Puppy Shots: Everything You Need to Know About Vaccination

Vaccines protect your dog from infectious diseases that can occur from outdoor play or interactions with other dogs.Vaccines protect your dog from infectious diseases that can occur from outdoor play or interactions with other dogs.
Vaccines protect your dog from infectious diseases that can occur from outdoor play or interactions with other dogs.Vaccines protect your dog from infectious diseases that can occur from outdoor play or interactions with other dogs.

Table of Contents:

  1. What Are Puppy Shots?
  2. Puppy Vaccination: Boosters Explained
  3. Keeping Disease Away – What Vaccines Do Puppies Need?
  4. What Is the Typical Puppy Vaccine Schedule?
  5. What Do Puppy Vaccines Cost?
  6. What Else Does a Puppy Need to Stay Healthy?
  7. Can You Use Feed-Store Vaccines?
  8. What Are Vaccine Titers?
  9. Cutting Costs and Keeping Your Puppy Healthy

Bringing home a puppy means taking on a lengthy to-do list. You have to introduce them to your family, provide safe toys, work on potty training, find the right puppy food, and get puppy vaccinations.

The last item on this list is typically the one most new pet parents have questions about.

  • Does my puppy really need all these shots?
  • What is the benefit of these shots?
  • Will shots be painful?

These are valid questions, and with a little research, you’ll discover that puppy shots are beneficial for both you and your pup.

What Are Puppy Shots?

What most people call “puppy shots,” doctors call vaccinations or boosters. When puppy owners hear “vaccination,” they typically think of the annual rabies shot their dogs get, but puppies actually need quite a few more vaccinations than that. Puppy vaccinations help dogs lead full and healthy lives.

Puppies need a series of vaccinations that will protect them from infectious diseases that can spread quickly from dog-to-dog or be picked up while outside playing.

Puppy Vaccination: Boosters Explained

Booster shots help your puppy build or “boost” their immune system. Typically, puppies get their first round of vaccinations between 6 and 8 weeks of age and every three to four weeks until around 20 weeks of age. Which vaccines your puppy receives at each appointment will vary depending on your dog’s size, local laws, and risk factors based on location and lifestyle.

Important Points About Puppy Vaccination:

  • Small and miniature sized dogs may get fewer vaccines at each visit, resulting in more frequent visits.
  • Some states or counties require rabies shots by a particular age, which can impact the protocol at your location.
  • Risk factors such as boarding, grooming, and exposure to ticks can impact vaccine recommendations, which may include kennel cough, canine flu, or Lyme disease. Your veterinarian will help you determine which vaccines are best for your puppy depending on these aforementioned factors.
  • Repeated vaccines are required to provide a puppy with the necessary time to respond to vaccination and build their own immunity while waiting for maternal antibodies to dissipate.

Keeping Disease Away – What Vaccines Do Puppies Need?

Each shot has been crafted to fight against a specific disease. The typical vaccine will read on your medical record as “DHPP,” “DHLPP,” or “DHLPPC.” These initials represent the first letter of the name of the disease (listed below).

Vaccines are commonly referred to as “core” and “noncore.”

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines are those strongly recommended or required to prevent disease and promote dog health.

  • Distemper (D). Distemper is a viral disease that viciously attacks a dog’s respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal (GI) systems. This disease is highly contagious and can be extremely difficult to treat. It can be spread through the air or shared water and food dishes from other dogs, skunks, racoons, and other infected animals. Symptoms of distemper include coughing, fever, eye and nasal discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, and abnormal neurologic signs like inappropriate behavior, seizures, and/or paralysis. Distemper disease tends to be fatal in dogs. Vaccination starts at 6 to 8 weeks of age and is part of a series of vaccines.
  • Canine Hepatitis (H). Hepatitis is a viral disease that primarily attacks a dog’s liver and eyes. This disease can also lead to reproductive issues. Humans cannot contract hepatitis from dogs. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, anorexia, vomiting, and jaundice. Severe disease can lead to death.
  • Leptospirosis (L). Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that, like hepatitis, attacks a dog’s liver and kidneys. However, unlike hepatitis, leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans from dogs. It is commonly spread by deer urine and rats. Some dogs are asymptomatic or exhibit signs like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy, jaundice, liver failure, and/or kidney failure. Your puppy’s DHLPP vaccine will protect them from this disease, and it is usually given at 12 weeks of age or older. It is highly reactive, and associated with more reactions than most vaccines. The immunity doesn’t last as long as other vaccines and is occasionally bolstered mid-year.
  • Parainfluenza (P). Parainfluenza is a highly-contagious, viral respiratory disease that can spread from dog to dog. It is one of the viruses that cause kennel cough. With the disease being so contagious, shelters and boarding facilities are particularly vulnerable.
  • Parvovirus (P). Parvovirus, commonly referred to as “parvo,” is a serious, highly contagious, and often fatal disease that is especially dangerous for puppies. It attacks and suppresses a dog’s immune system, resulting in severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, anorexia, and lethargy.
  • Rabies Vaccine (RV). Rabies is the best-known, required vaccination on this list. Almost everyone knows that pets need rabies vaccinations, and, in many locations, it is required by law. Rabies is another puppy disease that can be spread to a pet’s human counterparts. It spreads through wounds via the saliva of a rabid animal. Most animals can contract rabies, including bats, cats, rabbits, skunks, coyotes, and other small mammals. Rabies can be treated in humans when caught early enough, but it can be fatal in dogs. It’s very important that your dog is up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations in case they are ever attacked or bite someone. This vaccine is generally given between 12 and 20 weeks of age. We recommend consulting with your vet to make sure your shot schedule is compliant with state regulations.

Non-Core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines are those recommended based on risk factors, like location and exposure to other dogs at boarding and grooming facilities or dog parks.

  • Coronavirus. There are many types of coronavirus, including the current COVID-19 strain, but that is not treated with this vaccine. This particular type of coronavirus causes gastrointestinal symptoms similar to parvovirus, specifically vomiting and diarrhea. It was a component of vaccines in the past, but is becoming less common. Coronavirus represents the last “C” in “DHLPPC”. Learn more about COVID-19 in dogs here.
  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica. Commonly shortened to “Bordetella,” this is a contagious bacterium in dogs that causes kennel cough. Dogs who are boarded are more likely to contract kennel cough, but your pup can pick up this infection anywhere, even at the vet’s office, dog park, grooming shop, pet store, or from an infected neighbor’s dog. The bordetella vaccination greatly decreases your puppy’s chances of contracting kennel cough. When left untreated, this infection can develop into a serious upper respiratory issue capable of progressing to lung collapse or pneumonia. Injectable, oral, and nasal spray vaccines are available. Vaccination is frequently required at training classes, doggy daycare facilities, and boarding and grooming businesses. Signs of infection include coughing, which is difficult to stop, lethargy, and, in severe cases, pneumonia.
  • Lyme. Lyme disease, also known as borreliosis, is a disorder caused by the spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) spread by ticks. This can affect multiple organ systems and cause symptoms such as fever, lethargy, lameness, and anorexia. It is becoming more common in many areas of the country, but occurs most frequently on the east coast and in the Midwest. Prevention is focused on minimizing tick exposure and tick attachment. For endemic areas, year-round tick presentation is critical, and vaccination is recommended. Dogs can carry ticks into the home, which can attach to and infect humans.
  • Canine Flu. Also called the Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) or H3N8 and H3N2, this is a highly contagious respiratory infection for dogs. Over the past 5 years, there have been periodic reports of outbreaks that have infected many dogs and closed veterinary clinics, shelters, boarding facilities, and grooming shops. The virus can cause a fever, cough, nasal discharge, and fatal pneumonia. A vaccine is available and often required by many boarding and grooming facilities.

What Is the Typical Puppy Vaccine Schedule?

The information noted above was a detailed description of the components of a vaccine and their intended purpose. However, what does a puppy really need and what is the typical puppy vaccine schedule?

Here is the bottom line on what shots your puppy needs:

  • The MOST important vaccine components are Distemper, Hepatitis (Adenovirus), and Parvovirus. This represents the DHP or DAP in a vaccine’s initials.
  • Young puppies begin their vaccine series between 6 to 8 weeks of age and receive a vaccine booster every 3 to 4 weeks apart until around 20 weeks of age. At some point, usually around 12 weeks or older, a rabies vaccine is given.
  • Older puppies (over 16 weeks of age) who are just receiving their first vaccine will need that initial vaccine and a booster in 3 to 4 weeks. The rabies vaccine is also given at one of these appointments.
  • Lyme, bordetella, and the canine flu vaccine may be recommended depending on your dog’s risk factors. Regardless of age, if given, the canine flu and Lyme vaccines are boostered in 3-4 weeks to achieve protection.
  • The vaccines given at each appointment will vary depending on your dog’s size, local laws, and risk factors based on location and lifestyle. We recommend talking to your vet to best determine your dog’s yearly and lifelong vaccination schedule.

Puppy Vaccination Series Breakdown

Puppy Age Recommended Core Vaccines Optional Vaccines* Other Health Recommendations
6 – 8 weeks Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus Bordetella Fecal tests and deworming as needed
10 -12 weeks Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus (DHPP) Bordetella (if not done earlier) Fecal tests and deworming as needed, Microchipping**, Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Prevention
14 – 16 weeks Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus, Rabies*** (DHPP or DHLPP) Bordetella, Lyme disease, Canine flu, Coronavirus Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Prevention
18- 20 weeks Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis****, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus (DHPP or DHLPP) Bordetella, Lyme disease, Canine flu, Coronavirus Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Prevention
6 months Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Prevention, Spaying or Neutering
1 year Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus, Rabies (DHPP or DHLPP) Bordetella, Lyme disease, Canine flu, Coronavirus Yearly Heartworm Testing
  • * Vaccine recommendations may vary depending on your location relative to risk of disease and other lifestyle factors that may impact the need for protection.
  • ** A microchip is recommended and can be done at any age. Some shelters do it before a puppy leaves (usually at a very young age), while other vets do it during the spay/neuter procedure.
  • *** Rabies vaccine may be given any time after 12 weeks in most locations.
  • ****Leptospirosis protection is considered a core vaccine in some areas of the country.

What Do Puppy Vaccines Cost?

The cost of vaccines varies based on location and the individual veterinary hospital providing the vaccination. Some areas of the country are more expensive than others. Animal shelters and vaccine clinics in rural areas are generally less expensive.

Vaccine appointments often include an examination, which equates to an appointment fee in addition to the cost of the vaccinations. Vaccine prices vary substantially.

The prices below are rough guidelines:

  • DHPP vaccine – $12 to $45
  • DHLPP vaccine – $15 – $54
  • Rabies vaccine – $12 – $45
  • Bordetella vaccine – $12 – $25
  • Lyme vaccine – $18 – $50
  • Canine flu vaccine (CIV)- $14 – $25

Because there are multiple vaccines required to protect your puppy, vaccinations are more expensive during the first year. Subsequent years require fewer vaccines and, therefore, are less expensive.

What Else Does a Puppy Need to Stay Healthy?

In addition to the core vaccines listed above, puppies need the following:

  • Fecal checks need to be conducted to detect microscopic gastrointestinal parasites, like tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, giardia, whipworms, and coccidia. Positive tests can indicate gastrointestinal parasitic disease, while negative results from a fecal sample can be inconclusive and misleading. Some parasites do not shed eggs consistently, so some samples may be negative even though the animal actually has a parasitic infection. Repeated fecal examinations may be necessary to detect some elusive parasites and two negative fecal exams are often recommended.
  • Deworming medications should be given to treat worms. The most common deworming medication is called Strongid® T and given to newborn puppies at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age.
  • Flea, tick, and heartworm prevention is critical to good puppy health. The particular coverage is dependent upon the area of the country. For example, in warmer climates, year-round protection is recommended. In cooler climates, spring, summer, and early fall coverage may be all that is required. The particular product recommendations may change as a dog ages, because certain products are approved for puppies, while others are specifically for dogs over 6 months.
  • Spaying or neutering is recommended at approximately 6 months of age. The term “neuter” refers to the removal of an animal’s reproductive organs. In males, the correct term is “castration,” and for females, it is “spay” or “spaying.” Neutering is important to reduce the risk of unwanted puppies.
  • Heartworm testing is recommended for puppies over the age of 6 months prior to starting prevention (if they have not yet been on preventative medication). Learn more about heartworm disease in dogs here.
  • Physical examinations by a licensed veterinarian are important to identify problems such as flea infestations, skin infections, heart murmurs, ear infections, dental problems, and much more.

Can You Use Feed-Store Vaccines?

Having a puppy can be expensive and the cost of vaccines, deworming, and flea, tick, and heartworm prevention can all add up. The question is – does where you get your vaccine matter?

According to most veterinarians, it does matter. Many vaccines provided by veterinarians are guaranteed. That means, if your pet is properly vaccinated and actually gets a particular disease, the costs may be covered.

Vaccines are delicate and improper storage can deactivate them. Veterinary clinics are careful in regard to how they store vaccines and monitor refrigeration temperature and expiration dates. Vaccines are shipped on ice or dry ice and most clinics have clear processes to preserve them.

State law requires some states to have thermometers in the refrigerators that store vaccines and require daily temperature monitoring and documentation. Some clinics have backup generators on their refrigerators to protect them from temperature changes.

While many feed stores try to do a good job, not all do. Veterinarians routinely treat puppies with diseases, such as parvovirus, that were vaccinated with feed-store vaccines. Feed store purchased and administered vaccines are better than nothing, but is that good enough for your puppy?

What Are Vaccine Titers?

Vaccine titers are blood tests that evaluate for the presence of antibodies that develop in response to a vaccine. They help determine protection (immunity) from a disease.

Some pet owners and veterinarians worry about over vaccinating their pets. Titer tests can be performed in adult dogs to determine if they have protective antibody levels.

Low titers suggest poor protection, while high titers suggest good protection. There is no disadvantage of doing this other than the cost. This can be offset if a vaccine is not needed, but additive if an additional visit is needed for vaccination.

Titers are done in adult dogs that have already completed their series of vaccines. They cannot be done in puppies because but it is only with the vaccine series that they develop their immunity. Learn more about vaccine titers here.

Cutting Costs and Keeping Your Puppy Healthy

When you bring a new puppy home, you’re promising to love and care for it for its entire life, which includes seeing to their medical needs. Vaccinations may seem expensive at the time, but treating any of the diseases that these vaccinations prevent can be a much greater expense. For example, parvovirus is completely preventable and prominent in unvaccinated puppies, and can cost thousands to treat. Outpatient treatment can cost $500 – $600 and hospitalized treatment can be $5,000 or more depending on the severity of the illness. When it comes to your puppy’s health, it’s better to be proactive as opposed to reactive.

One easy way to help cut down on the cost of vaccinations is through pet insurance. Some plans may cover illness and accidents only, while others cover the cost of vaccinations, fecal examinations, deworming, flea, tick, and heartworm preventions, spay or castration procedures, and even food. Pet insurance can help you keep your puppy healthy and your wallet happy. Get a quote for pet insurance here.

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