Getting your puppy vaccinated is one of the most important things you can do to keep her healthy and ensure she remains protected from the many viruses and bacteria she'll encounter in the environment during her first year. Even puppies that don't often leave the house are susceptible to becoming ill via the germs we bring home on our shoes and clothing.
When your puppy is first born, she ingests a special milk called colostrum, which her mother produces for a short time. This milk contains protective antibodies against disease. After a few days following her birth, your puppy's intestines become "closed" and are no longer able to absorb these antibodies into her system. These first two days are critical in determining the type of immunity she will have until her own immune system matures over the next 4 - 5 months.
While the protective antibodies from her mother are in effect, vaccinations your puppy receives will be inactivated and not have any effect. All of these protective antibodies will disappear by 16 - 20 weeks of age. The amount of time that the antibodies last in each puppy's system is variable, so your veterinarian vaccinates her every 2 - 4 weeks to make sure that your puppy doesn't have any window of time when she is vulnerable to disease! It is important to follow your vet's directions on when to return for vaccines. With the exception of Rabies, most puppy vaccines need to be given at least twice (3 - 4 weeks apart) to provide maximum stimulation to the immune system and high levels of protective antibody protection in your puppy! The distemper vaccination is often given 3 - 4 times, depending on the age at which it is first given (and certain breeds may require a longer distemper series than others).
What Vaccines Does My Puppy Need?
The number and type of vaccines your puppy needs is best determined after talking with your veterinarian to assess what bacteria and viruses to which your puppy is most likely to be exposed. For example, a dog that never leaves the home and does not visit with any other dogs is unlikely to be exposed to Canine Influenza, a virus spread between dogs via coughing and sneezing. The two vaccines recommended for ALL puppies are Rabies and Distemper (DA2PP).
RABIES Rabies is a virus transmitted through the saliva of affected animals, usually through bite wounds. By the time signs are noted, the disease is always fatal. Vaccinations are given between 12 - 16 weeks, 1 year later, then every 3 years. In the northeast, Rabies is transmitted most commonly by raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes and groundhogs. In Maryland, there were 268 cases of Rabies in 2018--24 of these in cats and 2 in dogs! The Rabies vaccine is required by law, and must be given unless your pet has a special letter of exemption written by the state veterinarian (which can be issued in cases when the vaccine may be harmful to the pet; eg dogs with autoimmune disease or cancer).
DISTEMPER Despite the name, the "distemper" vaccination has nothing to do with your puppy's attitude! It is actually a combination of vaccines against four (and sometimes 5 or 6) viruses given in one shot.
DISTEMPER - Canine distemper is a very prevalent, highly contagious disease that can be spread by contact with mucous and watery secretions discharged from the eyes and nose of affected dogs. Infection may also occur from exposure to urine, fecal material, and through the air. Up to 75% of infected puppies may die from the disease, and those that survive are at risk for permanent damage to the brain and spinal cord (partial or total paralysis, seizures). Signs of distemper include: squinting, congestion of the eyes, weight loss, vomiting, nasal discharge, poor appetite, and sometimes diarrhea. In some cases, no signs are observed until seizures begin.
ADENOVIRUS - Adenoviruses are known as Type 1 or Type 2 and cause respiratory or liver disease. Adult dogs are often able to recover from this virus, but it is fatal in many puppies. The respiratory form is a minor contributor to kennel cough. The liver disease (hepatitis) is spread by infected urine or feces. Signs include fever and diarrhea, and the virus damages the liver, kidneys and blood vessels.
PARVOVIRUS - Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus is transmitted by oral contact with infected feces. The virus can survive in the environment for long periods of time and can be transmitted on toys, bowls and clothing, as well as in the soil. For this reason, preventing a puppy from being exposed to the virus is almost impossible. The signs of disease are seen approximately 5 days after exposure. Signs include: depression, anorexia, fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and rapidly progressive dehydration. Death can occur in untreated cases and is usually caused by dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, endotoxic shock or secondary bacterial infection. The virus attacks intestinal cells and white blood cells--which prevents absorption of food in the intestines (foul diarrhea and vomiting) and allows invasion by bacteria (low white blood cell count). Aggressive treatment with fluids and antibiotics is necessary.
PARAINFLUENZA - The Parainfluenza virus causes respiratory disease in adult dogs, which can be quite severe in young puppies. It is considered to be a minor contributor to kennel cough. Signs include mild fever, nasal discharge, reddened tonsils and a harsh, non-productive cough.
LYME - Lyme disease (Borreliosis) is a bacteria transmitted from the bite of an infected deer tick. It is highly prevalent in our area, and the ticks that carry Lyme disease can be found in the woods as well as in our own backyards! Signs of Lyme disease include: lethargy, joint pain, swelling, fever and lameness. More serious (but less common) signs include kidney failure and heart problems. Because symptoms may remain hidden in the early stages of the disease, it is important to have your dog tested yearly for exposure to the Lyme bacteria. Treatment consists of a course of antibiotics, and can often be instituted before signs are observed. The vaccination against Lyme disease is excellent, but not 100% effective, and therefore it is recommended that it be used in conjunction with a tick prevention product.
LEPTOSPIROSIS - Leptospirosis is a bacteria transmitted to dogs through the urine of infected mammals (from mice to deer). Dogs can acquire the bacteria by drinking from standing water. The bacteria can cause kidney or liver failure in dogs. Although less common than Lyme disease, this bacteria is dangerous in that it can be transferred from your dog to you through contact with contaminated urine.
BORDETELLA - Bordetella is a highly contagious respiratory virus, and the most common contributor to a complex of conditions known as "kennel cough". It is also a contributing factor to pneumonia in puppies. Signs include a hacking cough with spasms that is often followed by retching or gagging. Toy breeds are especially susceptible.
CANINE INFLUENZA VIRUS (CIV), H3N8 & H3N2- Canine influenzais a recently emerged virus that was first identified in 2004. It is highly contagious and can be transmitted by dogs before they show any signs of illness. There are now two recognized strains of the virus and a vaccine is available that covers both strains. The severity of the signs that develop in dogs is highly variable--25-50% dogs produce enough antibodies to the virus that they don't show any signs of illness. The other 50 - 75% of dogs show signs of disease at variable levels. Most dogs are affected by a more mild form of canine influenza have a quiet, moist cough for 2-4 weeks, can be lethargic, have a fever and have a poor appetitie. Sometimes eye or nose discharge (which can be very thick) can occur. Some dogs have a dry cough similar to kennel cough. Dogs affected by a more severe form have high fever and can develop a secondary bacterial pneumonia (fatal in 5 - 8% of cases). Most of these dogs recover in 2 - 3 weeks but can need intense supportive care in the hospital. When a dog becomes infected, they show signs in 2 - 5 days and remain sick for 2 - 4 weeks. Because this is a newly developing disease, any dog that is not vaccinated is at risk for becoming sick. Dogs that go to boarding facilities or groomers, go to dog parks or to doggie day care should be considered for vaccination. Wondering if the canine flu is in your area? Reported cases can be tracked here.
When Does My Puppy Get Vaccinated?
BASIC VACCINES FOR ALL PUPPIES
DISTEMPER - Given every 3 - 4 weeks, beginning at 8 weeks up until 17 - 20 weeks of age. Given again at 1 year of age, and then every 1 - 3 years depending on risk factors and your veterinarian.
RABIES - Given once between 12 - 16 weeks of age. Repeated at 1 year of age, then every 3 years (as long as vaccinations are given on time). It is VERY IMPORTANT not to be late when getting this booster for your dog. It is the only vaccine that is LEGALLY REQUIRED for all dogs.
VACCINES GIVEN BASED ON YOUR PUPPY'S RISK FACTORS
BORDETELLA - Given to puppies who will be going to puppy classes, the groomer, a boarding kennel or dog parks. Most commonly given as a yearly vaccine (although some kennels require that it be given every 6 months). Some veterinarians will recommend that puppies be given an initial intranasal vaccine followed by an injectable vaccine 3-4 weeks later. An oral form of the vaccine is now available as well.
LYME - Series of 2 vaccines given 3 - 4 weeks apart. Boosters given every year.
LEPTOSPIROSIS - Series of 2 vaccines given 3 - 4 weeks apart. Boosters given every year.
CANINE INFLUENZA - Series of 2 vaccines given 3 -4 weeks apart. Boosters given every year.
How many vaccines your puppy gets at one visit can vary depending on his age and weight. For example, a 2 lb Chihuahua pup may only get one vaccine while a 40 lb Labrador Retriever puppy of the same age may get 3 vaccines. Smaller puppies often make more trips for vaccines and get fewer at each visit.