Non-Core Vaccines for Puppies - dummies

By Sarah Hodgson

Vaccines can help prevent numerous diseases in puppies. Your veterinarian will recommend many different vaccines for your puppy. Core vaccines are considered essential because the diseases they prevent are common and highly contagious. These non-core vaccines may be a good idea, too, depending where you live and what your puppy is exposed too.

Non-core vaccines may be specific to a given geography (for example, a Lyme vaccine is important in areas where the tick-borne disease is rampant) or may be considered optional if the effects of the disease are not life threatening. Speak to your veterinarian about these vaccines and decide which if any are essential for your puppy’s health and well-being.


Bordetella is the classic kennel-cough vaccine that’s required by most dog facilities. Passed through feces and saliva, it’s highly contagious (though nonfatal) and results in symptoms including a dry cough, loss of appetite, fever, and nasal discharge. In advanced stages, it can develop into pneumonia (detected by a chest X-ray).

Though kennel cough has no medicinal cure, you can ease your puppy’s suffering by

  • Keeping your puppy calm, because exercise triggers coughing spasms

  • Moistening dry food to prevent rough kibble from aggravating her throat

  • Removing her collar

  • Offering time in a steamy bathroom or near a humidifier if the cough seems severe


Parainfluenza used to be limited to horses, but recently a strain of the virus has affected dogs as well. A more serious strain of kennel cough than bordetella, this highly contagious virus has a higher mortality rate and is a concern in dog facilities. Depending on the severity of the case, antibiotics may be given.


Cononavirus is a highly contagious virus that lodges in your puppy’s intestinal tract and causes fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Passed through feces, it runs its course in two to ten days. Although it’s not deadly, there is some debate as to whether it lowers a puppy’s resistance to other viruses, such as parvovirus.

Routine vaccinations starting at 6 weeks prevent this disease. If it takes hold, lots of fluids help to flush it out, and in advanced stages it will require medication to curtail symptoms like diarrhea.


Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, has not one but eight strains. Carried in the bloodstream, it can affect many internal organs but seems to do the most damage in the liver and kidneys. Both wild and domestic mammals can transmit the disease through contact with urine and stagnant water. Symptoms include vomiting, fever, weight loss, and overall pain and discomfort. It’s easy to diagnose through a blood sample.

Treatment involves a round of penicillin or antibiotics to help your puppy rid her system of the bacteria. Left untreated, it can be fatal in puppies younger than 6 months. Speak to your veterinarian about the prevalence of leptospirosis in your area.

Lyme disease

Lyme, a tick-borne bacterial disease, attacks a puppy’s nervous system and causes a whole host of ailments that should trigger suspicion, including lameness, swollen joints and lymph glands, loss of appetite, lethargy, and aggression. The odd thing about these symptoms is that they may disappear and reappear suddenly, and the joint pain and swelling may shift overnight from one leg to another.

The medical treatment involves a series of antibiotics. Left untreated, Lyme disease may cause severe kidney disease that can lead to renal failure and death. If that’s not bad enough, Lyme disease can also cause heart disease and nervous disorders in advanced stages.


Giardia can be found in open water where your puppy may pause innocently to quench her thirst, and it’s contagious to other dogs and people. A vaccine is now available to build your puppy’s resistance to giardia. Speak to your veterinarian if you feel your puppy may be at risk.