Why DHLPP Vaccines Can Save Your Dog's Life

While rabies vaccinations are required by law, many new pet owners might find themselves staring down the ominous acronym of the DHLPP vaccine and wondering if it's all it's cracked up to be. Does your dog need it? What does it even stand for? How does it protect your dog?

While not required by law, the DHLPP vaccine is considered a core vaccine for puppies and adult dogs, meaning that it is considered essential for your pup's health and wellbeing. Just like human children, puppies are especially vulnerable to a host of diseases and viruses. While these diseases are serious business even in an adult dog, puppies can suffer devastating consequences when infected with a virus that an older dog might be able to fight off. That being said, the DHLPP vaccine protects against several diseases that can outright kill a dog, no matter its age. So, what does it protect against? Here's what you need to know about the DHLPP vaccine.

What Is the DHLPP Vaccine?

dog receiving dhlpp vaccine

The DHLPP vaccine is a core vaccine given to both puppies and adult dogs in order to protect them against five different canine diseases. A combination vaccine, DHLPP is an acronym that stands for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. If your dog is being vaccinated with the DHPP vaccine and you're wondering where the L went, don't worry; many veterinarians do not vaccinate routinely against leptospirosis, resulting in the DHPP vaccine.

Why Does My Dog Need the DHLPP Vaccine?

dog receiving dhlpp vaccine

It's common to vaccinate dogs against bordetella, which protects against kennel cough. However, the bordetella vaccine is considered a non-core vaccine, meaning that it's not necessary for many dogs, depending on lifestyle. Unlike the bordetella vaccine, the DHLPP vaccine is a core vaccine, meaning that it's considered essential for all dogs, regardless of lifestyle.

Simply put, vaccinating your dog with the DHLPP/DHPP vaccine is extremely important to your dog's health and is the best defense and protection against the five following highly contagious viruses for dogs.

Canine Distemper

The distemper virus is an extremely contagious virus generally spread through coughing and sneezing, though there are other avenues of uptake as well. This virus can't be cured and infection is often fatal. Even if the dog survives the virus, the lasting neurological damage can be permanent and life-altering.

Distemper can also be spread through indirect contact, such as through shared bedding or dishes. Symptoms include high fever, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and other flu-like symptoms along with several neurological symptoms like seizures and paralysis.

With their developing immune systems, newborn puppies are highly susceptible to this infection.

Canine Hepatitis

Usually caused by an adenovirus, canine hepatitis is a virus that can cause serious damage to the liver. Spread through the urine and feces of infected dogs, symptoms include high fever, anorexia, thirst, and conjunctivitis. Serious cases can cause abdominal pain, blood clotting issues, conjunctivitis, and long-term, irreversible changes to the liver and kidneys.


While this bacterial infection is sometimes skipped over in routine vaccinations, there are a few good reasons why. Many vets prefer to give this vaccination separately from the DHPP portion of the shot for safety reasons. Since lepto is primarily spread through standing bodies of water as well as the urine of infected animals, this shot might not be necessary for dogs leading a relatively sheltered lifestyle. Additionally, this vaccine only confers immunity for a year, which puts it at odds with the 3 year schedule of DHPP. Still, it's important to grab this one if your dog is at risk or you live in an area where leptospirosis is considered endemic.

Infected animals will have symptoms of fever, muscle weakness, vomiting, and possible kidney or liver failure. Like every disease on this list, this is one you don't want to mess around with.

Canine Parainfluenza and Canine Parvovirus

The last two letters in the combination vaccine stand for parainfluenza and parvovirus. While the parainfluenza virus is not deadly, it is highly contagious. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, fever, and nasal discharge. Parainfluenza isn't necessarily considered a core vaccine, but is often included as part of the larger DHLPP package.

Parvovirus, on the other hand, is a serious and often fatal disease. It causes major damage to the gastrointestinal tract, leading to vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and serious weight loss. This aggressive virus also suppresses the immune system, making the dog more vulnerable to other diseases. Puppies in particular have a hard time surviving this disease without intensive (and expensive) veterinary care. Before the parvo vaccine came along, many dogs died frequently to this devastating viral disease.

The DHLPP vaccine should be administered to puppies starting at six to eight weeks of age, and given as booster shots every three years. Just like getting your pet spayed or neutered, vaccinating against these diseases is just a part of responsible pet ownership.

Did your pup take the DHLPP or the DHPP vaccine yet? Let us know on the Wide Open Pets Facebook page!

READ MORE: Dog Congestion: What to Do When Dogs Have Respiratory Issues