When you were a child, you likely received a series of vaccinations designed to protect you from diseases such as polio, measles and mumps. These diseases are rare today due to widespread vaccination.
Similarly, many diseases that were once common in puppies are now prevented by vaccines. Parvovirus and canine distemper virus were initially highly contagious and fatal diseases. We see these diseases rarely in vaccinated dogs.
Despite their efficacy, a vaccination schedule is not one-size-fits-all. Disease prevalence, lifestyle and exposure risk and applicable state laws are considered when determining the ideal vaccination protocol for puppies.
Puppy Immune Response
Puppies receive immunity from their mother through ingestion of milk on the first day of life. This is called passive immunity, since the immune system of the puppy is not actively involved in the production of these antibodies. This is great news if the mother was adequately vaccinated or was previously exposed and developed immunity to common diseases.
If not, puppy vaccination is critical to prevent disease. Even in the best of circumstances, this passive immunity wanes during the first 16 weeks of life. Repeated administration of vaccine boosters during the time of passive antibody decline ensures that pups develop an active immune response, by around 15 to 18 weeks of age.
Vaccines are separated into core and non-core vaccines. Following is a list of vaccines for dogs in both categories. Core vaccines should not be considered optional due to the severe nature of the diseases covered. Non-core vaccines should be considered when risk of exposure is present.
Core (Non-Optional) Dog Vaccines
DA2PP or DHPP– This vaccine covers canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza and canine parvovirus. Vaccination should begin at 6 to 8 weeks of age (4 weeks for puppies from a mother with unknown vaccination status). Boosters should be administered every 3 to 4 weeks until at least 16 weeks of age. Let’s take a closer look at each of these diseases.
- Canine Distemper Virus is a disease that begins as a respiratory infection, progressing to a neurological disease that is often fatal. It is highly contagious and untreatable. The only dogs that survive are the pups that mount an immune response early in the infection or adult dogs that are infected with a less virulent strain.
- Canine Adenovirus Type 2 is a virus that can contribute to kennel cough. While this is treatable, the vaccine also confers immunity against Canine Adenovirus Type 1, which can infect the liver and eyes, causing hepatitis and blindness.
- Parainfluenza is frequently a component of kennel cough. While not generally fatal, this disease can be difficult to control and causes substantial respiratory infections in puppies.
- Canine Parvovirus is a disease that develops rapidly, with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea appearing within days of exposure. Treatment includes extensive hospitalization with fluids and supportive care. The disease is usually fatal if not treated.
Rabies – This viral neurological disease is fatal and untreatable. Vaccine recommendations generally start at 3 months of age but is determined legally at the state level. Your veterinarian will know when to vaccinate based on the laws of your state. A booster is generally required at 1 year of age and every 3 years afterwards, but again, state law should be consulted as some requirements may vary or change. Infection with this disease has substantial human health consequences. Rabies vaccination should not be allowed to lapse.
Leptospira– This vaccine provides some immunity against canine leptospirosis, a disease that causes kidney and liver damage. It is transmitted in the excrement of deer and rodents and is found in standing water and ponds. Humans can catch this disease by handling urine from an infected dog. Vaccine duration is limited to a year, following the initial vaccines given 3 to 4 weeks apart. Risk of infection should be taken into account as not all dogs are exposed this disease.
Lyme Disease (Borrelia burgdorfori) – This bacterium is transmitted by ticks and can cause fever, joint disease and kidney disease. Incidence of the disease is highly variable and vaccination should be considered in areas where it is prevalent. Initially a booster 2 to 4 weeks following the initial vaccine is required, with annual boosters thereafter.
Bordetella bronchiseptica– Kennel cough is caused, in part, by this bacterium. It is highly contagious and causes a severe cough, loss of appetite and lethargy. It should be considered in dogs that are exposed regularly to other dogs (especially kenneled and show dogs). Manufacturer recommendations vary regarding initial vaccine schedule and booster frequency.
Canine Influenza– This highly contagious virus causes respiratory symptoms and can lead to pneumonia. Vaccination may be effective at preventing or lessening the severity of disease, depending on disease and vaccine strain. Again, exposure risk and geographical prevalence of the disease should be considered prior to vaccinating. A booster must be administered 2 to 4 weeks after the initial vaccine, followed by annual re-vaccination.
You have heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in the case of vaccination, this is certainly true. However, not all dogs should receive every vaccine. A thorough knowledge of disease prevalence and exposure risk is key to making the best decision for your dog. Your veterinarian is an excellent resource for decision-making as he or she can tell you what they see in your area.