The puppy vaccination series can help save your dog’s life. Learn all about which shots your dog must have and which you might want to consider.

By Mindy Valcarcel
August 24, 2020
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We’ve all been through it—a set of vaccinations at a young age. Vaccines are designed to introduce something similar to a viral disease so the body builds up an immunity and will more effectively fight against invasion if the virus strikes for real. And just as doctors recommend vaccinations for humans to ward off potentially fatal diseases, veterinarians recommend all puppies get some standard shots in their first year. The puppy vaccine series is one of the first steps you will likely take with your veterinarian, so let’s take a look at what that entails.

How Many Vaccines Will My Puppy Need?

Determining which dog vaccines are absolutely necessary will vary depending on where you live and your dog’s lifestyle. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has established a set of canine vaccination guidelines that vet practices use to outline which vaccines dogs should receive. Some are core vaccines, which should be given to all dogs, while others are needed in certain environments or for dogs routinely involved in certain activities. 

“Gone are the days of ‘one size fits all’ vaccines,” Kathryn Primm, DVM, of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, says. “If your veterinary team is not asking you about your pet’s lifestyle, make sure you explain. There are core vaccines recommended by the AAHA guidelines that every pet needs, but there are many that are great for some and less indicated for others.”

“We follow the AAHA guidelines pretty much to the letter,” Primm says. “But we tailor them to the individual. For example, we ask questions about the pet’s life. A Chihuahua that is carried in an owner’s purse has different needs than a bluetick hound that travels the country to camp with his family.”

Core Vaccines for Dogs

Rabies

Preventing this fatal infectious disease is a must, and most U.S. states require annual vaccination for dog owners since the disease can easily spread to other species, including humans, by a bite from an infected animal. The disease affects the nervous system, which may take the form of paralysis or even the well-known “mad dog” irritable and violent behavior.

DHPP

The DHPP vaccine protects against several infectious diseases at once: canine distemper virus, hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza virus. The importance of protecting dogs from these highly contagious viral infections—many of which can be deadly—can be accomplished in one fell swoop. 

Non-core Vaccines for Dogs

Bordetella

One of the most common respiratory infectious diseases in dogs is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica, which invades the lung tissues. It is spread by aerosolized expirations from a dog’s mouth or nose and results in a characteristic loud and harsh cough, giving the disease its more commonly known name of kennel cough.

Leptospira

The bacterial disease leptospirosis is easily transmitted by exposure to the bacteria Leptospira species, which is commonly encountered in the outdoors through infected urine or contaminated fresh water or mud. Infected animals may have no signs of disease or have severe disease, which can result in kidney damage.

Lyme Disease

Dogs can become infected with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme disease through the bite of a tick. There may be no signs of disease, or it may cause a wide variety of signs, from fever to lameness to a lack of appetite.

H3N8 Influenza Virus and H3N2 Influenza Virus

Up until several years ago, we thought dogs were spared the dreaded flu, but new influenza viruses have been found to invade the respiratory systems of dogs after all. Your vet may advise vaccines for either or both of these common versions of the canine flu and may routinely ask you if your dog has been experiencing a cough or nasal discharge since these are the most common signs. 

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Now that you know what vaccines your pup needs, let’s take a look at the general schedule, as listed by guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association.

Rabies

The first dose can be administered starting at 12 weeks of age, with a booster one year later. After the initial series of vaccines, states vary on whether they require a one-year or three-year interval for boosters.

DHPP

Dogs will receive the DHPP vaccine every two to four weeks starting at 6 weeks through 16 weeks of age. After the initial series of vaccines, dogs should receive a booster, usually at one-year intervals.

Bordetella

Protection against Bordetella—commonly known as kennel cough—can be delivered in three different ways:

  • Two skin injections two to four weeks apart; can start injection series at 8 weeks of age
  • A single administration into the nose; can start at 3 or 4 weeks of age
  • A single oral administration between the gums and the inner cheek; can start at 8 weeks of age, then a booster once a year

Leptospira

Two vaccines two to four weeks apart are given for Leptospira, starting at 8 to 9 weeks of age, then an annual booster.

Lyme Disease

Your dog will receive two Lyme disease vaccines two to four weeks apart starting at 8 or 9 weeks, then an annual booster.

H3N8 and H3N2 Influenza Viruses

To protect against the influenza viruses, two vaccines are administered two to four weeks apart starting at 6 or 8 weeks, then an annual booster as needed.

Not sure of your dog’s vaccine history or you’re late on puppy vaccinations? “I believe that vaccine schedules should be tailored to the individual,” Primm says. “But there is no danger in repeating a vaccine in a dog with an unknown history. In my experience, it is far better to be safe than sorry.”

Are There Any Risks to These Vaccines?

Any vaccine can have a risk, though they are uncommon and usually mild and short-lived. The American Veterinary Medical Association lists possible effects of vaccines as slight pain or swelling where the vaccine is administered, a mild fever, and a reduced appetite or level of activity. Your veterinarian will help you know what to look out for.

Vaccines are life-saving. And depending on where you live and your dog’s activities, your veterinary team will know which vaccines are most needed. So call your vet and get that initial puppy vaccine series in the books. 

“The best advice is to follow your veterinary team’s advice,” Primm says. “Take a notepad when you go and take notes. Write down questions that you might have. You and your veterinary team will be working together to keep your dog happy and healthy for years to come.”