booster shots = every 1 - 3 years

Note: In Colorado, vaccination is generally done every 3 years as long as the vaccine used is intended and labeled for this duration.  

2. Dog Vaccines Schedule: DHPP Vaccine — for Distemper, Adenovirus (Canine Hepatitis), & Parvovirus (+ Canine Parainfluenza)

Initial Vaccination

  • First shot = 1 dose, best at 6 weeks of age
  • Immediate follow-up doses after the first shot = For puppies under or equal to 16 weeks of age, 3 doses spaced 2 - 4 weeks apart. For puppies or dogs (over 16 weeks of age), 2 doses spaced 2 - 4 weeks apart.
  • Follow-up single dose = 1 year after the last of the serial doses


3. Dog Vaccines Schedule: Leptospirosis Vaccine

Initial Vaccination

  • First shot = 1 dose, best at 10 weeks of age
  • Immediate follow-up shot = 3 - 4 weeks after the first
  • Follow-up single dose = 1 year after the last shot


  • Regular booster shots = Yearly

4. Dog Vaccines Schedule: Bordetella Vaccine for Dogs

Initial Vaccination

  • First shot = 1 dose, as recommended by vet or as required by establishments


  • Regular booster shots = Yearly

Note: As mentioned earlier, some establishments (e.g. grooming salons, doggy daycare facilities) require revaccination of the Bordetella vaccine every 6 months. It’s always best to double-check with each individual establishment to know what their vaccine requirements are

How Long Can a Dog Go Without Shots?

All vaccines follow guidelines on scheduling and the required number of doses. These practices ensure that the dog’s immune system responds to the vaccine or that existing immunity is maintained. 

If your dog misses a vaccination or revaccination schedule, consult with your local veterinarian immediately. The vet will generally recommend that the missed shot be administered as soon as possible. In some cases, blood tests may be required to measure the animal’s immunity. 

What If My Dog Never Got Shots?

If your dog has never received any vaccines, consult with a qualified veterinarian. It will be necessary to start the vaccination process as soon as possible — especially if your dog is at risk of exposure to certain diseases due to their environment or lifestyle.

In some cases, the veterinarian may need to perform blood tests to check for existing immunity before administering dog vaccines. In any case, your veterinarian will determine the required dog vaccines schedule of both core vaccines and additional recommended vaccines for your pet. 

A dog brought to Sploot Veterinary Care in Denver Colorado to stay ahead of dog vaccines schedule

Dog Vaccines for Pet Parents in Denver

We hope you found this complete guide on dog vaccines helpful! We covered everything from rabies vaccine for dogs to rattlesnake vaccine for dogs. If you have specific questions about canine vaccines, consult your local veterinarian. 

As for Denver pet parents, we, at Sploot Veterinary Care, are here to help. Our Denver clinic doors are open 365 days a year. So whether you have questions about the dog vaccines schedule or you want to book a vaccination appointment as soon as possible, we’re here for you. 

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