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    Feb 9, Puppy Vaccines: What, When and Why of your Puppy’s First Shots

    Puppy Vaccines  by Janice Jones  |Last Updated 02-09-2023

    Puppy vaccinations can
    prevent deadly diseases but they are not without controversy.  Why is there so much confusion over something
    as simple as puppy shots?

    Experts know much about
    vaccines today, but there are also unknowns. 

    There is little agreement
    even among veterinarians as to what is best for each dog.  What is worse, many people have heard horror
    stories about vaccine reactions in people. 
    With such controversy, wouldn’t it just be easier not to vaccinate at
    all?  Some think so, but read on.

    Puppies are not naturally
    immune to diseases.   But, if their mother has been immunized or previously
    had the disease, she will pass on her antibodies via the placenta in utero.  Then the puppies will receive more protection
    once they have ingested their first milk. 

    This first milk or colostrum
    is produced by the mother for the first 36 to 48 hours after birth and is rich
    in antibodies that the mother may have. 
    If the mother has none, she will not pass any protection onto her

    Puppy VaccinesPuppy Vaccines

    If Puppies are Protected, Why Vaccinate? 

    The antibodies do not last
    forever.  Eventually, the puppy will not
    have the necessary level of antibodies needed to ward off the disease and will
    need a shot to protect him. 

    If the pups
    continue to nurse, the maternal antibodies will protect the baby, but they will
    also block the effectiveness of any shots that might be given. 

    The idea behind puppy shots is to time them
    in such a way so that once the level of antibodies is low enough the vaccine
    will work. 

    Timing of Puppy Vaccines

    There seems to be a wide
    window of time when puppies can be immunized successfully.  According to Dr. Fosters and Smith, only 25%
    of six week old puppies would have low enough levels of maternal antibodies circulating
    in their system to be immunized successfully. 

    By nine weeks, the percentage
    of maternal antibodies rises to 40%, then 60% by 16 weeks and 95% by 18

    Only one shot is needed to
    give the puppy protection from these deadly diseases for one year.

    The trick is deciding when to
    give it.  If the pup receives the shot
    too soon, it won’t be effective; too late and the puppy is at risk of getting
    the disease.  This is why veterinarians
    recommend a serious of 3 shots, spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart. 

    What are Puppy Vaccines?

    Vaccines contain antigens that
    resemble the disease causing organism. 

    There are three types of

    • Modified Live Vaccines (MLV)
    • Inactivated or Killed Vaccine
    • Recombinant

    Modified live vaccines
    contain a weak strain of the disease but since it was modified will not cause
    the actual virus.  These vaccines are
    considered to be quick and produce a long lasting immunity.

    The inactivated or killed
    contains the killed whole disease agent.  It is the oldest method and is considered
    more stable, with the longest shelf life. 
    The immunity achieved is slower than the Modified Live Vaccine
    (MLV).  These vaccines require an adjutant to be
    effective.  Adjutant are chemicals that
    can result in increased risk of vaccine reaction. 

    technology is new providing respectable results.  These vaccines
    are some of the most advanced vaccines used in veterinary medicine. Recombinant
    vaccines use only portions of the selected genetic sequences. 

    The vaccine does not expose the dog to the
    whole disease causing organism. The best
    benefit of Recombinant Technology is that the vaccine cannot become disabled by maternal
    antibodies like what happens with the other two types of vaccines.

    What Puppy Vaccines Does Your Dog Need?

    In 2011, the American Animal
    Hospital Association (AAHA) provided updated canine vaccination guidelines
    recommending timing of shots.  AAHA
    divided vaccines into three categories:  Core,
    Non-core, and Not recommended.

    Core Puppy Vaccines:  Those Recommended Shots for All Dogs

    Core vaccines are those suggested
    for all dogs because the disease is highly contagious, very severe or life
    threatening or have a chance of being passed onto people.  At present, there are four core vaccines,
    three of which are usually administered together in one shot.


    Parvovirus is
    a contagious disease that can be fatal if not caught early.  It appeared out of nowhere in the early 1970s
    causing much suffering and death in dogs who were exposed which was a larger
    percentage of the canine population.

    Vomiting and profuse, foul
    smelling mucus/bloody diarrhea are often the first symptoms seen in dogs, but
    fever (greater than 105 degrees F.) and severe lethargy is also common. 

    Treatment consists of
    medications to control vomiting and diarrhea, IV fluids, and supportive care.

    The AAHA recommends that
    puppies begin their shots between 6 and 8 weeks of age and then receive
    boosters every 3 to 4 weeks.  The last
    shot should be given between 14 and 16 weeks. 

    Puppies should be vaccinated at one year of age and then about every
    three years.  Veterinarians often alter
    this schedule, so check with your vet for their recommendations.


    Distemper is
    a disease that is potentially deadly.   It is caused by a virus similar to the one
    that causes measles in people.  An
    infected dog will shed the virus in all body secretions making it highly contagious.  Secondary infections and
    complications to this disease can occur.

    Dogs suffering from distemper
    will have a fever, appear listless, stop eating and have a watery discharge
    from their eyes and nose.   If you think
    these symptoms sound like the common cold, you are right, but soon the nasal
    discharge becomes thick, sticky and yellow. 

    Soon afterwards, vomiting and diarrhea occur.  The classic symptoms follow and include
    seizures, head shaking, chewing behaviors and slobbering.  Death usually follows.

    Again, the AAHA recommends
    that puppy shots be given between 6 and 8 weeks of age, followed by boosters
    every 3 to 4 weeks until the last one is given between 14 and 16 weeks.

    vaccine is administered at one year and then every three years thereafter.  Distemper and Parvo vaccines are usually mixed
    in the same syringe and give with the Canine Hepatitis or Adenovirus vaccine

    Canine Hepatitis (Adenovirus-2)

    Canine hepatitis (Adenovirus-2) affects the liver and can cause death.  It is highly contagious, and most cases in
    the US involve puppies younger than one year old. 

    Symptoms can be mild or
    rapidly fatal.  In mild cases, the dog
    will lose his appetite and seem lethargic for a day or two.  In severe cases, the dog will develop
    diarrhea, high fever, vomiting, and abdominal pain.  The dog may also show signs of tearing or
    squinting, bleeding gums and jaundice.    

    AAHA recommends that shots be
    initiated between 6 and 8 weeks of age, followed by boosters at 3 to 4 week
    intervals.  Puppies should receive their
    last shots between 14 and 16 weeks of age. 
    The vaccine is then administered at one year and then every three years


    Rabies is
    deadly and can be transmitted to humans through the saliva of an affected
    animal. Rabies has been identified in nearly all warm blooded animals.  In the United States, vaccination programs
    have reduced the risk to pets and their owners. 

    Now, the major reservoir for
    this deadly disease is in wild animals– skunks, raccoon, foxes, bats, and

    Symptoms of rabies include
    disorientation, fever, increased aggression, and seizures.  End stages include paralysis, and frothing at
    the mouth.  Everyone agrees that this is an
    awful way to die.  If a dog is bitten by
    a rabid animal,  treatment consists of
    washing the wound with soap and water, and revaccinating the dog within 14 daysof exposure.

    Rabies vaccines are mandated by
    law in the U.S.  The initial vaccine for
    Rabies is given between 12 and 16 weeks of age and then again at one year of
    age. The Rabies vaccine is the only shot that must be administered by a
    licensed veterinarian. 

    All others can be
    given by anyone capable of doing so.  After
    the one-year booster, local law will decide how often the rabies vaccine must be
    given.  Most jurisdictions allow for
    rabies shots to be given every three years, but some require one or two year

    Non-Core Puppy Vaccines

    Non-core vaccines include
    those given for a kennel cough (parainfluenza and Bordetella), Lyme disease,
    coronavirus, and Leptospirosis.  Non-core
    vaccines are those that are only given if your lifestyle or location warrants

    Most non core vaccines either
    protect against treatable diseases or illnesses that don’t pose a universal


    Kennel cough or “canine contagious cough complex and can be caused by as many as ten
    different microorganisms, but the two most common are Bordetella and

    Dogs get this disease in
    places where there are many dogs in confined areas such as a dog show, dog
    park, day care or boarding kennel.  It is
    spread through the respiratory tract.

    Symptoms include a hacking
    cough but treatment is easy:  cough
    medicine and antibiotics. 

    If your dog enters a boarding
    kennel or doggie daycare facility, he will likely need a Bordetella
    vaccine.  Vaccines are not shots but
    drops that are placed in the dog’s nose.


    Leptospirosis is a disease affecting the kidneys and liver, and it is contracted
    through the contact with the urine of an affected animal such as a rat,
    raccoon, cow or pig.  The chance of a dog
    passing on Leptospirosis is rare but still considered possible.  That is why it is considered a non-core

    One problem with this vaccine
    is that it does not provide protection for more than about six or seven
    months.  The other problem is that there
    are four strains of Leptospirosis so the vaccine must be effective against all
    four.  Additionally, some side effects
    have been reported.

    Read more about Leptospirosis in Small Dogs

    Lyme Disease

    Lyme Disease is a disease that both dogs
    and people can get.  It is caused by the
    bite of a tick. In dogs, symptoms can
    include lameness, kidney failure, and heart disease.  Sometimes there are no symptoms in dogs.

    It is most widespread
    in the northeastern states of the United States, especially in New England, but
    also occurs in Wisconsin and Michigan.

    The vaccine is
    administered in two doses, about 2 to 4 weeks apart and must not be given to
    puppies younger than 12 weeks of age. 

    vaccinations are recommended or given at the beginning of the tick season only
    to dogs known to be at risk. These would include dogs living in areas where
    Lyme Disease is prevalent or in dogs that regularly hunt, camp or are outdoors
    much of the summer months.

    Not Recommended Puppy Vaccines

    Those vaccines considered by
    the American Animal Hospital Association to be not recommended included

    • Corona virus
    • Giardia
    • Adenovirus-1
    • Rattlesnake venom vaccine


    Corona is a
    rare disease that affects puppies younger than 8 weeks of age.  Symptoms include vomiting and foul smelling
    diarrhea accompanied by loss of appetite and lethargy.   

    It is considered
    to be self-limiting, meaning that the puppies will get better on their own
    without any treatment. If treatment is available, it is supportive in
    nature,  and includes fluids if necessary
    and treatment of the vomiting and diarrhea. 

    Dog owners rarely see this
    illness, because the puppies that may get the illness are still with the
    breeder.  Some veterinarians will still want
    to give your young puppy the Corona vaccine and then re-vaccinate in a couple
    of weeks.  Generally this is not

    Corona virus is no a problem in adult dogs.  Veterinary Immunologists do not think the
    vaccine is effective.  The AAHA does not
    recommend it either.

    This is one vaccine you can say
    no to without jeopardizing your puppy’s health.


    A Canine Giardia vaccine is
    available but not recommended by the AAHA because the disease will respond
    quickly to treatment. 

    Often worming medicines
    will treat this one celled organism along with other intestinal worms. 

    If treatment is necessary it is supportive
    and includes maintaining hydration and treating any vomiting and diarrhea that
    may accompany this parasitic outbreak. 

    Furthermore, there are risks
    of side effects.  The vaccine may adequately
    prevent Giardia infections.

    Rattlesnake Venom Vaccine

    This vaccine is specifically
    designed to produce antibodies against the venom of the western diamondback
    rattlesnake. It may also be work against other types of snakes including the Sidewinder,
    Copperhead, and Timber rattlesnake. 
    There is no protection if the dog is bitten by a  water moccasin or coral snake. 

    Dogs require a booster after
    one month of the initial dose and then annual thereafter.  Because the positive effects of the vaccine
    diminish over time, twice yearly vaccines may be needed. 

    If a dog should be bitten, they
    still require treatment, but may lessen the pain and amount of antivenin necessary
    for treatment. 

    The AAHA does not recommend
    this vaccine due to the lack of information regarding its efficacy. 

    Adult Booster Shots

    Dogs will need booster shots
    to maintain full immunity from disease. 
    The frequency of boosters is very variable and depends on several
    factors:  the dog’s own immune system,
    the individual vaccine, and if the dog was exposed to the disease. 

    Currently, the AAHA
    recommends re-vaccinating dogs every three years for most core vaccines. This
    does not mean, however, that immunity only last 3 years.  There is evidence that protection might last
    much longer, even the life time of the pet. 

    Dr. Ron Schultz, professor
    and chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of
    Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine,  believes no booster is required for dogs
    assuming the initial dose is effective.

    If vaccinating your adult dog seems like over-kill, you have
    a couple of options. 

    Many holistic vets will recommend doing titers to determine
    the level of antibiotics remaining in the system.   This is a blood test and more expensive than
    giving the actual vaccine. 

    The advantage
    of doing this before any vaccines are given are to protect the health of your

    If you believe that too many
    vaccines are given today, this is a very safe alternative to submitting to an
    arbitrary vaccine schedule that may or may not adequately protect your dog
    without serious side effects.

    Puppy Vaccines Adverse Reactions

    According to Dr. W. Jean
    immune-mediated blood disease, bone marrow failure, and organ
    dysfunction are rare but serious problems associated with the Modified Live
    Vaccines (MLV).  This is especially true
    for the distemper virus, adenovirus 1 or 2, and parvovirus. 

    “The clinical signs
    associated with vaccine reactions typically include fever, stiffness, sore
    joints and abdominal tenderness, susceptibility to infections, neurological
    disorders and encephalitis, collapse with auto agglutinated red blood cells and
    icterus (autoimmune hemolytic anemia, AIHA, also called immune-mediated
    hemolytic anemia, IMHA), or generalized petechiae and ecchymotic
     hemorrhages (immune-mediated thrombocytopenia , ITP).  Hepatic
    enzymes may be markedly elevated, and liver or kidney failure may occur by
    itself or accompany bone marrow suppression.”   

    veterinarians are not mandated to report any adverse reactions, so the actual
    incidence of problems is unknown.

    Schedule for Puppy Vaccines

    As a new puppy owner, it is often difficult to know what to do or what to expect when you see the vet.  Take a look at the following vaccine protocol schedules.  According to Pets Mart

    DHLPPC (Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvo, Parainfluenza and Corona)

    • First vaccination: 6 to 8 weeks
    • Second vaccination: 9 to 11 weeks
    • Third vaccination: 12 to 14 weeks
    • Fourth vaccination: 16 to 17 weeks
    • Booster shots: 12 months


    • First vaccination: 14 weeks
    • Booster shots: 6 months


    • First vaccination: 16 weeks (varies by state)
    • Booster shots: 12-36 months


    • First vaccination: 14 weeks
    • Second vaccination: 17 weeks
    • Booster shots: 12 months


    • First vaccination: 14 weeks
    • Second vaccination: 17 weeks
    • Booster shots: 12 months

    Puppy Vaccines Recommendations from AKC

    Puppy’s Age Recommended Vaccinations

    6 to 8 Weeks:  Distemper, measles, parainfluenza

    Optional Bordetella

    10 — 12 weeks:  DHPP (vaccines for distemper, adenovirus [hepatitis], parainfluenza, and parvovirus)

    Optional:  Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease

    12 — 24 weeks Rabies

    14 — 16 weeks DHPP

    Optional:  Coronavirus, Lyme disease, Leptospirosis

    12 — 16 months Rabies, DHPP

    Optional:  Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease

    Every 1 — 2 years DHPP, Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease

    Every 1 — 3 years Rabies (as required by law)

    As you can see, there is much diversity when it comes to what vaccines to give at what times.  Your best bet is to contact your veterinarian and ask these important questions.

    What vaccines are the most important for my puppy living in this area?

    Why is it important that I vaccinate for non core disease?  Pros and Cons.

    How big of a risk do I take if I choose to not vaccinate?

    References and Further Reading for Puppy Vaccines

    American Animal Hospital Association:  Canine Vaccination Guidelines

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