Puppy Vaccination Schedule: What Shots Do Puppies Need?

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Acquiring a new puppy is an exciting time which you’ve probably been planning for a long time; but it’s not all cuddles and cuteness because along with your new family member comes responsibility.

For instance, the puppy depends on you to provide everything they need to grow into a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted adult dog.

As well as food, shelter, and affection, you must also look to the healthcare your puppy needs to prevent illness. This includes regular parasite treatments (for both worms and external parasites such as fleas) and of course, a proper puppy shot schedule.

An unvaccinated puppy risks serious illness if they pick up infection at a time when their immune system is weak and still developing. This means infection hits young dogs hard and is often life-threatening.

Vaccinations are an essential part of the puppy’s health regime, which enables them to get out and about as soon as safely possible in order to continue their socialization.

But when your vet talks about core and non-core vaccination, shot schedules for puppies can all seem a bit baffling. If you are left wondering what vaccines do puppies need, of what type, and when they should be given, then this article can help.

What Are Vaccinations?​

Vaccines contain a safe version of the virus against which they provide protection. The majority of vaccines use a ‘modified live virus’ (MLV) which is harmless but similar enough to the real thing to prime up the immune system into ‘protect’ mode. Thus, there is no need to worry about your puppy catching disease from the vaccine.

What Shots Do Puppies Need?​

This is a great question and the answer may seem complicated because of ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ vaccinations.

Core Vaccinations​

Certain diseases are considered a widespread, country-wide hazard to canine health. These are infections that are likely to cause serious ill-health or death in dogs that contract them. Being both widespread and serious means there is no debate about the benefits of vaccination and all dogs should receive protection against them.

​Those diseases considered ‘core’ or essential to vaccinate against are:

  • Distemper: This condition has a range of symptoms that affect both the lungs and gut. Unfortunately, even if pup recovers from this stage of the illness, they often develop seizures in later life due to brain damage.​
  • Parvo virus: This causes severe bloody diarrhea and vomiting which is almost always life-threatening.
  • Canine Adeno Virus: This virus causes Infectious Canine Hepatitis, a significant cause of liver damage.
  • Rabies: The vaccine should be given according to guidelines issued by National, State, local, or provincial law.

Non-Core Vaccinations

In contrast, some infectious diseases are not so widespread but exist in pockets in certain areas. Thus, a dog living in a region where disease is not present does not automatically need protection as the risk of infection is low.

Your veterinarian will make a judgment call about which non-core elements to include, based on the prevalence of a problem in your area, plus your dog’s lifestyle.

For example, if you intend to travel widely, then vaccination against certain non-core elements is wise in case you come into contact with them en route.

Also, if your dog has a habit of hunting vermin, or swimming in ponds and lakes, your veterinarian may vaccinate against leptospirosis, even if it isn’t widespread in your area.

The non-core components of a vaccine regime are:

  • Leptospirosis: Carried by rats, this condition causes liver and kidney failure​
  • Parainfluenza virus: A viral form of flu
  • Bordetella bronchispetica: One of the components of kennel cough
  • Canine influenza virus: A flu-like virus
  • Canine herpes virus: Causes reproductive problems in breeding dogs
  • Lymes disease: Causes fever, aching joints, and eventually, neurological symptoms.

When Do Puppies Need Their Shots?

​The timing of a puppy vaccination schedule may seem a mystery to you, but this confusion arises because of temporary protection from the mother.

A puppy gets temporary immunity from the mother via antibodies that the placenta and also enrich her milk. These factors are known as maternally derived antibodies (MDA).

But don’t get too hung up on the name, just think of MDA like law enforcement officers on a short term contract in the fight against infection.

Unfortunately MDAs aren’t equipped to tell a ‘wild’ virus (one picked up in the park) from the ‘safe’ virus contained in a vaccine. The MDA indiscriminately recognizes a threat and takes it out there and then. This means high levels of MDA cancel out the benefit of the vaccination because they treat the vaccine as if it was an infection.

However, MDA protection is only temporary and its effectiveness starts to dwindle when the puppy is around six weeks of age. Ideally, the first vaccine is given at a sweet-spot as the MDA declines (and so doesn’t take out all the vaccine) but before it is gone altogether (and leaves the puppy totally unprotected).

Most vaccination regimes start after 6 weeks of age and the ideal time to book your puppy in for their first shot is between 6 – 8 weeks of age.

How Many Shots Do Puppies Need?​

The immune system leaves us with a dilemma. The very thing (MDA) that protects the puppy initially is also that which damages the vaccine. Thus we need to bridge the gap as MDA wanes, which mean repeating the shots are regular intervals.

The answer is three shots given four weeks apart stretching over a period between two and four months of age. This repeated stimulation of the immune system bridges the gap left by the MDA and so keeps puppy safe.

All of which sounds as if puppy needs lots of shots- but in reality it boils down to three visits to the vet clinic. Most commonly puppy starts the vaccine schedule between 6 – 8 weeks of again, then visits again a month later, and then a month after that.

  • A typical puppy shot schedule involves vaccinations at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age.​

Where things get a bit complicated is if puppy has a 6 week shot. Keep counting four weeks forward and you end up with jabs at 10, 14, and 18 weeks of age.

Non-core vaccinations are usually given at the same time as the core components, and don’t require an extra trip. (The exception is Leptospirosis, which some veterinarians prefer to give as a separate shot when the main course of injections are over.)​




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