Vaccinations in dogs

Vaccinations are the most effective tool we have to prevent serious infectious diseases in dogs. They prepare the body’s natural defences, so they can fight specific viruses and bacteria much more effectively and with less damage suffered. Which vaccines your pet needs depends on their lifestyle and circumstances.

Although we only have effective vaccines against a few diseases,  they have saved countless lives. Widespread use of vaccines has greatly reduced the number of cases of these diseases, but they are still around and case numbers quickly rise if vaccination levels drop. Like any other intervention, vaccines can have side effects, but these are usually mild when compared to how devastating these diseases are. Place of living, lifestyle , contact with other animals and travelling plans should all be considered when deciding what vaccines to give.


What it’s for

What are vaccines for in dogs?

We think of two categories of vaccinations in dogs:

Core vaccinations

These are some of the most dangerous diseases dogs can suffer from in the UK, but vaccines are very effective at protecting against them. They are very contagious between dogs, and can also be caught from places frequented by other dogs even without direct contact. You can read about core vaccines in the UK below or tap their names for more detailed information.


  • Viral disease of puppies and young dogs
  • Causes severe vomiting, bloody diarrhoea and suppresses the immune system
  • Often fatal

Canine Distemper

  • Viral disease
  • Initially causes vomiting, diarrhoea and pneumonia
  •  Later signs of brain disease, such as seizures and abnormal behaviours
  • Can be fatal, and surviving dogs are often left with brain or eye damage for life
  • Rare nowadays as vaccines are very effective at preventing it

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

  • Virus that causes sudden, severe liver failure
  • Typical symptoms are jaundice, vomiting, fever and lethargy.
  • Unvaccinated dogs usually succumb in 2-3 days.

Optional vaccinations

These are for diseases that are either less common, less severe, less contagious or are only a risk under certain circumstances. You can read about relevant ones in the UK below or follow the links for more information.

Leptospirosis (Lepto)

  • Bacterial infection that causes kidney and liver damage.
  • Passed on by other animals, most commonly by contact with rat urine.
  • Some strains can come from farm or wild animals.
  • This disease can be passed to humans and causes severe disease.
  • Treated as a core vaccine in UK due to being widespread
  • There are many strains of this bacteria. Two vaccines are available, an older one against two strains and a more recent one against four.


  • No cases of Rabies have been reported in the UK for many decades, so this vaccine is only recommended when travelling abroad.
  • Cases are occasionally detected in Europe and common in other continents.
  • Very contagious and dangerous to dogs and people, it causes brain and nerve disease and is fatal in dogs (and often in people).
  • Vaccines are very effective at preventing it

Kennel cough

  • Caused by multiple agents
  • Vaccines are available against the bacteria Bordetella and the virus Parainfluenza (the canine strain)
  • Affects the upper airways, causing coughing and sneezing
  •  Very contagious but usually mild
  • Many boarding kennels will request that this vaccine has been administered

Other vaccines are available, but are either not effective enough to justify widespread use or are only necessary in very specific situations, such as for breeding or hunting animals.


How it’s done

How do vaccines work?

  • Vaccines give our body a chance to get a practice run against a harmless version of an infectious agent.
  • A killed or weakened infectious agent is administered into the body
  • The body learns to prepare defences quickly if the real thing comes along
  • In some cases this completely blocks a disease from entering the body, in others it reduces the symptoms and speeds up recovery.
  • The stored defences tend to become less active over time, so regularly getting more practice in helps the response stay strong and effective. Depending on the vaccine, boosters may be recommended every 1-3 years.



How much do vaccines cost?

Vaccines are difficult and expensive to produce, but the widespread use of the common ones allows their final cost to be within the affordable range. What is included in the price of vaccination:

  • A health check: a vet has to make sure the animal is in good health. This is to reduce the chance of side effects and make sure the animal’s immune system is up for the task (otherwise the vaccine may not work).
  • The consultation fee: accounting for the vet’s time and expertise. The consultation cost depends on area and type of practice, among other factors.



What are the risks of vaccinations in dogs?

Vaccinations are one of the most common and safe treatments in medicine, but any intervention has the potential for complications. The following side effects are commonly discussed:


Side effects

Most common side effects from vaccinations in dogs

  • Mild reactions
    • Fever
    • Lethargy (being quiet and not themselves)
    • Soreness or swelling at the injection site

Last 1-2 days after vaccination

Cause: the immune system being hard at work


  • Monitoring
  • Anti-inflammatories

Rare side effects

Allergic reactions to vaccines

These happen once in any 10000 vaccinations given.

  • Anaphylactic reactions:
    • Severe
    • Happens within minutes of the vaccine being given. Symptoms include:
      • Collapse
      • Struggling to breath
    • Tip: Stay near the vet practice for 10-20 minutes after your dog gets a new vaccine.
  • Delayed allergic reactions:
    • Swelling of the face and puffy eyes
    • Hives and itching
    • Tip: Discuss with a vet to be safe
  • Immune-mediated reactions:
    • Still under much discussion and investigation. It is extremely rare.
    • Some vaccines trigger the immune system to destroy red blood cells and platelets, causing severe blood loss.

Vaccine inefficacy

  • Causes:
    • Your dog being unwell at the time the vaccine was given
    • Genetics
    • Presence of maternal antibodies in puppies younger than 12 weeks of age
  • Risks:
    • The animal may then be unknowingly exposed to disease, believing it is protected.
  • What to do:
    • Blood tests to check the levels of antibodies
    • Some countries request a blood test to confirm the Rabies vaccine has been effective before allowing a pet in


Recovery tips

Recovery tips after vaccination in dogs

  • Most dogs will forget about their vaccine as soon as they leave the vet, and show no bother at all.
  • If soreness or mild swelling develops, applying cold to the area may help. This must be proportional to the dog’s size and be monitored closely.
  • If your dog is unwell, keep them quiet for a day or two and give them some extra TLC.


When to worry

When to worry about your dog after a vaccination

Seek help from a vet immediately if your dog develops:

  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Fainting
  • Laboured breathing
  • Severe swelling of the face

Call a vet straight away if your dog develops:

  • Spots/hives on their skin
  • Puffy eyes and/or lips
  • Itchiness
  • Lethargy

Speak to an online vet in the Joii app or call your vet for an appointment if:

  • Swelling or soreness is still present after several days
  • Your pet is still acting out of character or eating poorly after 2-3 days
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