Puppy Vaccinations

Puppy vaccinations go by many names, including immunizations and shots; no matter what terminology you use to describe them, having a conversation with a veterinarian about setting a vaccine schedule for your puppy is absolutely vital.

The Importance Of Vaccinations

When puppies are born, their immune systems remain immature and unable to fight off infections. Nursing puppies receive some antibodies in their mothers’ milk in the form of a substance called colostrum. These antibodies give puppies’ immune systems a boost, but their effects are temporary, wearing off once puppies become weaned.

Vaccines help pick up where the antibodies leave off. Each shot contains cells that are a version of an infection that is potentially harmful in puppies. The immune system recognizes the puppy vaccinations as foreign invaders and produces specific antibodies of its own to eliminate the infection. Puppies receive repeated shots, called boosters, allowing their bodies to produce more and more antibodies each time. As a result, if they come in contact with an infection, their bodies have a storehouse of antibodies available to prevent them from getting sick.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Typically, your puppy should get his first shots between four to six weeks of age. You’ll need to take your puppy to the vet every three to four weeks for boosters until he’s around five months old.

Types Of Vaccination

Two main types of puppy vaccinations exist: core and non-core. Core vaccines are those that protect dogs against the types of infections that are most common and have the greatest risk. Depending on where you live, these core immunizations may be required by law.

Core Puppy Vaccinations

Most vets classify four vaccines as core:

Canine Parvovirus

Highly contagious, canine parvovirus spreads easily, particularly in areas where your puppy may come in contact with the feces of other dogs. The condition is often fatal and causes alarming intestinal symptoms like bloody diarrhea, vomiting and an unwillingness to eat. Any type of dog can contract canine parvovirus, but it’s most common in Doberman pinschers, pitbulls and rottweilers.


Although the condition may sound like it affects a dog’s temperament or personality, distemper has the potential to cause severe symptoms to the digestive, respiratory and neurological systems of your puppy. Transmitted through the air, distemper is often fatal.


The canine adenovirus spreads through urine and feces and typically enters a dog’s boy through its mouth or nose. The disease affects the liver, similarly to hepatitis in humans. As the condition progresses, it can also cause damage to the eyes and kidneys. Adenovirus is fast-moving; puppies who develop the condition can die within hours of the first symptoms.


Dogs contract rabies through the saliva of another infected dog or other animal, typically from a bite. The condition’s most noticeable symptom is foaming at the mouth, but dogs can also become disoriented and overly aggressive or withdrawn from the condition. There is no cure for rabies; if your puppy contracts it, the disease will be fatal. Because the condition is transmittable to humans, laws often require puppy vaccinations for rabies.

Non-Core Puppy Vaccinations

In addition to the typical four core vaccines, your veterinarian may recommend additional non-core puppy vaccinations. These are shots that provide a benefit for only some dogs. Whether or not your puppy needs non-core vaccinations depends on where you live and if you have other pets.


Spread through urine, leptospirosis has the potential to cause urinary problems in puppies, including chronic kidney failure. The bacteria can also lead to the loss of pregnancy in older dogs. Unfortunately, leptospirosis puppy vaccinations do not protect against all strains of the bacteria, so your pet is still at risk for infection even if he receives the shots.


Often accompanying the parvovirus, canine coronavirus is usually spread in kennels and shelters. While older dogs are typically able to fight off the condition, the bacteria can have fatal effects in puppies. Vomiting and watery, offensive-smelling yellow diarrhea are the most common signs of the illness.


Lyme disease is spread through the bite of ticks, so if you live in a heavily wooded area, your veterinarian may recommend the lyme or borreliosis vaccine. Lyme disease causes a dog’s joints to become inflamed, which can lead to limping and difficulty walking. Kidney failure is also possible, especially in Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and Bernese mountain breeds.


Bordetella leads to respiratory infections that are commonly referred to as kennel cough. If you travel frequently and board your dog, your vet may advise you to have your puppy vaccinated against this strain of bacteria.

Safety Of Vaccinations

While puppy vaccinations are generally safe, some dogs have sensitivities to the ingredients contained in the shots and develop reactions as a result. The most common reactions are mild and include an elevated temperature, tiredness and a decrease in appetite. Occasionally, puppies exhibit symptoms like hives or swelling on the face, particularly around the lips or eyes. This condition is known as uticaria.

Although rare, puppies can experience anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, after vaccines. In such cases, dogs may wheeze or have severe vomiting, diarrhea or trouble breathing. Anaphylaxis can also cause seizures in puppies.

Because these severe allergic reactions are potentially fatal, contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice symptoms of anaphylaxis; the quick administration of oxygen, steroids or epinephrine can save your puppy’s life. It’s also important to schedule your puppy’s immunizations for a day when you’ll be home to monitor your pet for any signs of reactions.

The benefits of puppy vaccinations greatly outweigh the slight chance for reactions. If cost is an issue, keep in mind that treatments for these illnesses are usually more expensive than the combined price for the initial vaccine and the boosters. Also, many of these bacteria can prove fatal or leave permanent effects that require lifelong care.

After the initial sequence of vaccinations and boosters, your puppy will likely receive boosters of some shots each year. Your veterinarian can help you set the best schedule to ensure that your puppy grows into a healthy dog and remains active and happy for years to come.

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