everything you need to know about your puppy vaccine schedule

Everything You Need to Know About Vaccinations for Your Puppy

by Amy Smith - 7/19/19

Which shots does my puppy need? What are they for? When should he get them? Many new dog owners are confused by the information on vaccines for dogs. Read on for a breakdown of common shots, including what’s required by law, what’s recommended and what’s a typical vaccine schedule for the first year of a puppy’s life.

What’s the Law?

The only vaccine your puppy may be required to receive in the United States is rabies vaccine, which is legally mandated in most states. This shot protects your pet against rabies, a highly deadly disease of the nervous system. It is spread by saliva, usually when an infected mammal (such as a racoon, skunk, bat, fox or coyote) bites another animal. Because rabies can also be transmitted to humans, it’s important for your safety and your pet’s safety to comply with the laws on rabies vaccination. Each state has slightly different guidelines, but most states require rabies vaccination around 3 or 4 months of age, a booster at 12 months and regular re-vaccination afterward. Timelines vary by vaccine).

Core Vaccines

In addition to rabies vaccinations, the American Animal Hospital Association has issued recommendations on which vaccinations are most important for dogs. These “core vaccinations” are intended to address illnesses that are common and serious for most dogs, and these shots are strongly recommended by the AAHA and by most vets. Core vaccinations are intended to prevent the following diseases: canine distemper virus, a contagious disease that starts out in the respiratory system and eventually effects the nervous system, causing cough, fever, discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, paralysis and often death; parvovirus, another very contagious virus marked by fever, vomiting and excessive diarrhea, often resulting in death; adenovirus-1, which causes canine hepatitis; adenvirus-2, which causes respiratory illnesses; and parainfluenza virus, a respiratory system virus that often contributes to “kennel cough” symptoms.

Non-Core Vaccines

Several other vaccinations are available but are considered “non-core” because they may be necessary only in certain regions of the country or only for dogs with specific risk factors. Your vet will likely know whether your dog is at high risk for any of the diseases in the non-core category. These vaccines provide protection against the following: Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that causes fever, joint problems, swollen lymph nodes, heart and kidney problems and long-term neurological symptoms; Bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacterial infection that causes coughing and other respiratory problems and is largely responsible for “kennel cough”; Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection marked by digestive problems, fever and — possibly — kidney and liver damage — and which is transmissible to humans; and Canine influenza, a virus that causes respiratory problems and sometimes pneumonia.

Setting a Schedule

Your vet will likely discuss these vaccines with you and make suggestions for when to administer core vaccines and any non-core vaccines that he (and you) believe to be necessary for your puppy’s health. The core vaccines are often administered in one combination shot around 6 weeks of age and then repeated every two to four weeks thereafter until 16 weeks of age. After one year, puppies may require booster shots for these vaccinations to ensure continued immunity.

Now that you’ve reviewed the recommendations and the diseases these shots are intended to prevent, discuss your dog’s situation and risk factors with your vet to decide the best schedule for your new pup.

Amy Smith is a writer, specializing in family and parenting topics. She teaches English, Latin, and music at a private school and lives with her husband and five children on a small homestead in rural Pennsylvania.