Do Dogs Need Booster Shots Every Year

Dr. Joe Alcorn, M.S., D.V.M.

Dr. Joe Alcorn is founder of Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and his advice has been featured in large publications like Bustle and Martha Stewart.

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There’s an ongoing debate on whether or not dogs really need annual vaccinations. Some argue that they can be harmful to dogs. Over-vaccination can pose risks to your dog like allergic reactions and life-long chronic disease. So it begs the question, do dogs need booster shots every year?

Do Dogs Need Booster Shots Every Year?

The AAHA and WSAVA have set some guidelines regarding dog vaccines. There’s no law or formal requirements for veterinarians to follow their suggested schedules for annual dog vaccines. The only vaccination required by law is rabies and this is usually done with an initial vaccination and one-year booster. Some U.S states only require it every three years.

What Are Some The Benefits Of Booster Shots?

Vaccines protect your dog against contagious, potentially fatal diseases, according to Margret Casal, DMV, PhD. Casal is an associate professor of medical genetics at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. 

Several published studies have shown vaccines can provide immunity longer than a year and sometimes a lifetime. According to veterinarian Jean Dodds, founder of Hemopet, distemper and parvo immunity lasts a minimum of five years, with some getting to 7 to 9 years and a lifetime. 

What Are Some Of The Risks Of Booster Shots?

Your vet should follow the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Guidelines. For core vaccines, a schedule of one year after the initial puppy series of vaccines and then every three years after that. 

In the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) 2015 vaccination guidelines, it states that:

“Vaccines should not be given needlessly. Core vaccines should not be given any more frequently than every three years after the 6 or 12-month booster injection following the puppy/kitten series, because the duration of immunity (DOI) is many years and may be up to the lifetime of the pet.”

There’s also evidence from Richard Ford, DVM, that vaccines for cats may cause cancer. Most scientists believe this is because of a chemical called an “adjuvant”. While there is no evidence that this is also prevalent in dogs, you should be wary about what vaccines you administer to your dog. It’s better to do your own research regarding a vaccine before you get a shot.

Vaccines can also make your dog sick and lethargic and can induce diarrhea. Luckily, fatal reactions are extremely rare cases. The most common adverse reactions are mild and short-term, including reduced appetite, fever, and swelling at the point of injection. Allergic reactions may appear within minutes or hours and may include vomiting, diarrhea, swelling, and difficulty breathing. 

What Shots Do Dogs Need Every Year?

By law, there are no shots required for your dog annually, except the rabies vaccine which is a must for most states of the United States. There are core vaccines heavily recommended by the AAHA. Your dog should receive these initially as a puppy (3 vaccines between 8-16 weeks of age). These are:

Woman cradling her puppy after getting his yearly booster shot
  • Canine distemper (CDV)
  • Canine parvovirus 2 (CPV-2)
  • Canine adenovirus 2 (CAV)

While many people also consider the rabies vaccine a core vaccine, your dog should only receive it once at the age of 12 to 16 weeks, then a year later, after that is once every three years. 

At What Age Do You Stop Vaccinating Your Dog?

Dogs that are older than seven years of age are senior pets. Senior dogs are in the life stage where the aging process is beginning to affect every organ system. Some organs wear out faster and are likely to get some damage gradually so it’s important that you keep track of your dog’s condition.

Make sure you know your vaccination history. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccine schedule that is fitting for your senior dog’s health and lifestyle. Senior dogs will usually get most vaccinations every three years. Some don’t even need one if vaccines can last them a lifetime. 

However, some vaccines have a shorter time of immunity. Some examples are leptospirosis, Lyme disease, and kennel cough. Your dog might receive vaccines for these diseases more frequently, usually every six to twelve months.

How Do You Know Your Dog is Protected? 

Core vaccines your puppy got at an early age can protect them for several years and a lifetime in some cases. If you want to make sure your dog is really protected, you can ask the vet for blood work, called titer testing. It’s a tool that helps assess the condition of your pet’s immune defenses against specific infections. 

Dog wrapped in a blanket

What Should You Do Before Going to the Veterinarian?

Sometimes you go to the veterinarian without any clue on what you should do. Some people also get overwhelmed with the lots of information the veterinarian tells them that they forget to ask questions and do what they were instructed to do. Here is some advice you should follow so you can decide for yourself if your dog really needs a booster shot: 

  • Make sure you have a clear mind whether you want your dog to receive vaccinations or not. You should know better the condition of your dog based on their behavior. Make sure you have an understanding of what vaccines are recommended like Bordetella and why the vet recommends it.
  • Do some research about the pros and cons of vaccines. That way, you can have a productive conversation between your veterinarian and get a better grasp of your dog’s overall health. There are plenty of materials like the AAHA guidelines to start you off for reference. 
  • Bring a list of your dog’s current medications, supplements, medical history, and other medical-related stuff. This includes things like medicine dosage, frequency, and duration.


You don’t really have to get your dog booster shots every year. In fact, most dog care organizations recommend getting one every 3 years. While they do help a lot in keeping your dog away from infections and diseases, too much of it can also be risky. Make sure you educate yourself so that you can assess your dog’s condition better and decide if your dog really needs an annual booster shot or not.