Are Booster Vaccines Necessary for Dogs?

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Rania Gollakner, BS DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

Primary vaccination is essential to prevent the once common deadly diseases in puppies. However, recent research indicates that not all vaccines require yearly boosters. There is no evidence that annual booster vaccination is anything but beneficial to most dogs. Published research has shown conclusively that abstaining from some boosters can put your dog at risk.

Blood tests to measure the amount of antibodies (antibody titers) are sometimes recommended to establish whether boosters are necessary for your dog. Unfortunately, these tests are often more expensive than revaccination and may be stressful for your dog. In addition, a high serum antibody may not ensure disease protection if your dog becomes exposed to a virulent strain of disease.

Government regulatory bodies have strict guidelines for vaccines, and manufacturers must prove that a vaccine is safe and effective before it can be used in your dog. Through vigilance and high standards, the veterinary vaccines used today are the safest and most protective ever.

"Through vigilance and high standards, the veterinary vaccines used today are the safest and most protective ever."

I prefer my dog to have boosters only when necessary—is this okay?

It is possible, but to determine when boosters might be necessary, the level of immunity against preventable diseases must be established by individual blood tests for antibody titers. If a specific antibody titer is low, your dog will require a booster vaccine. Currently, vaccination against a single disease may not be available, and it is likely to cost as much as a multivalent vaccine that vaccinates for multiple diseases. From your dog’s point of view, it is preferable to receive one injection against many common diseases rather than a series of single disease vaccinations.

For dogs with low-risk lifestyles or whose owners prefer less frequent vaccination, your veterinarian may recommend giving your dog certain core or essential viral vaccines on a three-year schedule.

It is important to note that administering a vaccine labeled for annual administration at a different interval, such as every three years, is an off-label use for some vaccines and may violate government regulations. Discuss the pros and cons with your veterinarian before deciding. Recent studies have demonstrated that some viral vaccines may convey at least three years of immunity. This is not the case with bacterial vaccines, which usually still require annual boosters.

Ultimately, your dog's lifestyle and relative risk determine how frequently your dog should be vaccinated. Ask your veterinarian about a vaccine program appropriate for your dog.

"Ultimately, your dog's lifestyle and relative risk determine how frequently your dog should be vaccinated."

Are there any other advantages of annual vaccination?

Not all vaccines provide protection for a year.

You and your veterinarian should decide which vaccinations your dog will receive based on your dog’s lifestyle, age, and health status. If you regularly board your dog or if he is exposed to other dogs, some vaccines, especially those for infectious bacterial diseases such as kennel cough (Bordetella), may be needed annually.

Before vaccine administration, your veterinarian will perform a health examination. You will be asked questions about your dog's health, and your veterinarian will check your dog's head, neck, chest, abdomen, muscles, skin, joints, and lymph nodes. Annual vaccines mean annual examination by a veterinarian; veterinarians frequently detect infections of the teeth or ears and sub-clinical diseases (diseases that are not presenting definite or observable symptoms), such as underlying heart conditions, metabolic problems, and organ dysfunction during these visits. Early diagnosis allows more effective and successful treatment and may improve the quality of your dog’s life.

Since dogs age more rapidly than humans, it is essential to ensure that they receive a complete physical examination at least yearly and more frequently as they approach their senior years.

Related Articles