SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Vaccinations for dogs

If you have a dog it’s important that you understand the vaccines available to them and how these protect your pet’s health.

Canine parvovirus

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious disease of dogs. Puppies and dogs who are not vaccinated are most susceptible to the virus. It infects and kills cells that are rapidly growing and dividing, such as those in the bone marrow and intestines. This results in severe gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and haemorrhagic diarrhoea), and deficiencies of white and red blood cells. In growing animals it can also affect heart muscle, sometimes resulting in death or causing life-long heart problems.

The virus is shed in a dog’s faeces and vomit, and is transmitted by direct contact or through fomites contaminated with the virus (for example, bedding, cages, food dishes, surfaces, and the hands or clothing of people who come into contact the infected dog or its faeces or vomit). Parvovirus is resistant to many disinfectants and can persist in the environment for up to a year, so public areas present a risk of infection for dogs or puppies who are not fully vaccinated.

The incubation period (time from infection until clinical signs develop) is typically 7-10 days, but it can be as long as 14 days. Viral shedding can occur up to three days before clinical symptoms are seen. Symptoms of parvovirus include lethargy, severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhoea that results in life-threatening dehydration. If a dog becomes ill with parvovirus they urgently need to be seen by a veterinarian. They will need supportive care that includes pain relief, treatment for dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, and protein loss, and medications to try and prevent secondary bacterial infections and stop vomiting. Unfortunately, animals with parvovirus need intense care which can be difficult and expensive and many dogs do not survive.

Fortunately, this deadly disease is easily prevented by keeping your dog up to date with vaccinations. A series of initial vaccinations and regular booster vaccinations are needed to protect your puppy or dog. Puppies who are not yet fully vaccinated are at risk of becoming infected and you should talk to your veterinarian about the best way to protect your puppy while still socialising them.

Canine distemper

Dogs of all ages can be affected by canine distemper if they have not been vaccinated but the risk is greatest for puppies under 20 weeks of age.

Canine distemper virus is shed in all of the body secretions of infected animals; it is usually spread by direct contact with an infected dog, but can also be spread by aerosol or respiratory droplet exposure. The virus can survive in the environment for at least several hours, and during that time it can be transmitted through fomites contaminated with the virus (for example, bedding, cages, food dishes, surfaces, and the hands or clothing of people who come into contact the infected dog or its secretions). The virus can be shed by asymptomatic or mildly infected dogs, and animals who have recovered from the disease; this increases the risk of environmental contamination and highlights the need for vaccination to protect dogs form the disease.

Distemper virus can affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal, skin, immune and nervous systems. This can result in a varied range of clinical signs and a potential fatal disease. The most common signs include: nasal and ocular discharge, fever, loss of appetite and depression initially, sometimes followed by coughing, vomiting, and diarrhoea later in the course of the disease. Dogs can sometimes develop neurological signs after they recover from the initial gastrointestinal and respiratory disease.

Thankfully, due to widespread vaccination, canine distemper is now uncommon in New Zealand but it is important to keep protecting our dogs against this disease.


Leptospirosis is a serious disease that affects the liver and kidneys, and in severe cases can be fatal. A variety of animals may be infected by the bacteria that causes Leptospirosis and can shed the organism in their urine and contaminate the environment. Rodents are the most common source of infection. Leptospirosis can also infect people, generally through direct or indirect contact with contaminated urine.

Affected dogs can show the following clinical signs: fever, lethargy, reluctance to move, not eating, drinking and urinating more, vomiting, diarrhoea, yellow tinged mucous membranes (due to liver damage), and respiratory difficulty.

Talk to your veterinarian about whether your dog should be vaccinated against leptospirosis. Vaccination is recommended for dogs at risk of exposure. Dogs who drink from, swim, or wade in water sources are at risk of infection and exposure to wildlife, rodent or farm animals and their urine is also a risk factor.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious Canine Hepatitis is a serious disease that can be fatal to dogs. It can result in fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, haemorrhagic diarrhoea, abdominal pain, dehydration, conjunctivitis, difficulty breathing, cough, corneal oedema (“blue eye”), and, rarely, yellow tinged mucous membranes (due to liver damage), or neurologic signs. The virus can be spread by direct contact with infected body secretions, saliva, faeces and urine, or through fomites contaminated with the virus (for example, bedding, cages, food dishes, surfaces, and the hands or clothing of people who come into contact the infected dog or its secretions). The disease is now relatively uncommon due to good vaccination practices but cases do appear due to lapses in vaccinations.

The ‘Kennel Cough’ vaccine

Most dogs are routinely vaccinated against “Kennel Cough”. The name “Kennel Cough” refers to Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex which is a group of infectious agents that result in highly contagious respiratory disease.

While the vaccination against Kennel Cough is not 100% preventative, vaccinated dogs are less likely to be infected by the infectious agents contributing to Kennel Cough, and if they are infected the disease is not likely to be as severe and they are likely to recover quicker.

This vaccination is usually a requirement for dogs going into boarding kennels and dog day care facilities and may also be beneficial for dogs visiting areas where they mix with different dogs.

It is recommended that you discuss this vaccination with your veterinarian.

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