What Shots Does Your Puppy Need and When?


Puppy vaccinations are one of the best and most loving investments you can make for your puppy. Think of puppy shots as insurance against disease that prevents illness and saves you money—and potential heartbreak.

Not too long ago, 50 percent or more of dogs died of canine distemper or parvovirus before their first birthday. These little victims suffer through painful vomiting and diarrhea and too often must be humanely euthanized to end their suffering. These diseases today are entirely preventable.

Understanding Puppy Vaccinations

Vaccinations help “program” the specialized cells of the puppy’s immune system to act like smart missiles to seek and destroy problems before they cause disease. Once programmed, these cells recognize, find, and destroy viruses, bacteria or other pathogens both in the bloodstream or at the cellular level—in the nose or eyes—before they cause disease.

A puppy’s immune system won’t be mature enough to protect itself until she’s about 8 weeks old. Passive immunity fills this gap when the puppies nurse from the vaccinated mother’s milk. This antibody-rich “first milk” is called colostrum and protects against viruses that might threaten the puppy’s health.

However, the antibodies in mom’s milk also neutralize most vaccinations. The exceptions are some newer vaccinations made with recombinant DNA technology such as the recombinant distemper vaccination. But in general, puppy shots won’t be protective until the puppy’s own immune system matures enough to take over. That’s why a series of boosters are recommended during the period when the maternal protection fades while puppy’s matures.

Vaccinations and Schedules

A variety of vaccinations are available for several conditions. But not all puppies need every vaccination. The shots your puppy needs is based on exposure risk. If he’s a high-rise living puppy in New York and never exposed to ticks, he’ll likely not require a Lyme vaccination. Your veterinarian offers you the best advice on the right protection for your furry babies and adults.

Distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis (adenovirus), and rabies are designated “core” vaccinations. All puppies should receive these, and often there are combination vaccines for all but rabies. “Noncore” vaccinations are recommended for puppies at specific risk for those conditions, such as Lyme disease, Bordatella (kennel cough), and leptospirosis. Sometimes these are including as part of the core combination shot.

Your veterinarian determines when to start and how many boosters your pup should receive based on health status and exposure. Usually, puppies receive a series of either three or four boosters three weeks apart, starting at either six weeks (6, 9, 12, 16 weeks of age) or starting at nine weeks (9, 12 and 16 weeks). Rabies is given at 16 weeks, and all of the core vaccinations are repeated a year later.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Age Recommended Optional Vaccinations
6 to 8 weeks Core vaccination Bordetella (kennel cough)
9 to 11 weeks Core vaccination Coronavirus, leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease
16 weeks Rabies (varies by state)
12 to 14 weeks Core vaccination Coronavirus, Lyme disease, leptospirosis
12 to 16 months Rabies, core vaccination Coronavirus, leptotspirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease
Every one to two years Core vaccination Coronavirus, leptotspirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease
Every one to three years Rabies (as required by law in your jurisdiction)

How Long Do Vaccines Last?

Most of the “core” vaccinations have been shown to provide protection for about five to seven years. Your puppy will need to see the vet more frequently as it grows anyway if only for well-dog exams. Veterinarians may recommend giving distemper vaccination one year, parvovirus the next, and so on. Usually either an annual or every three years revaccination provides the best insurance on the core vaccines.

The noncore vaccinations are best given more frequently prior to expected exposure. That’s because most bacteria-protective vaccines give only about six months protection, which means the leptospirosis, bordetella/kennel cough and Lyme vaccines for your dog are not suited for a three-year protocol. Because rabies is a zoonosis—disease that affects people—local laws dictate how often your dog needs revaccination. That’s usually either every year or every three years.

Protect your new puppies and dogs by budgeting for these vital vaccinations. It’s much easier, safer, and cheaper to prevent illness than to diagnose and treat once your furry love becomes sick.

Of course, taking your dog to the vet can be easier said than done, but with training for gentle handling and restraint, your life (and your dog’s life) will be much easier.

Puppy Teething Timeline

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