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Puppy Vaccinations and Shots: Important Vaccination Schedule for Your Dog

By T. J. Dunn, Jr. DVM

Well, you've really gone and done it now, haven't you? You went out and found yourself a puppy. And if this is your very first pup, you may have a bit of anxiety about this major moment in your life. This is natural, as owning and caring for a puppy is a responsibility you will have for the next 10 to 15 years if you’re lucky.  Keeping your puppy healthy into his teenage years starts with early healthcare, including vaccinations. Find out which shots your puppy should receive, how much they cost, what a standard puppy vaccination schedule looks like, and why vaccinations are so important for your dog, below.

When Should I Vaccinate My Puppy?

It’s best to get your puppy examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible. During the examination, your veterinarian will look your dog’s medical and vaccination history. If the breeder or shelter has recently vaccinated your puppy and your veterinarian is confident that it was done properly, a schedule for follow-up vaccinations will be made. Every veterinarian will have a preferred protocol for vaccinating puppies and for a puppy shot schedule. In addition, protocols change because of new research findings for the duration of the vaccine's immunity.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), puppies should be vaccinated every three to four weeks between the ages of 6 and 16 weeks (i.e. at 6, 10 and 14 weeks or at 8, 12 and 16 weeks), with the final dose given between 14 and 16 weeks of age. All puppies should receive the core vaccines of canine distemper, adenovirus 2 and canine parvovirus 2, and the first rabies vaccine your puppy receives should be given with the final puppy vaccine, according to the AAHA.

“During this critical time, maternal antibody from the mother can interfere with a long-term immune response, so the idea is to keep boosting until the pet's immune system is capable of creating its own long-term protection,” said Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, San Diego veterinarian and author of All Dogs Go to Kevin. Other vaccines that are considered to be non-core or optional, like bordetella, should be administered based on what you decide with your vet, she added.

What Are Multivalent Vaccines for Puppies?

A multivalent vaccination contains different vaccine antigens in a single combination, which means it will vaccinate against more than one microorganism or two or more strains of the same microorganism, Vogelsang said.

Multivalent vaccinations are given for convenience, and so that your puppy doesn’t need to be poked repeatedly, and are used by a majority of vets. A common multivalent vaccine that is recommended by the AAHA is DA2P, which vaccinates for canine distemper, adenovirus 2 (which also protects against adenovirus 1 that can cause canine hepatitis) and canine parvovirus. This vaccination may also be given as DA2PP, which vaccinates for all of the above in addition to parainfluenza and is also commonly used, according to Emmy Award-winning veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber.

Some of these combination-vaccines can include “L” for leptospirosis, which is a non-core vaccine, according to the AAHA, and should be administered based on the risk of exposure in each dog, said AAHA senior communications manager Kate Wessels.  Canine coronavirus also used to be part of the combination-vaccine procedure, but veterinarians no longer recommend it. Multivalent products are safe when produced by a manufacturer, but multiple vaccines shouldn’t be mixed in on syringe unless specified on the label, Wessels added.

Are Vaccinations Safe for my Puppy?

Core vaccinations, DA2PP and the rabies vaccine, are considered safe for a vast majority of puppies, Vogelsang said. For these diseases, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh their risks, and all dogs should have them, as they protect against very serious diseases.

“Since the original canine vaccines were developed and licensed over 50 years ago, there has been continuing effort to make them safer and more efficacious,” Wessels said. “Today it is generally agreed that canine vaccines have an excellent safety record.”

However, vaccines are biologic products and can cause adverse reactions and unpredictable side effects in dogs, regardless of age. Most reactions, Vogelsang said, are minor, however, and easily managed.

Regardless of his age, if your dog is sick, vaccinations may not be recommended during their veterinary visit, Werber said. The idea of a vaccine is to stimulate antibody production from a healthy immune system, so if that is compromised, the vaccine may not only be ineffective, but harmful as well, he added.

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How Much do Puppy Vaccines Cost?

The cost of shots for your puppy will vary greatly from place to place and what exactly your veterinarian is vaccinating your puppy for. According to Vogelsang, vaccinations can also be combined with important puppy preventative care, such as deworming, and can impact the cost of your vet visit.

According to Werber, who is based in California, vaccinations can range anywhere from 10 to close to 50 dollars per vaccine.

“In our area, vaccine prices can range anywhere from 10 to 25 dollars, depending on where, and by whom they are administered,” he said. “Some of the specialized vaccines, like Lyme disease, rattlesnake, and the multivalent leptospirosis vaccines may be as high as 35 to 45 dollars.”

Can I Skip Any Vaccinations for My Puppy?

Puppy vaccinations should be administered on a 6, 10 and 14-week or 8, 12 and 16-week schedule and none in the core series should be skipped, Wessels said. The shots developed as a part of this series are to prevent against diseases that can be deadly to puppies or cause significant illness, which is why it’s important to follow the advice of your veterinarian when it comes to your puppy’s vaccination schedule. Maternal antibodies disappear by the age of 14 to 16 weeks, and the reason for the series is to give the puppy protection for each disease as the maternal antibodies weaken and disappear, she added.

If you have concerns about the safety of any particular vaccine, or if your puppy has an allergic reaction to a vaccine, you should talk to your veterinarian about the risks and benefits associated with your puppy and that particular shot and deicide where to go from there, Vogelsang said.

“People are understandably confused about vaccines, because there are so many out there,” she said. “There are many factors that come into play … and it’s imperative to take each individual into account when making those recommendations. Not all vaccines are created equal, and not all of them are as effective as the core vaccines or protect against diseases as widespread and severe.”

If you have concerns about routine booster shot administration or the effects of any other vaccine, you can request that your vet complete a titer (or blood) test to measure for existing antibodies, Weber said. If the level of antibody is protective, the vaccine can be safely skipped. 

Additional writing and reporting for this article provided by Jessica Remitz.

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