Direct Line magazine

Dog vaccinations: everything you need to know

Updated on: 10 December 2020

A vet vaccinates a dog.

Just like all members of the household, your dog needs to be protected from infectious diseases. Vaccinations can significantly reduce the risk of your dog catching diseases and passing them onto others.

What are dog vaccinations?

Vaccinations mimic an infection or disease, which makes the immune system develop antibodies. These antibodies fight what they think is the disease. So, if your dog was to catch it for real, their immune system would be able to fight it.

Vaccinations are injected into the dog's body, usually at the scruff of the neck. They can also be given using nasal drops.

Are dog vaccinations necessary?

Rather than needing to treat or cure viral and bacterial diseases, it's far better to prevent your dog from catching them in the first place. Many diseases can be painful, incurable or fatal to dogs. Vaccinations are an effective way of limiting the risk, helping to protect your dog from infection while stopping disease from spreading.

Despite this, the latest Paw Report from leading veterinary charity PDSA shows that 25% of owners hadn't given their puppy its first course of vaccinations, and that 23% of dogs don't get regular boosters.

Vaccinations can protect dogs from:

  • There are two types of adenovirus. Type 1 (CAV-1) is the most severe, as it can cause liver failure. Type 2 (CAV-2) can cause kennel cough.

  • A virus that affects the nervous system.

  • Kennel cough. The name for infectious bronchitis in dogs.

  • A bacterial disease that can be fatal.

  • A viral lung infection that's highly contagious.

  • An infectious disease that attacks cells in a dog's intestines. It can be fatal.

  • Rabies. A contagious, viral disease that humans can also catch. It can be fatal.

What if I don't know whether my dog's been vaccinated?

Good breeders and rehoming charities should be able to tell you what vaccinations your dog has had. But if you don't know, it's safer to get them vaccinated than to risk leaving it.

Are dog vaccinations safe?

Generally, yes. Dog vaccines have to meet strict safety standards before they can be used in the UK. The current list of authorised dog vaccines can be found on the government website.

However, your dog should always be healthy when getting vaccinated. Although it's very rare, some dogs can react badly to the vaccine. Just talk to your vet beforehand if you're worried about it.

Do vaccinations have side effects?

Some dogs might get a rash around the area they were injected, or the area might feel sensitive. They might also appear more tired than usual. Although it's important to keep an eye on these side effects, they usually disappear after a couple of days.

Puppy vaccinations

Puppies should start getting vaccinated when they're between six and nine weeks old. After their first vaccinations, they'll need regular boosters which your vet can advise you on.

Why do puppies need vaccinations?

Dogs are more likely to recover from diseases when they're older and stronger. Newborn puppies normally have good immunity during their first weeks of life if their mother has been vaccinated (as the immunity is passed on through her milk).

However, puppies are more at risk of catching diseases and infections once they're weaned, as they haven't built up their immune system by being exposed to the outside world.

Having your puppy vaccinated is part of the responsibility of owning a dog.

What vaccinations do puppies need?

Puppies are given two injections as standard that protect them from three diseases: Adenovirus, Distemper and Parvovirus.

They also need two injections to vaccinate them against leptospirosis, which is a common disease in the UK.

When should puppies be vaccinated?

Age Vaccination(s) needed
8 weeks old
  • First core vaccination
  • First leptospirosis vaccination
10 weeks old
  • Second core vaccination
12 weeks old
  • Second leptospirosis vaccination

Optional vaccinations:

  • Canine herpes virus

  • Kennel cough

  • Rabies

Your vet can help you decide whether your dog needs any of these. They'll need the rabies vaccination if you plan on taking them abroad.

When can puppies go outside?

Your puppy can't go on walks in public places until their vaccinations have been done and are working. This is normally seven to ten days after the last injection, when your puppy is between 11 and 13 weeks.

They should also be kept away from unvaccinated dogs.

However, it's still important your puppy becomes familiar with different situations, including being around people and other dogs. Ask your vet if they know any safe classes or socialising events you can take your puppy to.

Are dog booster vaccinations necessary?

Yes. While the initial set of puppy vaccinations will set your dog up well, it'll need boosters to get the full benefits. The Royal Veterinary College recommends getting boosters done once a year. However, some boosters offer protection for longer than this. Speak to your vet to work out the best vaccination schedule for your dog.

Vaccinations are often a requirement if you're going on holiday and want to put your dog in kennels or doggy day care.

Where can you get dog vaccinations?

When you get a dog, you should register with your local veterinary practice who will be able to arrange the vaccinations. They're usually given at the surgery, although some vets can come to your house for an extra cost.

The cost of dog vaccinations

Vaccinations for dogs and puppies normally cost between £30 and £70. This is significantly less than paying for medical treatment later on - some bills can reach thousands of pounds for serious diseases. It's also upsetting to see your dog unwell and in pain.

Diseases dogs can catch


Adenovirus is a viral disease. It can be passed on through the saliva, faeces, blood and nasal discharge of an infected dog. Traces of the infection can survive for weeks or months after the infected dog has left.

There are two strains:

  • Type 1 causes a liver infection and is often fatal

  • Type 2 causes a respiratory illness

Adenovirus type 1 (also known as canine viral hepatitis)

Type 1 enters a dog's system through their mouth, throat and tonsils. It spreads to the organs and normally affects the liver most.

Symptons include:

  • Lethargy

  • High temperature

  • Swollen tonsils

  • Swollen lymph glands under the jaw

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sensitivity to bright light

When the liver swells, your dog might curl up because of the pain. Unfortunately, 20% of dogs who reach this acute stage of the infection will die. However, those who survive will recover over the following weeks.

Adenovirus type 1 can't be treated directly, but your vet will be able to control the symptoms with medication. They can also put your dog on a diet that helps with liver failure.

Adenovirus type 2

Adenovirus type 2 is a respiratory virus and is one of the causes of kennel cough (although the two are not the same). It's milder than adenovirus type 1, but vets will want to rule out any more serious illnesses before they diagnose it.

Symptons include:

  • A hacking cough

  • Retching

  • Coughing up foamy discharge

  • Nasal discharge

  • Red, inflamed eyes

It's relatively straightforward to look after a dog with adenovirus type 2. They need lots of fluids and rest. They must also be kept away from other dogs so they don't pass on the illness, or catch something more serious because of their weakened immune system.

Make sure your dog wears a harness once they're well enough to go out for a walk. A collar and lead may put too much pressure on their throat.

Most dogs will recover. But in some cases - perhaps if your dog is under a year, elderly or has existing health problems - they might catch pneumonia, which can be more serious.

Is there a vaccine for adenovirus?

Yes. Adenovirus can be prevented if you get your dog vaccinated. They need the initial course that's given to puppies, plus regular boosters throughout their life. Your vet can advise you on the best vaccination schedule for your dog.

Alabama rot

Alabama rot is a relatively new disease to the UK, first reported here in 2012. Only 153 cases were confirmed between November 2012 and March 2018, so the chance of your dog catching it is very small.

Is there a vaccine for Alabama rot?

The cause isn't known, so there's no vaccine, but some experts believe it's spread through muddy walks. Take care to wash your dog thoroughly. Make sure you're familiar with their skin and markings so you can spot anything unusual.

Symptons for Alabama rot include:

  • Skin lesions

  • Swelling

  • Ulcers

You're most likely to find inflammation on the paws, lower legs, lower body, face, mouth, and tongue.


Distemper is an incurable, sometimes fatal viral disease. It can be passed on through direct contact with the saliva or urine of an infected dog.

Early symptons As distemper progresses Later symptons
Coughing Diarrhoea Imbalance
Eye and nose discharge Thicker skin on the paw pads Weak limbs
Fever Vomiting Seizures
Poor appetite

Is there a vaccine for distemper?

Yes. The standard course of initial vaccinations for dogs provides protection. There are also booster injections.

Although distemper can't be cured, it can be prevented through the initial puppy vaccinations and regular boosters. And if your dog catches the disease, it can be controlled through medication and fluids.

Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory infection that makes infected dogs develop a hacking cough, as if something is stuck in their throat. It's passed on through the air or through bacteria on objects like food bowls and toys.

Kennel cough isn't usually serious and often clears up on its own. Healthy dogs should feel fine apart from the cough. However, puppies, older dogs or dogs with health problems may suffer from complications related to kennel cough, such as pneumonia. It's best to keep your dog away from other dogs so they don’t pass the infection on.

If you see your vet, they may recommend treating kennel cough with antibiotics.

Is there a vaccine for kennel cough?

Yes. Some of the infections that cause kennel cough are vaccinated against in the initial course of injections and in booster injections. There's a separate vaccination against the common bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica.


Leptospirosis is passed on through the urine of infected animals. It can cause long-term health complications for your dog and, in severe cases, lead to organ failure and death.

Leptospirosis has painful symptoms, including fever, muscle pain, thirst, and vomiting. It can also cause infertility.

Is there a vaccine for leptospirosis?

Yes, and it should be given every year. This will help keep your dog, other pets and yourself safe.


Parainfluenza is a respiratory infection that's similar to a human cold. It's passed on through the air, and through contact with affected dogs and their belongings. It's most contagious when lots of dogs are in the same place, such as kennels and shelters.

Symptoms include:

  • Depression or lethargy

  • A dry, hacking cough

  • Fever

  • High temperature

  • Inflamed eyes

  • Lack of appetite

  • Nasal discharge

  • Sneezing

Take your dog to the vet if they have any of these symptoms. They'll be able to diagnose the illness and, if it's parainfluenza, treat it with antibiotics. Your dog will also be given fluids or cough suppressants if they are dehydrated or in pain from coughing.

They'll need to be kept away from other dogs in case they pass on the infection. They can pass it on for up to two weeks after they've recovered.

Is there a vaccine for canine parainfluenza?

Yes. However, parainfluenza isn't one of the conditions included in the standard set of puppy vaccinations, so speak to your vet if you want to get the vaccine done.

Although parainfluenza isn't usually serious, your dog still needs to be vaccinated against it. It can cause long-term health problems in the lungs over time if it's not treated properly.


Parvovirus is a serious infectious disease that often leads to death. It's passed on through the faeces of infected dogs and is highly contagious.

Symptoms include:

  • Bloody diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Dehydration

  • Weakness

Get in touch with your vet as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. However, don't take your dog into the veterinary practice until you've been asked to (in case other dogs catch the disease).

If your dog has parvovirus, they'll be kept in isolation at the vets or hospital for between five and seven days. They'll be given treatment to strengthen their immune system so it can fight the disease. They'll also be kept hydrated and given medication to control their vomiting. There's no drug that can kill the virus outright.

It takes a lot of strength to recover from parvovirus. Many dogs (particularly younger ones) will die if they catch it.

Is there a vaccine for parvovirus?

Yes. Your dog will need to have the initial, standard set of puppy vaccinations, followed by a booster at the age of one. Your vet will let you know when they need boosters after that.

Vaccinations are crucial to stop parvovirus from spreading and killing dogs. It's most likely to affect dogs who haven't been vaccinated, or haven’t been given their booster injections.

The disease can survive on surfaces for up to nine months, so can be caught from seemingly safe objects as well as faeces and plants (including grass). Keeping a clean, ventilated home is a good thing, but it's not enough on its own.


Rabies was eradicated from the UK from all animals except bats in 1922.

Is there a vaccine for rabies?

Yes. Your dog will need a rabies vaccination if you want to take them to a country in the EU. They must be at least 12 weeks old and microchipped before they can have the vaccine and get a pet passport.

Protect your dog by making sure their vaccinations are up to date. You can also help take care of them by taking out Direct Line dog insurance.

Related articles

A dog cuddles a cat.

How to choose a pet insurance policy

To get the right pet cover policy for you, explore our tips on comparing pet insurance benefits and limitations including excess, exclusions, age limits.
A dog with a bandaged paw.

Guide to First Aid for Dogs

When something happens to our faithful friends, panic can hit. With this guide, you'll learn the best course of action to make sure your dog has the best chance to make a speedy recovery.
A grey cat is sat on a wall outside.

Cat theft - how to prevent your cat being stolen

In this guide we explore why cats are taken, how to stop theft and what to do if the worst happens.