The vaccines barn dogs need

To keep your best barn buddy in good health, start with these four immunizations, then consider other conditions and diseases that pose a risk.

A great barn dog is typically an independent, self-sufficient sort of fellow. He sees every trail ride as an adventure and is usually able to keep himself out of trouble in a busy barn environment.

That said, he still needs some help from you to stay safe and healthy. Routine veterinary care is just as important for your barn dog as it is for your horse. And vaccinations are a key part of a preventive care program.

One widely relied-upon source of canine vaccination recommendations is the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The only veterinary association devoted to companion animals, AAHA has developed a set of accreditation standards that are used by more than 3,200 veterinary clinics, encompassing more than 50,000 individual veterinary professionals.

As part of their mission, AAHA periodically reviews and revises its list of recommended vaccines for dogs. The latest update to these guidelines was done in 2011 and included some significant changes, particularly concerning vaccination intervals. Here’s a quick look at the “core” vaccines the AAHA recommends every dog have.


The most common route of rabies transmission to dogs is through the bite of a wild animal that is harboring the virus. Once in the body, the rabies virus travels through the central nervous system to the brain. Signs of rabies, which may not appear for days or weeks, can be vague, ranging from restlessness to lethargy to vomiting. As the disease progresses, the dog enters either a “paralytic stage,” characterized by muscle impairment, or a “furious stage” characterized by drooling, viciousness and convulsions. Rabies is 100 percent fatal.

 Recommendations: Because rabies can be passed to people, how often a dog is vaccinated is subject to state and local laws. Puppies are typically vaccinated via a single dose no earlier than 12 weeks of age. Mature dogs are also initially vaccinated with a single dose. After this initial vaccination, dogs are given rabies boosters every year or every three years, depending on the formulation.

Canine Distemper (CDV)

Distemper is a contagious, potentially fatal viral disease. It targets a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous system. Early signs of CDV are variable but can include high fever, nasal discharge, vomiting and diarrhea. Many dogs develop vision problems as their optic nerves become inflamed. If a dog’s nervous system becomes infected, he may develop seizures or paralysis. There is no cure for distemper; with intense supportive care only 50 percent of adult dogs and 20 percent of puppies survive.

Recommendations: Vaccinate puppies against distemper starting at 6 weeks with injections every three to four weeks up to 14 or 16 weeks of age. Give a booster shot no later than one year after the initial series, and then revaccinate with single doses every three years thereafter. Dogs over 16 weeks of age can be vaccinated with a single dose, followed by revaccination every three years thereafter.

Canine Parvovirus

Although it didn’t appear in domestic dogs until the mid-1970s, parvovirus quickly established itself as a widespread problem in nearly every environment. Not every exposed dog becomes ill, but if a dog’s immune system is unable to combat the virus, it spreads to the gastrointestinal tract, where it destroys structures critical to the absorption of nutrients. The result is severe diarrhea. Parvovirus isn’t often fatal, but it can cause potentially deadly dehydration or septic shock.

Recommendations: Ideally, puppies receive their first “parvo” vaccination at 6 weeks and have subsequent injections every three to four weeks up until 14 or 16 weeks of age. Give a booster within one year of that series and again every three years thereafter. Mature dogs can be initially vaccinated with a single dose and then again every three years.

Canine Adenovirus

Canine adenovirus is responsible for two distinct illnesses in dogs: Type 1 causes infectious canine hepatitis. Dogs typically pick up this virus through contact with another dog’s urine. As the virus spreads through the bloodstream and destroys cells throughout the body, the dog’s liver becomes stressed as it attempts to clear the resulting cellular debris. Signs of canine hepatitis include vomiting, high fever and jaundice. It is usually not fatal but it can be if the dog’s liver is severely damaged. Canine adenovirus Type 2 causes respiratory illness and is one of the agents associated with “kennel cough.” This form of the virus, often spread by infected, coughing dogs in enclosed areas, causes a fever, nasal discharge and a characteristic dry, hacking cough. Treatment is supportive care and rest. Most dogs recover quickly, but the virus can also lead to pneumonia.

Recommendations: Vaccinate puppies against adenovirus starting at 6 weeks and then again every three or four weeks until they are 14 or 16 weeks of age. A booster is needed no longer than one year after the initial series and then every three years thereafter. Adult dogs can be vaccinated with a single injection and again every three years.

The 2011 AAHA guidelines also note that immunity from the distemper and parvovirus vaccines lasts at least five years and immunity from the adenovirus vaccine lasts at least seven years. This means that a healthy dog who had a strong immune response to the vaccine might not require revaccination within the recommended guidelines. Consult with your veterinarian about the benefits of using a titer test, a simple blood test that measures a dog’s antibody levels, when determining your dog’s immunization schedule.

Also, keep in mind that these are only the recommended core vaccines. Depending on your geographic location and your dog’s lifestyle, your veterinarian may recommend other vaccinations, including parainfluenza, bordetella, leptospirosis and Lyme disease.




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