New Puppy Vaccinations

By Jeanne Breneman

When you take on the responsibility of a new puppy, keeping him healthy is top of mind. Vaccinating your pup is one of the first and most important things you can do to protect him from the devastating effects of some very dangerous diseases. We’re talking about diseases from which it can be difficult or
impossible to recover. In this article, we present an overview of those diseases. We’ll also discuss how vaccinations are given and how they work in the body. First though, we’ll talk about the Vet’s Here recommended vaccination schedule—so you can get started right away planning your pup’s veterinary visits.

Vaccination Schedule

Many puppy vaccines are given as a series of injections during the period between six and 16 weeks of age. The series approach allows the puppy to develop his own antibodies as the maternal antibodies wear off. It is important that the last set of vaccines be given at 16 weeks of age or later, to ensure the puppy has full immunity. There is more information about maternal antibodies and how immunity works later in this article. Ideally, your new puppy’s vaccines should begin at eight weeks of age and then every four weeks up to 16 weeks of age. The schedule shown below summarizes the Vet’s Here recommended vaccination schedule for puppies.

Your veterinarian will discuss with you whether any changes should be made based on your puppy’s:

  • Age when you got him
  • Vaccination history prior to your getting him (if known)
  • Vaccination history of his mother (if known)
  • Health
  • Allergies
  • Environment

Vaccines That Protect Your Puppy

It’s likely that you’ve never seen a dog infected by most of the diseases that canine vaccines protect against. Vaccinations have made many of these diseases uncommon in dogs (thank goodness!).

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system, ultimately infecting the brain. There is no treatment, and it is fatal. The most common way for pets (and people) to contract rabies is through the bite of an infected animal.

Canine Parvovirus
Canine Parvovirus is a viral disease that is extremely contagious. It can spread rapidly through dog parks, boarding facilities, and multi-dog households, even without direct dog-to-dog contact. Vomiting and diarrhea are some of the main symptoms. Serious and rapid dehydration can be a secondary effect,
along with intestinal damage and shock. Puppies are especially vulnerable, and the disease can be fatal to them.

Canine Distemper
Canine Distemper is caused by a virus called Adenovirus type 1, a viral disease spread through the air. Initially, it affects the tonsils and lymph nodes, but it spreads through the body and affects many other systems as well. Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, seizures, and paralysis. Only supportive therapy can be given to dogs infected with distemper; there is no treatment that cures the disease. Distemper can be fatal.

Kennel Cough
“Kennel Cough” is an upper respiratory infection that is another very contagious disease. It is not just one thing – there are several viral and bacterial agents that can contribute to it, including Adenovirus type 2, Canine Parainfluenza virus, and most commonly, Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. An effective vaccine program addresses all these contributing agents.

Leptospirosis is caused by the Leptospira bacteria. Wild animals can be infected with the bacteria without it causing disease, but they can spread it to dogs where it is much more dangerous. In dogs, Leptospirosis can cause kidney or liver damage. The bacteria are shed by wild animals through their urine, so anything that has been in contact with wild animal urine can be a source of infection for dogs including soil, water, and bedding. Leptospirosis is zoonotic, meaning that your dog can infect you with the disease too.

Canine Influenza
Canine Influenza, also called “dog flu”, is a viral disease and is not the same as Canine Parainfluenza. There are two strains of canine influenza virus (H3N8 and H3N2). Both cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, and difficulty breathing. Fever is also possible. The disease spreads through the air from dog to dog. Left untreated, dog flu can advance to pneumonia. For more information and recommendations about this vaccine, see our blog article, A Vet’s Perspective on Canine Influenza and the Dog Flu Shot.

Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that is transmitted by ticks. When a carrier tick bites a dog, it can inject the bacteria into the wound. Tick prevention is the best way to protect against this disease, but the vaccine is recommended for pets at high risk due to their environment
(uncommon in Southern California). Untreated Lyme disease can be serious for a dog, even leading to death.

The Concept of Immunity

Animals (including humans) with immunity can resist infection from specific diseases because they have the necessary antibodies in their systems. Antibodies are proteins that fight off disease-causing bacteria or viruses. Antibodies are very specific. To fight off rabies, a dog needs rabies antibodies. To fight off distemper, a dog needs distemper antibodies.

The reason antibodies are so specific is that they recognize and respond to a unique component of the disease-causing agent called an antigen. Antigens are molecular structures. Rabies antigens are different from distemper antigens, for example, which is why the antibodies produced to neutralize them
are also different.

Puppies typically get an initial dose of antibodies from the mother’s milk they consume within 24 hours after they are born. This antibody-rich milk is called colostrum. This type of immunity is an example of passive immunity. Passive immunity from colostrum only protects puppies for a short time (6 to 12 weeks of age). Puppy vaccinations ensure the puppy develops immunity of his own while the passive immunity from his mother is wearing off. The type of immunity that vaccinations stimulate is called active immunity.

If the mother had no immunity (because she was not vaccinated herself), she has no antibodies to pass on to her puppies. Be sure to let your veterinarian know if your new puppy’s mother has an out of date or unknown vaccination record. It might influence the recommended vaccination schedule.

Vaccinations stimulate active immunity by introducing a noninfectious form of the disease that includes antigens. The antigens cause the puppy’s body to respond by producing antibodies. The production of antibodies in response to antigens is called an immune response. Puppies are given multiple doses of vaccine because vaccines do not stimulate an immune response until passive immunity starts to wear off. The goal is to stimulate the immune response as soon as the puppy is able, not leaving him vulnerable to the disease any longer than necessary. The chart below shows how a puppy’s passive immunity decreases over time, while his active immunity increases.

Requirements Versus Recommendations

Each individual state establishes the vaccines that it requires by law. Recommendations, on the other hand, are provided by a special task force that is part of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The task force, collectively, has a great deal of expertise in veterinary practice, veterinary law, public health, and the science of immunity.

Your veterinarian takes the AAHA’s recommendations into consideration in working out an appropriate vaccination schedule for your puppy. Your veterinarian also takes into consideration your pet’s environment and the likelihood of exposure to the diseases for which vaccinations are available.

Your veterinarian will ask you questions about your puppy’s environment. The answers can help determine the likelihood of exposure to various viruses and bacteria. For example:

  • Will your puppy be meeting and playing with other dogs such as at dog parks?
  • Do you expect to make use of daycare or boarding facilities?
  • Will the puppy be exploring the wilderness?
  • Will the puppy have access to areas where livestock live?
  • Will the puppy be swimming in or drinking from rivers, creeks, lakes, or puddles?
  • Will the puppy be attending dog shows or obedience competitions?

Required Vaccinations for Dogs in California

In California (and in most other states too), rabies is the only vaccine required by law. It is required

  • The disease is zoonotic (transferable to humans), so there is a public health consideration.
  • The disease is fatal (to dogs and to people).

The California law states that dogs four months or older must be vaccinated for rabies. When a dog is vaccinated for rabies, the owner is given a tag identifying the dog as having been vaccinated. Vaccinated dogs are expected to wear this tag, and a dog cannot be licensed without proof of rabies vaccination.

Core Versus Noncore Vaccines

Core vaccines are those that are recommended for every dog because they protect against diseases
that can have serious effects, are highly contagious, and can even be fatal. All the diseases that core
vaccines protect against are viral diseases.

Core vaccines protect against:

  • Rabies
  • Parvovirus
  • Parainfluenza (contributes to “kennel cough”)
  • Distemper
  • Adenovirus types 1 (hepatitis) and 2 (contributes to “kennel cough”)

Noncore vaccines are those that are recommended depending on the likelihood of exposure. For example, if leptospirosis is uncommon in your area and your dog never encounters wild animals or areas frequented by wild animals, he might not need to be vaccinated for that disease. An individual dog does not necessarily need every vaccine that is available, and there are good reasons not to vaccinate unnecessarily. Discuss your pet’s situation with your veterinarian. Some noncore vaccines are for viral diseases, some are for bacterial diseases. The noncore vaccines that are available protect against:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria (contributes to “kennel cough”)
  • Leptospirosis (Leptospira bacteria)
  • Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria)
  • Canine Influenza Virus (not the same as Parainfluenza)

How Core Vaccines Are Administered

The rabies vaccine is administered as a standalone vaccine, either in a muscle (intramuscularly) or under the skin (subcutaneously).

Because it is required by state law, the rabies vaccine must be administered and documented by a veterinarian.

Puppies are vaccinated for rabies no younger than three months of age (we recommend four months), and then again one year later. After the one-year dose, the rabies vaccine can be good for one year or three years, depending on the formula, after which it must be renewed with a booster shot.

Separate from the rabies vaccine, puppies are given a combination vaccine subcutaneously that includes the remaining core vaccines:

  • Distemper
  • Adenovirus (both types 1 and 2)
  • Parvovirus
  • Parainfluenza Virus (contributes to “kennel cough”) is either included in the DHPP type of combo
    vaccine or in the Bordetella vaccine. It would not be included in both.

Leptospirosis vaccine (noncore) can optionally be included in the combo vaccine.

This combination vaccine is fraught with confusing names and acronyms because there are multiple manufacturers of the vaccines and multiple formulas. Ask questions to be sure you understand what’s in the combination vaccine your veterinarian is recommending. Here are some of the ways you might see this combination vaccine written:

  • DHPP: Distemper – Hepatitis (Adenovirus type 1, and also protects against type 2) – Parvovirus –
  • DAPP: Distemper – Adenovirus (types 1 and 2) – Parvovirus – Parainfluenza
  • DA2PP: Distemper – Adenovirus 2 (also protects against type 1) – Parvovirus – Parainfluenza
  • If there’s an “L” in the acronym (DHLPP, for example), it means that Leptospirosis is included.
  • If the vaccine is referred to as a “5-way”, that means it protects against Distemper, Adenovirus
  • types 1 and 2, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza.
  • All combo vaccines protect against both types of Adenovirus.

Multiple doses of the combination vaccine are given to puppies, to give them ample time to develop their own antibodies while the antibodies they got from their mother are wearing off. See the recommended schedule of vaccines at the beginning of this article.

How Noncore Vaccines are Administered

Kennel Cough vaccine is administered as drops in the nose (intranasally). Leptospirosis vaccine can be included in the combo vaccine or as a separate subcutaneous injection. Lyme Disease and Canine Influenza Virus vaccines are administered as separate subcutaneous injections.

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