Puppies are adorable. Soft and sweet at first, and then gangly and goofy. We laugh about the “rubbery” nature of many puppies, who seem to bounce back after wild behavior. At WesVet Animal Hospital, we love every puppyhood stage, and want your puppy safe at each stage. We may not be able to keep them from careening into the coffee table or tumbling across the tile, but with the help of puppy vaccines, we can protect them from highly contagious, potentially deadly, infectious diseases.

Why does my puppy need vaccines?

New puppies are protected by passive antibodies from their mother’s colostrum (i.e., their first milk, produced during the first 24 hours after birth). These antibodies remain in the puppy’s circulation, acting as a temporary immune system, and providing protection for a certain amount of time. At some point, which is different for every puppy, this maternal immunity fades, leaving the puppy vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, and pathogens in the environment. 

Vaccines contain modified particles of the viruses they protect against. They give the puppy “active” immunity, by safely challenging their young immune system and teaching the system how to “recognize” and react to future encounters with that disease. The trick is to vaccinate puppies so that when the maternal immunity fades, their own immune system, which has been  jump-started by their vaccinations, will take over.

The puppy vaccination schedule

According to the American Association of Animal Hospitals (AAHA) vaccine recommendations, puppies should receive a combination vaccineDistemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenzaevery four weeks until 16 weeks of age. At 16 weeks, they should receive a rabies vaccine, and between 8 and 16 weeks of age, the Bordetella vaccine. Your puppy will most likely see us three times, if their first appointment is between 8 and 10 weeks of age. 

Puppy vaccinations and disease

All puppies should be vaccinated against the following diseases, with consideration given to several optional vaccinations.

  • Distemper A serious, contagious, and infectious viral disease with no known cure  
  • Adenovirus More commonly referred to as canine infectious hepatitis
  • Parvovirus A highly contagious, sometimes deadly, viral disease causing gastrointestinal illness
  • Parainfluenza A contagious upper respiratory virus that makes puppies susceptible to other infections, and can lead to severe pneumonia and sometimes death
  • Rabies A tragic virus that travels through the nervous system and ultimately reaches the brain
  • Optional These include Bordetella, another highly contagious respiratory disease that causes inflammation of the trachea and branches of the lung; Lyme disease; and leptospirosis. Talk to your veterinarian to discuss your puppy’s risk level. 

How puppies are vaccinated

Vaccines for puppies and dogs are primarily administered as injections under the skin. Dogs have a lot of loose skin, especially between the shoulder blades and over their hind end, and injections there, between the skin and muscle (i.e., the subcutaneous space) are less painful than into muscle. Dogs occasionally react to the needle’s pinching sensation, but tend to tolerate subcutaneous injections well. The veterinarian or veterinary technician will usually “tent” the skin (i.e., pull up the loose skin to form a V shape), and put the needle in the middle or the base of the V.

The Bordetella vaccine is given as an injection or intranasally (i.e., the vaccine is dripped into the nostrils), with the latter the most common form.  

Possible vaccine side effects in puppies

Occasionally, puppies have an unpleasant reaction to vaccines, so always watch your pet closely after their vaccination, especially after their first dose of a vaccine. Most side effects will take 24 hours to subside, but allergic reactions require veterinary attention. Common vaccine side effects include:

  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Swelling, heat, or soreness at the injection site
  • Allergic reaction, including hives, itching, fever, facial swelling, diarrhea, or trouble breathing

If your puppy has an allergic reaction to a vaccine, they need veterinary care.

Help puppies love trips to the veterinary hospital

Help your puppy learn to love veterinary appointments by developing a strong foundation of positive, rewarding visits during their puppyhoodyou’ll have plenty of opportunities! Use these tips:

  • No food Do not feed your puppy before their appointment. Instead, bring their food or small training treats to use as rewards.
  • No rushing Carry your puppy, or keep them on a four- to six-foot, non-retractable leash. Do not let your puppy rush up to other pets, because many are ill or in pain, and may react defensively.
  • Trail to the scale Use a treat trail (i.e., a line of closely spaced treats along the ground) to help your puppy willingly get on the scalethey will soon learn that the scale equals yummy treats
  • Distract, then inject Distract your puppy with peanut butter, canned dog food, or spreadable cheese on a paper plate, inside a coffee mug, or on a lickable mat prior to the injection. Always let your puppy finish eating his reward after the injection.

Now that we, hopefully, have made sense of puppy vaccines, their frequency, administration, and side effects, are you ready to schedule your puppy visit? Our team at WesVet Animal Hospital is eager to get to know your new pet.