Puppy vaccinations – everything you need to know

Health and Wellbeing

Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time, but it’s also one of the most nerve wracking. There are so many things to think about - you’re probably stressing about how you can keep this tiny little pup happy and healthy throughout their whole life.

One of the first things you’ll be advised to do to achieve this is to get your puppy vaccinated. The world of vaccines can be confusing, when will a puppy need to be vaccinated, what do they need to be vaccinated against and why are vaccines so important?

Puppy vaccinations

Dogs can catch a lot of nasty illnesses, some that can potentially be deadly. Luckily, the constant advances in veterinary medicine have equipped us with various vaccines to protect the canine population from loads of dreadful diseases.

We’ve got all the information you need to know about your dog’s vaccinations, right from their first vaccinations as a puppy all the way through to the vaccinations they need in their adult life.

WHEN SHOULD PUPPIES BE VACCINATED?

When your new pup has reached about 8 weeks old, they’ll be ready to leave their littermates and come home with you to start their new life.

Your pup’s first set of vaccinations will normally be given when they’re between 8 and 10 weeks old, and their second dose will be given around 2-4 weeks after the first dosage. Although it’s unlikely, puppies who have an abnormally weak immune system could be given a 3rd vaccination to aid their immunity even more.

Some breeders will have already taken your puppy for their first vaccine, so you’ll need to check with them to avoid repetition. Bring all of your ‘puppy papers’ to the vet with you on your first visit if you’re uncertain on what vaccines your pup requires.

BOOSTER VACCINATIONS

The first vaccines prevent your pup from a variety of diseases, but they will need to be topped up to maintain your dog’s immunity. Booster vaccinations will be given around a year after their initial vaccines. Afterwards, your dog will have lifelong immunity against some diseases, but some vaccines need either an annual booster or a booster every 3 years.

Dog's booster vaccinations

If your dog has gone more than 15 months without their top up injections, your vet will probably recommend starting their full vaccination programme from the very start, otherwise their initial immunity from their first vaccines might have worn out. Note down the dates for your dog’s booster vaccinations so your pup’s defence system never goes without.

WHAT DISEASES DO VACCINES PROTECT AGAINST?

Your puppy’s vaccination set will provide them with protection against various diseases, diseases that could have deadly consequences. This is why it’s essential to get your dog vaccinated.

The vaccines your puppy can get are divided into two types, core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are the ones that all dogs need, and the non-core vaccines are given out depending on that specific dog and their risk levels. Depending on your dog’s lifestyle and where you live, (some diseases are more widespread in certain areas), the vet will recommend which, if any, non-core vaccines your dog requires. The lists of core and non-core vaccines provided here are as outlined in the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

The core vaccines that you should vaccinate against are:

DISTEMPER

Distemper is a deadly disease, but thankfully it’s preventable by keeping up to date with your dog’s vaccination programme. Distemper works by attacking various systems in your dog’s body, the respiratory system, the neurological system and the gastrointestinal system. Even if your dog does manage to recover from this nasty disease, they may continue to experience severe lifelong neurological problems.

A dog can contract distemper if they come into contact with infected urine, saliva, blood and mucus. Every 3 years your dog will need a booster vaccination for canine distemper so they can stay safe.

PARVOVIRUS

Parvovirus, often referred to as just ‘parvo’, is an extremely contagious viral disease that affects dogs worldwide. The disease can be deadly and cause extreme problems for both puppies and adult dogs, but we luckily have access to the highly effective vaccine against it, stopping this nasty illness from impacting more of the canine population.

It’s passed onto our pups through direct contact with the faeces or saliva of an infected dog. Even humans can carry the virus on their hands and clothing and pass it onto other dogs if they’ve been stroking an infected puppy.

This is why it’s essential to get your puppy vaccinated against this life-threatening illness. Parvovirus will need boosting every 3 years to prevent your dog from catching it.

HEPATITIS

Also known as adenovirus, canine hepatitis is a viral disease that is passed on through the bodily fluids of an infected dog, through their blood, saliva, urine, faeces and nasal discharge. It spreads easily, as the urine of an infected pup can be infectious for around a year, and the infection that’s shed into the environment can survive for several months.

The impact hepatitis has on a dog is varied, it can range from being relatively mild to extremely severe, even deadly, having the potential to impact vital body parts and organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, liver, eyes, heart and blood vessels. To stay protected, your dog will need a booster vaccine every 3 years.

LEPTOSPIROSIS

Leptospirosis, or lepto, is not quite as common as diseases such as parvovirus, but you should definitely consider vaccinating your pup against it as it can be fatal. Bacteria is the cause of leptospirosis, rather than a virus, and a dog will catch the disease by having direct contact with contaminated urine or water.

If you’ve got a pup who’s a big fan of a doggy paddle, whether that be in a proper body of water or just a mucky puddle, then they’ll have a much higher chance of catching lepto. Not only does it live in water, but the bacteria can survive in the soil for many months, so a dog can catch it just from sniffing at infected soil. A booster vaccine will be required annually to keep up to date with lepto.

Now we’ve covered the core vaccines, here’s a list of non-core vaccines that you might want to consider vaccinating your dog against if they’re at a high risk:

  • Kennel cough
  • Rabies
  • Canine herpes virus
  • Leishmaniasis

KENNEL COUGH

Parainfluenza is a virus considered to be part of the group of organisms associated with kennel cough. A kennel cough vaccine is slightly different from some of the other key vaccines, as it’s not given through the usual injection, your dog will get an intra-nasal vaccine sprayed directly up the nose. This is exactly where the vaccine is needed, providing a localised immunity to kennel cough.

As the name would suggest, kennel cough is a respiratory infection that makes your dog endure a nasty, forceful cough. It’s an airborne illness and spreads rapidly, from being close to infected dogs and even sharing toys and bowls with the infected dog. Luckily, it’s not too severe and might even go away on its own, or with some medication from the vet. The kennel cough vaccine needs to be boosted yearly.

RABIES

Unfortunately, rabies is an incurable virus that causes issues in the dog’s brain and spinal cord. Rabies is passed on through infected saliva entering an open wound, usually through a bite. Commonly, rabies will show itself through your dog foaming at the mouth.

Luckily, rabies isn’t all that common in the UK, but if you’re wanting to travel to another country with your dog, proof of an up-to-date rabies vaccination will be mandatory. To keep this vaccine passport maintained, your dog will need a rabies vaccine every 3 years.

CANINE HERPES VIRUS

Canine herpes virus can be deadly, and it’s transmitted through direct contact with infected dogs, usually via nose-to-nose contact or through other bodily fluids. It can cause a vast array of different symptoms, ranging from respiratory issues, eye problems and inflammation of the genitalia.

Young female dogs and young puppies are the most at risk from this disease.

LEISHMANIASIS

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease, transmitted through the bite of an insect called the sandfly, which can harbour the parasite called leishmania. Some dogs can be asymptomatic, but the dogs who do exhibit symptoms can experience anything from a mild fever to sudden death.

The parasite is not prevalent in the UK, which is why a vaccine against leishmaniasis is non-core. If you’re planning on travelling with your dog, it’s a good idea to check the frequency of the parasite in the country and consider getting your four-legged friend vaccinated against this disease.

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE VACCINE APPOINTMENT?

When you take your puppy into the vet for their vaccine appointment, (hopefully your pup won’t have any kind of fear surrounding the dreaded vets just yet), your dog will receive a full check over.

This appointment isn’t just for a speedy injection, it allows your vet to get a complete overview of how your puppy is doing, they’ll get weighed, checked over and you’ll probably be asked a few questions about how they’re settling in, if you’ve encountered any issues and what their eating habits are like so far.

Before your pup is given their vaccinations, this check-up is important to ensure that your puppy can handle the injection, for instance, if your pup is already battling another infection, they’ll need to wait until they’ve recovered from this before a vaccine can be administered.

Once the vet has decided that your pup is good to go, they’ll be given their vaccine under the skin at the back of the neck. Thankfully, the vaccines are all combined into just one injection, meaning your dog only has to experience one needle.

WHY SHOULD WE GET OUR PUPPIES VACCINATED?

Our puppies become like babies to us, they take lots of time, care, energy and commitment. Similar to a human baby, puppies need a lot of protection from everything the world has to throw at them.

A puppy won’t have had the time to develop their immune system into a strong defence mechanism that can combat all of those nasty infections that can come their way, this is why vaccinations are so important. Unlike an adult dog, a puppy won’t be able to battle an illness, and will suffer the symptoms of it a lot worse than a fully grown adult dog would. As a result, the consequences could be fatal.

This is of course the most important reason for getting your puppy vaccinated as soon as possible. Even if your puppy does recover from their illness without their vaccines, they can often be left with lifelong issues, putting them through a lot of pain and discomfort and you through a lot of worry and a lot of vet bills.

Your puppy’s primary course of vaccinations won’t ensure that they’re protected from every disease and infection, but they’ll provide your puppy with protection against some of the most common and dangerous ones. Getting your puppy vaccinated not only keeps your puppy safe, but it limits the spread of nasty diseases to the rest of the canine population. Overall, vaccinating your puppy will stop the spread and help more dogs stay safe.

Vaccines are also essential if you ever want to take your pup abroad, or if you want to go on holiday and take your puppy to boarding kennels. Proof of their current vaccination record will be necessary, so it’s a good idea to get them over and done with to save any future hassle.

TRAVEL VACCINATIONS

If you’re planning on taking your dog abroad, they’ll probably need some extra vaccines, just the same as humans do, for example, the rabies vaccine which we detailed earlier. Rabies isn’t prevalent in the UK, but it’s quite common in other countries, so they’ll need this on their pet passport. This also applies if you’re wanting to adopt a puppy from abroad.

PUPPIES GETTING IMMUNITY FROM MOTHER

Passive immunisation is the form of protection a newborn puppy will receive when they’re nursing from their mother if she was vaccinated herself. This natural protection is extremely beneficial for those first few weeks before your puppy is old enough to be properly vaccinated.

However, the protection is only temporary and it will begin to fade when the pups are weaned from the milk, which is why getting your pup properly vaccinated is essential.

WHEN CAN MY PUPPY GO OUTSIDE?

One of the main things you’ve probably read or heard about when you’re getting a new puppy is the importance of socialisation.

Socialisation is getting your dog used to people, pets, roads, cyclists, cars, car journeys and basically anything they could potentially experience in the outside world. The idea is to expose your puppy to everything in a positive way as early as possible, so they don’t develop any fear or anxiety around it in the future.

Puppy vaccination guide

Obviously, this is fundamental to your pup’s development, but until your puppy has fulfilled their entire course of vaccinations, you must keep them at home to prevent them from picking up any nasty infections, whether this be from the ground, dirty puddles or other unvaccinated dogs.

Your dog will be fully protected 2 weeks after their second set of injections, so, if they had their first set at 8 weeks old, and then their second set at 10 weeks old, you’ll be able to take your pup for their first walk when they’re around 12 weeks old. At 12 weeks your pup is still incredibly young, so there’s plenty of time to get that all important socialisation in.

IS IT SAFE FOR MY PUPPY TO MIX WITH FULLY VACCINATED DOGS BEFORE THEY’VE HAD THEIRS?

Yes, your puppy is safe to mix with other fully vaccinated dogs, just stick to it being inside their own home. After all, if you’ve got another dog already, they’re going to have to occupy the same house before your pup is fully vaccinated.

If you can, try and wash the other dog’s feet before they enter your home to prevent them from bringing anything into the house. Realistically, the risk of infection is very low if the other dog is fully vaccinated. Allowing another dog to come into your home to meet your puppy is a good way to kickstart the socialisation process, so it can be a really useful way to begin.

ARE MY DOG’S VACCINES SAFE?

Puppy vaccinations have been developed and produced over many years, under very strict guidelines and regulations. Efforts are always being made to make the vaccinations the best that they can be, extremely safe and incredibly effective.

Any risks are very uncommon, if your pet was to experience any complications it’s usually nothing more than a mild reaction. The aftermath of the vaccine might include soreness, a mild fever, fatigue, a loss of appetite and possibly a small, red bump where the injection was. However, these symptoms shouldn’t last over 48 hours, and they’re typically very mild.

Reactions are incredibly rare, especially ones that are any more than mild, therefore it’s safe to say that the benefits of getting your puppy vaccinated far outweigh the risks of a reaction.

WHAT ABOUT TITRE TESTING?

Titre testing is when vets take a blood test from your dog to check their immunity levels against certain diseases. These tests spot the types of antibodies your dog has present to fight various illnesses.

Titre testing can be really useful, however it’s not always reliable and it can’t be used as an alternative to booster vaccinations. It can provide you with an idea of how well protected your dog is from their previous vaccines, which might come in useful if you’re unsure whether to vaccinate your dog again, say if they had an allergic reaction to their previous one or their immune system isn’t up to scratch.

Overall, these tests help to guide your decision, judging whether it’s the better and safer idea to skip the booster or to give them the vaccine. Titre testing isn’t available for all diseases, so you’ll have to speak to your vet and figure out if it’s an option for you.

RECAP

To keep your puppy safe from everything the outside world can throw at them, it’s essential to take them for their vaccinations. This will give you peace of mind that they’re safe from all those nasty viruses and bacteria lurking in the environment, alongside keeping the whole canine population a lot safer.

As they progress into adulthood, book in their booster vaccines to keep them safe throughout their entire life. Prevention is always better than cure.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

Sources
  1. VMD position paper on authorised vaccination schedule for dogs Veterinary Medicine Directorate, PDF
  2. Current Vaccination Strategies in Puppies and Kittens The Veterinary Clinics of North America, Small Animal Practice, 36, (3), May 2006, doi.org/10.1016/j.cvsm.2005.12.003