Puppy shots aren't optional - they're essential! Learn what vaccinations your pup needs, why he needs them and when to give them, right here.
Vaccinations save the lives of puppies, just like yours, every single day. They protect your precious new pup from some of the most common, contagious (and often deadly) dog illnesses around.
The most important shots for puppies include those formulated to guard against:
Canine Adenovirus-2 (aka CAV-2 or Canine Hepatitis) - viral disease affecting the liver
Canine Parvovirus (aka 'Parvo')- viral disease which affects the intestines, lymph nodes, bone marrow and sometimes the heart
Distemper - viral disease affecting the intestines, lungs and brain
Rabies - viral disease affecting the central nervous system
Keeping your pup's vaccination schedule up to date is one of the most important things you can do to keep your new family member happy and healthy.
If you've bought a purebred puppy, chances are the breeder has already given him at least one set of shots.
If he's a pound-pup or from a private rescue, he will definitely have had some. Either way, you need to be sure and get some kind of written record of what he's been vaccinated for and when.
That way your own vet will know where to start.
There are certain canine 'core vaccines' which are recommended by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association).
These are the ones that protect against the four diseases listed at the beginning of this page -
They can be given as a 3-in-1 shot for the Distemper, Adenovirus and Parvo, or a 5-in-1 option is available which also includes protection against Leptospirosis and Canine Parainfluenza.
Rabies vaccination is given later (between 12 and 16 weeks of age) and is required by law.
There's also a 7-in-1 puppy shot option which gives additional protection against other strains of Adenovirus and Leptopsirosis.
Additional, optional, puppy shots that your veterinarian might recommend (depending on the area you live in and your pups exposure to large numbers of other dogs) include vaccinations for:
If your pup will be boarded, kenneled, attend dog training classes or be 'out-and-about' a lot (which hopefully he/she will to get those valuable puppy socialization experiences ) you need to have the Bordatella vaccine given.
There are two options for administering the Bordatella vaccine - a 'shot' or nasal drops. Personally I prefer the nasal drop option as it works faster and doesn't need to be repeated in 4 weeks the way the shot does.
If your dog isn't a hugely social animal, then annual boosters are enough. BUT if he travels a lot, goes to doggie day care, is boarded or at the dog park regularly then having the vaccine given twice a year is recommended.
Giving puppy immunizations is good, but giving them at the right time is essential if you want them to work!
Very young puppies have a certain amount of natural immunity that they get from their mothers milk, but that begins to diminish somewhere between 5 and 8 weeks of age.
If a puppy is vaccinated while he still has a significant level of maternal antibodies in his bloodstream, the vaccine won't be effective.
Some studies have indicated that at 6 weeks old only 25% of puppies vaccinated respond to the vaccine by producing antibodies, whereas by 18 weeks that figure has risen to 95%.
The box below shows a 'puppy shots timeline' that covers the general recommendations for a puppy immunization schedule here in the USA:
This puppy shots schedule is a guideline, not set-in-stone, but these vaccinations are the ones that you need to give your pup if you want to protect him.
There are a lot of factors that can influence when, and how often your puppy gets his vaccinations. These include the area where you live, his breed, his age, your veterinarians recommendations etc.
Worried about over-vaccination?
If you're concerned about over-vaccinating your puppy talk to your veterinarian.
After your puppy has had his first set of vaccinations you can ask your vet to check the 'titers' in his bloodstream before he gets any more shots.
Simply put, titers are a measurement of antibodies to disease that exist in your puppy's bloodstream as a result of vaccination.
It takes about a week to 10 days for the antibodies to show up in tests, so you can ask your veterinarian to run a blood test for specific antibodies 10 days after he's been vaccinated.
If the level of antibodies in his blood is high enough to confirm that he has immunity to a particular disease, you may not need to re-vaccinate him.
Generally once your puppy has had three sets of the combination puppy shots, plus the Rabies shot, he will be protected for one year against the most common, serious canine illnesses.
Protection isn't immediate though, and I would recommend waiting at least a week after your pup has received his final set of puppy shots before venturing out into public areas.
There are also, sadly, no guarantees and even after three sets of combination vaccines occasionally puppies still get sick.
So always be careful to avoid dogs who might appear sick, or areas where stray dogs may roam.
Did you know that it's possible to vaccinate your own puppy at home?
My How To Give Puppy Shots At Home page can walk you through what's involved... and help you decide whether or not it's an option for you.
Adult dogs must by law receive annual dog 'booster' vaccinations for Rabies (although some vaccines provide 3 years of protection).
A dog shot timeline will also often include annual 'boosters' for Distemper, Canine Parvovirus and Hepatitis. However many vets no longer recommend yearly dog vaccinations, preferring to leave a longer period between the shots (except for Rabies as mentioned above).
Your vet can check the antibody 'titers' (basically the level of antibodies in your dog's bloodstream to any particular disease) and vaccinate only if they are too low. These tests do cost money, but they can help to prevent over-vaccinating your dog, which may lead to auto-immune problems and other illnesses.
Some canine vaccines are only effective for somewhere betweeen 6 and 12 months. These include the vaccines against Bordatella (Kennel Cough), Leptospirosis and Lyme Disease. You'll need to have these redone annually.
The best advice I can give you is to ask your own veterinarian about this, and follow his/her advice and recommendations about canine vaccination procedure.
If you've adopted an older pup or adult dog and don't know their puppy shots history, then the minimum vaccinations you'll need to get them are against Distemper, Parvo and Hepatitis. They will need two rounds of shots, given 3 weeks apart.
Again though, individual areas (and each veterinarian) may have different recommendations, so talk to your own vet to find out what he/she thinks is best.
Although most puppies hardly even notice when their puppy shots are given, and show no ill effects afterward, it's not terribly unusual for a pup to have an allergic reaction of some sort to a vaccine.
Most of the time these reactions to puppy vaccinations are mild, and last only a day or two. But now and then they can be severe enough to warrant a trip to the veterinarian.
All puppy owners should be aware of the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, because if your puppy does have a bad reaction, you need to know!
Symptoms vary from mild or moderate to severe, and may include:
moderate to severe allergic reactions to puppy shots are pretty rare and
are generally much less of a danger to your puppy than the diseases
IMPORTANT: If your puppy does have a bad reaction to his shots, it's important to remind your veterinarian about that at his next vaccination appointment.
Some vets may want to give a puppy like this an antihistamine before giving the shots, and/or to monitor him for a while afterwards... just to be safe.
It's also possible that your vet will recommend giving the vaccines separately rather than as a 'combo' vaccine to reduce the risks of a reaction.
Although a puppy or dog can react badly to any canine vaccine, there seems to be a higher incidence of allergic reaction to the vaccines for Rabies, Parvo and Leptosirosis.
Also, there are some dog breeds that are more likely to suffer an allergic reaction, these include (but aren't limited to)
West Highland White Terriers
Old English Sheepdogs
Portuguese Water Dogs
Harlequin Great Danes
Also dogs who are mostly white in color, or have 'diulted' coat colors (such as blue or fawn, or blue-fawn) and merle or black/white color combinations seem to be more at risk.
So, the bottom line is that you need to watch your puppy closely for the first day or so after he's had his puppy shots. Any major reaction is most likely to occur within 24 hours (often much sooner).
An allergic reaction of any sort is unlikely to happen after the first shot though, it's subsequent ones that you should pay particular attention to.
Although it's necessary to be aware of what could happen, don't panic about this! Thousands of puppies are vaccinated every day with no ill-effects, or only a very mild reaction.
The risks you run if you don't vaccinate your pup are much higher, so protecting your puppy is way too important to be forgotten or avoided.
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