Getting your new puppy is an exciting time with a lot to consider, and it’s important to give them all the core vaccinations for puppies. Puppies are vulnerable to a range of nasty illnesses. These vary from mild to lethal. Thankfully, we can protect our little ones from most of these diseases by keeping their vaccines up to date.
But which puppy vaccinations are necessary, and which are optional? Read on to find out!
Core Puppy Vaccinations
Your puppy needs five core vaccines to protect them from the most dangerous diseases. To explain why your puppy needs these vaccines, it’s important to cover why these illnesses are so dangerous to your little ball of fluff. The core puppy shots are often required before a dog can freely roam outside.
Rabies is a viral disease caused by Lyssaviruses. Once symptoms of rabies appear, the result is almost always death. Initially, a dog infected by rabies shows behavioral changes. A friendly dog can become irritable, while a normally excitable dog becomes docile. Dogs can snap or bite at any stimulus, attacking other animals or even inanimate objects. An infected dog might also lick and chew at the site of the bite. As the rabies infection progresses, infected dogs become hypersensitive to touch, sound, and light. They might hide in dark places as a result. Paralysis of the jaw follows, resulting in foaming at the mouth. At this point, infected dogs experience disorientation and paralysis of the hind legs.
Unvaccinated dogs are most at risk of rabies infection. Those who roam outdoors without supervision are at high risk, especially when exposed to wild animals and other stray dogs. Because rabies is such a public health threat, the rabies vaccine is recommended worldwide. In the USA, it’s illegal to not vaccinate your dog against rabies. Check your state’s specific laws to be safe. The rabies vaccine is not considered a core vaccine in the UK, but it is required in order to travel abroad or return to the UK under the Pet Travel Scheme.
Canine distemper (CDV) is a viral disease that infects dogs. In dogs, distemper causes high fever, eye inflammation, hardening of the nose and footpads, and vomiting, and diarrhea. As the disease progresses into the spinal cord and the brain, neurological symptoms can manifest. These complications include incontinence, muscle twitches, seizures, salivation and chewing fits, sensitivity to light, and even blindness and paralysis. Dogs who survive distemper continue to have both non-life threatening and life-threatening complications for the rest of their lives. Non-life threatening complications include hard pad disease and enamel hypoplasia. The more damaging signs include progressive deterioration of mental abilities and seizures.
In dogs, distemper is spread through airborne exposure and even through shared food and water bowls. Because the disease spreads easily and has such devastating effects, vaccines are often mandatory for puppies. A number of vaccines against distemper exist for dogs.
Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is an acute liver infection caused by Canine mastadenovirus A. While the virus begins replication within the tonsils, it eventually goes on to infect a dog’s liver and kidneys. Symptoms of ICH include fever, loss of appetite, corneal edema, jaundice, and hepatic encephalopathy. Severe cases result in bleeding disorders and hematomas in the mouth. If severe cases go untreated, death can occur secondary to bacterial infections or liver disease. Dogs who recover from ICH often live with chronic corneal edema and kidney lesions thereafter.
Fortunately, many dogs recover spontaneously from ICH. Despite the good recovery rate, the disease’s effects on the liver and kidneys make it highly dangerous for some dogs. As well as this, the virus spreads through feces, urine, saliva, and nasal discharge, making it easily transmissible to other dogs. Most combination vaccines include a vaccine against ICH due to this.
Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a highly contagious virus in dogs. CPV is fatal in 91 percent of untreated cases. Dogs who contract this disease show signs of the illness within three to seven days. The symptoms typically begin with lethargy, followed closely by bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. As well as this, the dog’s intestinal lining suffers from necrosis, causing anemia, loss of protein, and endotoxemia. Along with these symptoms, infected dogs’ white blood cell levels fall, leaving them vulnerable to secondary infections. These factors lead to shock and death. If a dog survives CPV, they generally remain contagious for three to six weeks.
Because CPV is extremely contagious, prevention is the only way to protect puppies from parvovirus. For this reason, canine parvovirus is always given in combination vaccines for puppies. You should wait until your puppy has their first two vaccinations to introduce them to other dogs.
Canine parainfluenza (CPIV) is a highly contagious virus that commonly results in kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis). Dogs with CPIV commonly present with a persistent dry cough, fever, nasal discharge, eye inflammation, lethargy, and loss of appetite. In addition, this virus can develop into pneumonia if untreated. Your dog is most at risk of serious complications if they are already in poor health. Some otherwise healthy dogs recover from CPIV without any medication and the infection typically runs its course over two weeks.
Because parainfluenza has a better recovery rate than other diseases, it is not always considered to be a core vaccine. However, most kennels will ask that you vaccinate your dog against CPIV before boarding. This is also the case for some dog shows and training classes.
Non-Core Puppy Vaccines
Non-core puppy vaccinations are optional depending on your puppy’s lifestyle and health status. They are most commonly given to puppies who frequent kennels.
It is important to note that because thee are “optional”, it does not make you over-vaccinating your dog if you give them the below shots.
Bordetella bronchiseptica is a species of bacteria. It commonly causes infectious bronchitis in dogs. When infected with Bordetella bronchiseptica, dogs suffer from acute tracheobronchitis, which typically manifests as a harsh, dry cough. Many owners describe this dry cough as close to vomiting or gagging as if something is stuck in their dog’s throat. Fever and lethargy can also occur alongside this. In some cases, a white or green nasal discharge can be seen. Fortunately, some dogs have clinical signs that are so mild or absent that they go unnoticed.
The Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine for puppies is not mandatory. However, it is recommended for dogs who are at increased risk of contracting the illness. This includes dogs who frequent kennels, grooming salons, dog shows, and dog sporting events.
Leptospirosis is an infection caused by bacteria in the genus Leptospira. The signs of leptospirosis in dogs vary. Some dogs show no signs of being unwell. Others come down with a mild and transient illness, recovering spontaneously. Other dogs develop severe illness resulting in death. In general, the signs of leptospirosis include fever, shivering, jaundice, lethargy, and painful eye inflammation. Dogs with severe infections can develop bleeding disorders, leading to bloody vomit and feces. Some will also develop swollen legs or accumulate fluid in the chest.
Working dogs, dogs living close to woodlands, and dogs living on farms are at an increased risk of getting leptospirosis. Those who live in humid and hot climates are also at greater risk. However, any dog can get leptospirosis. This vaccination for puppies is non-core because not all dogs are frequently exposed to the bacteria.
Borrelia burgdorferi is a type of spirochete bacteria. This bacteria exists in North America and Europe and is a leading cause of Lyme disease in pets. To summarize its life cycle, Borrelia burgdorferi circulates between hard-bodied ticks and vertebrate hosts in a cycle known as the enzootic cycle. Dogs infected with Borrelia burgdorferi present with some distinct symptoms. Your dog might suddenly develop swollen, painful joints and be unable to walk normally.
Interestingly, there is a vaccine against Lyme disease for dogs, but not for humans. In fact, there are more than three commercial vaccines for Lyme disease in dogs. These vaccines are non-core because not all dogs live in areas where they are at great risk of infection.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause mild to lethal illness in animals. Canine coronavirus (CCoV) normally causes self-limiting illness in dogs. The most typical sign of CCoV is the sudden onset of diarrhea. Stools are loose with a bad odor and orange tint, sometimes along with blood or mucus. A severe case in 2005 caused fever, hemorrhagic enteritis, liver congestion, and enlarged spleens in seven dogs. Dogs also harbor a genetically unrelated coronavirus, the canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCoV). This virus is more closely related to bovine coronavirus and human coronaviruses that cause common colds. It manifests as an acute but mild respiratory infection. A small number of infected dogs progress to have pneumonia.
Your dog can receive a non-core CCoV vaccine if it suits their lifestyle and circumstances. Dogs are most at risk in kennels and animal shelters. There is no vaccine for CRCoV in dogs. It is not related to CCoV, therefore vaccines for CCoV are ineffective at preventing CRCoV.
Giardia is a parasitic microorganism that reproduces in the small intestine. This causes a diarrheal illness known as giardiasis. Dogs have an unfortunately high rate of infection, as high as 30 percent in kennels. The infection is also more prevalent in puppies. The microorganism can persist in the environment, making grass areas infected for a month or more after infected dogs exercise in them.
A Giardia vaccine is commercially available in the USA. However, the vaccine is not endorsed by the AAHA and has been discontinued. It can prevent the shedding of the microorganism into the urine but does not prevent infection well enough to be effective. Instead, the vaccine is typically used to treat the infection.
Canine Influenza H3N8
Canine Influenza H3N8 originates from horses and has only begun to infect dogs in more recent years. The virus is now endemic in dogs in the USA. Fortunately, the percentage of dogs who die of this disease is very small. Many dogs are asymptomatic, while others come down with serious illness and pneumonia.
Vaccines are available in the USA to protect dogs against H3N8. However, they are not recommended for every dog. Instead, they are given to protect dogs who are at the greatest risk, such as those in kennels or animal shelters.
Cost of Puppy Vaccinations
The average cost of puppy vaccines is between $75 and $100, according to the American Kennel Club. Your puppy’s core vaccines are bundled together in a combination vaccine called DHLPP. This vaccine covers distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza. If you live in the USA, your puppy will also need a core rabies vaccine for $15 to $20. Some animal shelters charge less money for core vaccines, potentially lowering the price to $20, or they can even be free. If you acquire a dog from a shelter, they will most likely have been vaccinated up until the age you got them.
Puppy Vaccination Schedule
Puppy vaccinations should be given at regular intervals to ensure maximum protection. It’s important to get your puppy the boosters they need because puppy vaccinations are ineffective without them. You can use titer testing to pick the most appropriate time to proceed with a booster shot.
Your puppy should receive their first DHLPPC vaccine at six or eight weeks old. From here, your puppy should receive boosters every three weeks until they are 16 weeks. Depending on when you vaccinated your puppy, their boosters should follow this vaccination schedule:
- the second shot between 9 and 11 weeks,
- the third at 12 to 14 weeks,
- the fourth at 16 to 17 weeks, and finally,
- your puppy should receive one booster shot at 12 months old.
After this point, your puppy only needs a DHLPPC vaccine every three years.
Your puppy’s Bordetella vaccine can be given as early as 10 weeks. However, most vets will give the Bordetella vaccine at 14 to 16 weeks. This is because maternal antibodies disappear by the time your puppy is 14 to 16 weeks old. Many kennel facilities will ask that you vaccinate your puppy every 6 months to keep their protection up to date.
Rabies vaccines are typically given at 16 weeks of age. However, the precise age varies between states. Some states such as Pennsylvania require rabies vaccines to be given at 12 weeks. Check your state laws to be safe! In most states, puppies require a rabies booster one year after the initial vaccine. Thereafter, dogs need boosters every three years. Again, the frequency varies between states.
To date, no study suggests that Giardia vaccines lessen Giardia infections. Thus, their use as vaccines has been discontinued. Instead, Giardia vaccines are used as an immunotherapeutic aid during treatment, alongside antiprotozoal and antibiotic drugs.
Because the Lyme vaccine is not a core vaccine, there is not a specific age that vets appear to agree upon to begin vaccination. The first shot estimates range between 10 and 16 weeks, but is most commonly given at 12 or 14 weeks. After the first shot, a booster is given two to three weeks later. So, if you vaccinate your puppy at 14 weeks old, they should receive a booster at 17 weeks old. Annual boosters should follow.
Puppy Vaccinations – FAQs
Have any more questions about puppy vaccinations? Feel free to browse our Frequently Asked Questions for more details. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.
How Many Vaccines Does a Puppy Need?
Your puppy requires five core vaccines starting from the age of 6 to 8 weeks. These are vaccines for rabies, canine distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, and parvovirus. The canine parainfluenza vaccine is sometimes given with these core vaccines but is not always seen as a core vaccine.
The core vaccines are normally given all at once in a package called the DHLPP. For maximum immunity, your puppy receives booster vaccinations every three weeks until they are 16 to 17 weeks old. This is topped off with a booster at 12 months old. Thereafter, your puppy should only receive boosters every three years.
How Many Parvo Shots Does a Puppy Need?
Most puppies will receive the parvovirus vaccine with their other core vaccines. Overall, your puppy will receive five initial vaccinations for parvovirus. Four of these are boosters after the initial shot. After the 12 month booster, your puppy only needs parvovirus revaccination after three years. If your dog lives for ten years, they will only need revaccinations at four, seven, and ten years old.
It was once common practice to revaccinate dogs for parvovirus yearly. However, newer research shows that the serologic response persists for at least 2 to 3 years. This level of immunity is only possible when vaccines are kept up to date.
How Old Should Puppies be for First Shots?
Your puppy should receive vaccinations starting from 8 weeks of age. While it’s possible to vaccinate your puppy earlier than this, most vets will advise against it. This is because maternal antibodies can interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine.
When your puppy was born, they received passive immunity from their mother through maternal antibodies. Maternal antibodies don’t last forever and are directly proportional to the level of immunity in the mother. For example, if the mother has low immunity to rabies, her maternal antibodies might only provide five or six weeks of aid. If her immunity is better, the antibodies may provide a few months of aid. The level of protection can be so strong that the antibodies block a vaccine challenge. Thus, if your puppy receives a vaccine against rabies before the maternal antibodies subside, the vaccine’s effects are nulled and little to no immunity is gained from it.
Can I Give my Puppies Their First Shots?
Unless you are a qualified vet, you cannot give your puppy their first shots at home. First and foremost, the risk of harming or improperly dosing your puppy is very high. Improperly delivering the full dose can result in your puppy being under-vaccinated. You will also lack the facilities to sedate your puppies if they become too nervous or defensive to be given the shots. Second, it’s illegal to not get your pet vaccinated for rabies. In most states, your vet will provide you with a rabies vaccination certificate so that you can prove that your dog is immune if questioned. By giving your puppy their shots at home, you have no legal proof that your puppy is immune to dangerous diseases.
If you cannot reasonably afford your puppy’s vaccinations with your vet, consider low-cost alternatives. Local animal welfare organizations and rescue groups often offer low-cost vaccines. This is usually alongside low-cost spaying and neutering.
To summarize, your puppy needs five core vaccines. These are vaccines for rabies, distemper, canine hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza. Most vets deliver these vaccines as a package called the DHLPP vaccine. Non-core puppy vaccinations are optional depending on your puppy’s lifestyle. Make sure you also read our article on the vaccination of pregnant female dogs.