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Core Dog Vaccines

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

What Are “Core” Vaccines?

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) publishes guidelines that classify vaccines as core, non-core and not recommended. Core vaccines are those that the AAHA and most veterinarians believe that all dogs should receive. Core vaccines usually are given in a short series starting at 7 or 8 weeks of age, followed by boosters at varying intervals. This article highlights core canine vaccines that are widely accepted by the veterinary community as being important for domestic dogs.

Core Canine Vaccines

Canine Distemper

Distemper is a contagious viral disease that causes mild to severe respiratory and central nervous system disease primarily in young dogs. It can be fatal. Modified live and recombinant distemper vaccines are available.


Infectious hepatitis is a contagious disease caused by a canine adenovirus. Because vaccination against hepatitis is so effective, this disease is rare in the United States. The modified live hepatitis vaccine protects against hepatitis and several viruses that contribute to kennel cough.


Parvo is a highly contagious and potentially fatal viral disease that targets the digestive and respiratory tracts and the central nervous system. Newer modified live vaccines are more effective against parvovirus infection than killed vaccines and cross-protect against most of its known strains.


The parainfluenza virus is the main infectious organism that causes kennel cough. Available vaccines, including injectable and intranasal vaccines, reduce the severity of parainfluenza infection but don’t prevent it. Show dogs, dogs being boarded and other dogs at increased risk of getting kennel cough may benefit from twice-yearly parainfluenza vaccination. The AAHA doesn’t consider this to be a core vaccine, although it is part of the popular DA2PP/DHPP combination vaccine discussed below.


All mammals, including people, can get rabies, which is almost always fatal. Rabies is the “great pretender,” because its signs are so variable. Rabid animals may act "dumb" and be listless, weak or partially paralyzed. Or, they may have the "furious" form of rabies, characterized by odd behavior and aggression. Some rabid animals just hang out their tongues and drool. Current injectable rabies vaccines are safer than older formulations. Authorities recommend vaccinating puppies against rabies between 4 and 9 months of age, followed by a booster one year later and every 3 years after that, depending on the particular vaccine used. In many areas, vaccinating dogs (and cats) against rabies is mandatory under state law.

How Vaccines Are Given

The most common protocol is to give dogs a single combination vaccine against distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and parainfluenza between 7 and 8 weeks, 11 and 12 weeks and again at 16 weeks of age. The vaccine in this puppy series is called “DHPP” or “DA2PP.” Boosters are recommended at 12 to 16 months and every 3 years thereafter. A combination vaccine that adds leptospirosis is available. Current recommendations are to vaccinate against leptospirosis separately from core vaccination, and only in endemic areas. Rabies vaccines should also be given separately. When to vaccinate, and which vaccines to give, depend on where a dog lives and travels, its age and health and the preferences of its veterinarian and owner.

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