Puppy Vaccinations

A Quick Guide to Puppy Vaccinations

The decision to bring a puppy into your family means making a commitment to the pet’s lifelong health needs, beginning with puppy vaccinations.  A healthy pet is a happy pet, and providing protection against well known health threats is the best method of achieving that goal.

Natural protection

Breast milk, whether from humans or animals, is a nourishing and vital source of food and antibodies for the baby.  The first fluid produced after giving birth is called colostrum, a milk-like substance that is packed with proteins that ward off and fight infections that could be harmful to the defenseless newborn’s system.  This fluid continues for approximately 48 hours, equipping the newborn with valuable protection.  Puppies only receive this valuable resource during these 48 hours; afterwards, the milk derived from the mother is for nutritional purposes only.  In addition, the only antibodies that are passed on to the puppy are those for which the mother has herself been vaccinated against, or against diseases to which she has been exposed.   This means that the puppies could be susceptible for developing diseases despite the protection the colostrum provides.  While the mother’s colostrum production lasts only 48 hours, the antibodies it presents in the pups remains in their systems providing this protection for several weeks.

When to vaccinate

Because the natural protection given through the mother’s early milk does stay in the system of the puppies for several weeks, the immunization of the puppy must be carefully evaluated.  The antibodies present in the blood stream will actually obstruct the very purpose of a commercial vaccine.  These natural antibodies begin to gradually fade as the puppy grows.  Unfortunately, there is a period of time, a narrow window, during which the level of antibodies is too low to afford protection against a disease, yet too high to allow a commercial vaccine’s effectiveness.  There is a danger of a puppy contracting a disease within this window. 

For this reason, veterinarians carefully consider several factors when deciding when to give puppy vaccinations.   Timing is different for every puppy, depending on how many natural antibodies were passed to the pup.  It is extremely difficult to gauge the best time for a specific puppy’s immunization without testing the pup’s immune system.  Veterinarians decide upon what they believe to be the most effective schedule for providing adequate protection against disease.

Vaccination schedules

As a general rule of thumb, puppies often receive a combination vaccine at the age of 6 weeks.  This is followed by “booster” shots every three weeks to bolster the effectiveness of the vaccines.  By the time the puppy has reached 16 weeks of age, it will have received three boosters to fully immunize the animal from diseases such as distemper, parvo and corona.  Other vaccines including heartworm, bordetella and lyme may be administered along with the combination vaccines.  Then, as your puppy grows into adulthood, it is usually recommended to vaccine the dog annually to receive protection from rabies, distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, parainfluenza and leptospirosis.

Side effects

As with many medications, puppy vaccinations have side effects for some animals.  It is not uncommon for one or more of the following adverse reactions to be experienced by your puppy:

Most symptoms should disappear approximately 24 hours after the immunization.  Swelling may be a sign of an allergic reaction, and should be reported to the veterinarian immediately.  Your vet will likely provide you with a brochure detailing specific information about the vaccine your puppy has received as well as what to watch for in complications.

Ensuring that your puppy has a great start toward a healthy and happy life begins with providing protection against a number of diseases that can threaten dogs.