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Puppy Shots - An Owners' Guide

The 2011 AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) recommendations for puppy shots are the most up-to-date veterinary guidelines for puppies and dogs in the USA.

The four CORE vaccines (those that all puppies should have) are:

Canine Adenovirus-2 (aka CAV-2 or Canine Hepatitis) - this protects against a viral disease which attacks your pup/dogs' respiratory system. One of the causes of Kennel Cough

Canine Parvovirus (aka 'Parvo') - protects your puppy from the dreaded (and deadly) Parvo. A viral disease which affects his intestines, lymph nodes, bone marrow and sometimes even his heart

Distemper - protects against the viral disease Distemper, which affects his respiratory system, intestines and central nervous system  

Rabies - protects against this deadly viral disease which affects your pup's central nervous system.

These same vaccinations are also recommended by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association).

Puppy vaccination is a fairly big topic to cover, but everything you need to know about puppy shots is right here on this page.

You can use these quick links to jump directly to the information you're interested in, or simply scroll down to read it all....

There are no 'cures' for the illnesses listed above. 

Vaccinating a puppy

If your pup gets one of them, it's quite possible that he/she will die.

Vaccinations save the lives of puppies just like yours, every single day.

They are one of the most important parts of your new pup's health care, and are essential, not optional!

If you're worried that the vaccinations will hurt your pup, don't be. The discomfort is minimal and most puppies barely notice the needle. 

I've discovered that the biggest boys are often the ones that make the most fuss (go figure!), but a quick cuddle and a tasty treat brings instant amnesia :)

Puppy Shots Timeline

Recommended timeline for puppy vaccinations are:

Three sets of combination vaccinations (a shot that protects against more than one disease) given at 3 week intervals.

  • 8 weeks - first round
  • 11 weeks - second round
  • 14 weeks - third round
  • 16 weeks - Rabies vaccination 

* At 16 weeks breeds which are especially vulnerable to Canine Parvovirus should be given an additional Parvo vaccination (this includes Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Pitbull Terriers).

Certain vaccines are often grouped together and give as one shot, this is called a 'Combination Vaccine'.

The most common would be the 3-in-1 shot for Distemper, Adenovirus and Parvo. These are all CORE vaccines.

When it comes to giving puppy shots, timing is hugely important and you need to make sure Fido gets his vaccinations at the right time is essential if you want them to work!

Very young puppies have a certain amount of natural immunity that they get from their mothers milk, but that begins to diminish somewhere between 5 and 8 weeks of age.

If a puppy is vaccinated while he still has a significant level of maternal antibodies in his bloodstream, the vaccine won't be effective.

Some studies have indicated that at 6 weeks old only 25% of puppies vaccinated respond to a vaccine by producing antibodies.

By 18 weeks that figure has risen to 95%.

Non-Core Vaccinations For Puppies

All puppies need to have the core shots to protect them from the most common dog illnesses.

But there are also other diseases/conditions that some pups may be at risk of catching.

These can also be prevented by vaccination, but it's important to know that not all puppies need (or should have) these.

Sometimes it depends on the part of the country (or world) that you live in.

Other times the activities your pup will take part in, or where he'll spend a lot of his time is the key.

These optional 'extras' include vaccinations against:

  • Bordatella (the most common bacteria responsible for Kennel Cough, which affects the upper respiratory system)
  • Giardia (a internal parasitic disease)
  • Lyme Disease (a bacterial illness usually affecting joints, but can also spread to the major organs).

There are combination vaccines which contain the core vaccines and some optional ones too.

These include:

  • The 5-in-1 puppy vaccine which also includes protection against Leptospirosis and Canine Parainfluenza.

  • The 7-in-1 puppy vaccine  which gives additional protection against other strains of Adenovirus (CAV-1 which affects the liver) and Leptopsirosis.

Although these combo-shots are given very routinely, some research seems to indicate that they may lead to a higher risk of allergic reactions and other side effects.

If you're concerned about any of this discuss it with your veterinarian.

You can ask for vaccinations to be given singly (if your vet has/can get) these.

After the first set of shots you can also ask for your pup's blood titers to be checked before you give him any subsequent ones.

If your pup will be boarded, kenneled, attend dog training classes or be 'out-and-about' a lot (which hopefully he/she will to get those valuable puppy socialization experiences ) you need to have the Bordatella vaccine given.

There are two options for administering the Bordatella vaccine...

a 'shot' or nasal drops.

I prefer my puppies/dogs to get the nasal drop option as it works faster and doesn't need to be repeated in 4 weeks the way the shot does.

If your dog isn't a hugely social animal, then annual boosters are enough.

BUT if he travels a lot, goes to doggie day care, is boarded or at the dog park regularly then having the vaccine given twice a year is recommended.

How Much Do Puppy Shots Cost?

Veterinary care is fairly expensive, even for routine things like vaccinations and preventative - BUT it is absolutely essential if you want your puppy to survive and to live a happy and healthy life.

How Much Does It Cost To Own A Dog?

Raising a puppy and keeping him happy, healthy and well-fed throughout his lifetime is NOT cheap. Before you add a dog to your family it's a good idea to make sure you can afford his care. 
Check out this page to find out what you need to know....
The Real Cost of Dog Ownership

Getting Fidos' puppy shots taken care of is going to be one of the first puppy-parenting health-care responsibilities that you face, so it's understandable that you'd like to know how much they are going to cost.

Unfortunately there's no 'one-size-fits-all' answer to this question because a lot depends on where you live, your own veterinarians' protocol, your income and so on.

All regular veterinary clinics offer vaccinations, and there are low-cost vaccination clinics (including the SPCA & VetCo which are found in PetCo stores) in many towns and cities. 

Some vets (eg. Banfield clinics which are found in Petsmart stores) offer annual programs and package deals for vaccinations and other routine procedures.

Although I can't give you an exact figure for how much your puppy vaccinations cost, I can give you some ballpark figures to work with based on costs in my area (rural central USA).....

Banfield Pet Hospitals

Banfield offer wellness plans that vary in price according to your puppy/dogs' age and needs. 

However, here's a look at what routine vaccinations cost:

4-way combo vaccine - $30 (x3)

Bordatella vaccine - $23 (usually x1)

Rabies vaccine - $18 (x1)

Vet office visit - $40 (x3)

So for all 3 sets of shots & visits, including the Rabies shot, you're looking at..

Total: $251.00

VetCo Clinics

VetCo offer low-cost services/packages.

Here's a look at what it may cost you for basic vaccination & deworming package.

Puppy Wellness Package includes:

5-in-1 combo vaccine
Bordatella vaccine
Leptospirosis vaccine
Roundworm/Hookworm treatment
Rabies vaccine 

Total: $82

Vaccinations can be administered separately for $32 each.

Estimated Cost Of Puppy Vaccinations & Vet Checks

Individual veterinary clinics charges vary considerably, but in most cases you will be paying for an office visit, a combination vaccine, bordatella and a routine deworming.

  • Average costs for a the combo vaccine and additional non-core vaccines range between $20 and $40 per shot, per administration.

  • Vet visits (often mandatory for shots) can cost anywhere from $30 to $60+

  • Rabies vaccinations are usually between $15 and $30 but can be more.

Worried About Over-Vaccinating Your Puppy?

Vaccination, or over-vaccination, is a hot topic these days. Both for people and animals.

Sooner... or later?

Some veterinarians prefer to start vaccinations a little later at 9 or 10 weeks due to concerns about the effectiveness of vaccines when given too early and the possible side effects.

As your puppy is very vulnerable to disease until he's been fully vaccinated, the only problem with this 'late start' is that you will need to keep him well clear of any strange dogs or outdoor/indoor areas where other dogs may have been for longer.

There is a fair amount of conflicting opinions among vets and veterinary care professionals as to how many vaccinations puppies (and dogs) should be given.

How often they should get them, and how the shots should be given (singly or as combination vaccines).

Although the AAHA and AVMA still recommend yearly boosters for all dogs.

A lot of research shows that this is not strictly necessary - and can even cause health problems.

If you're concerned about over-vaccinating your puppy, talk to your veterinarian as there is another option....

Titers & Vaccinations

After Fido has had his first set of puppy shots, you can ask your vet to check the titers in his bloodstream before he gets any more vaccinations.

Titers are a measurement of the antibodies to disease which exist in your pup's bloodstream.

After being vaccinated, it takes about 10 days for the antibodies to show up in tests.

To find out whether or not your puppy's vaccinations have boosted his immunity to a particular disease, or diseases, you can have your vet run a blood test for those specific antibodies about 2 weeks after he's been vaccinated.

If the titer level is high enough to confirm immunity, then your pup is unlikely to need to be re-vaccinated.

Generally once your puppy has had three sets of the combination puppy shots, plus the Rabies shot, he will be well protected.

Protection isn't immediate though, and I would recommend waiting at least a week after your pup has received his final set of puppy shots before venturing out into public areas.

There are however no guarantees and even after three sets of combination vaccines occasionally puppies still get sick.

So always be careful to avoid dogs who might appear sick, or areas where stray dogs might roam.

Do you know that it's possible to vaccinate your own puppy at home?

If you'd like to know more about what's involved in giving the vaccinations yourself, check out this page to learn more.... Giving Puppy Shots At Home

Vaccinations For Adult Dogs

Adult dogs must by law receive annual dog 'booster' vaccinations for Rabies (although some vaccines provide 3 years of protection).

There is an annual booster recommendation for most CORE vaccines too but your vet can check the antibody 'titers' (basically the level of antibodies in your dog's bloodstream to any particular disease) and vaccinate only if they are too low.

This can help to prevent over-vaccinating your dog, which may lead to auto-immune problems and other illnesses. BUT these tests do cost extra money.

In some states/areas vaccines are now available that are effective for 3 or even 5 years. I'd recommend asking your vet if these are available for your dog/pup.

The best advice I can give you is to ask your own veterinarian about this, and follow his/her advice and recommendations about canine vaccination procedure.

If you've adopted an older pup or adult dog and don't know their puppy shots history, then the minimum vaccinations you'll need to get them are against Distemper, Parvo and Hepatitis.

He/she will need two rounds of shots, given 3 weeks apart.

Again though, individual areas (and each veterinarian) may have different recommendations, so talk to your own vet to find out what he/she thinks is best.

Allergic Reactions To Puppy Vaccinations

Although most puppies hardly even notice when their puppy shots are given, and show no ill effects afterward, it's not terribly unusual for a pup to have an allergic reaction of some sort to a vaccine.

Warning about allergic reactions to puppy vaccinations

Most of the time these reactions to puppy vaccinations are mild, and last only a day or two.

But now and then they can be severe enough to warrant a trip to the veterinarian.

All puppy owners should be aware of the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, because if your puppy does have a bad reaction, you need to know!

Symptoms vary from mild or moderate to severe. Here's a closer look at what you might notice after your puppy is vaccinated....

Mild Reactions

Luckily most reactions are mild, and symptoms can include:

  • A lump/swelling/knot at the site of the injection itself
  • Slight fever
  • Lethargy or a depressed/sad looking little pup! 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loose stools

BUT, don't worry, in these cases your puppy is just feeling a little tired or 'off color' and the symptoms are short lived and don't usually need veterinary treatment. 

Moderate Reactions

Symptoms of a moderate allergic reaction to puppy immunizations usually involves

  • Swelling and/or hives

Benadryl Dosage

The correct dosage of Benadryl for a dog is 1/2mg per pound of body weight, given every four hours.

I'd recommend using tablets rather than the liquid because liquid Benadryl contains alcohol which is bad for dogs.

With very young pups or tiny breeds, even this dosage may not be safe... so again TALK TO YOUR VET FIRST! 

This is often especially noticeable around the mouth, eyes, face and neck, although welts can appear anywhere on your puppy's body. 

This kind or reaction usually occurs within a few hours of the vaccination.

It can progress and become severe, so if you notice any swelling or hives appearing on your pup, take him back to the veterinarian's office right away.

As an interim measure you can give your little guy/gal some Benadryl to help reduce this swelling - but do check this with your vet first. 

Veterinary treatment for this type of reaction may also include steroids and other anti-histamines.

This Fairly Rare Condition Can Occur After Vaccination......

An relatively uncommon auto-immune condition called 'Puppy Strangles' (aka 'Juvenile Cellulitis) can occasionally result as an adverse reaction to vaccinations.

The first symptoms are swelling of the face (especially the muzzle, lips and around the eyes), the appearance of pimples, boils or pustules on the face which ooze and crust. This is followed quickly by swelling under/around the jaw area due to rapidly enlarging lymph nodes. The puppy can soon look as though he's being strangled, hence the name for the condition.

This can be treated very effectively with antibiotics and cortico-steroids, but prompt treatment is essential as the condition worsens rapidly and can even be fatal if left untreated.

Some dog breeds are more susceptible to this condition than others and these include Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Gordon Setters and Siberian Huskies - but ANY breed can develop it.

Severe Reactions

The most serious allergic reaction to puppy shots is

  • Anaphylaxis

This is life-threatening and usually strikes within minutes of the vaccine being given. 

You might first notice vomiting/diarrhea and a loss of balance.

Anaphylaxis causes a sudden drop in your puppy's blood pressure, and generalized swelling which can result in breathing difficulties, seizures and even death. 

It's an emergency situation and if you have already left the veterinarian's office you need to get your pup back there immediately.

He/she may need oxygen, IV fluids or other medical intervention, so don't waste any time. 

Luckily moderate to severe allergic reactions to puppy shots are pretty rare and are generally much less of a danger to your puppy than the diseases they prevent. 

IMPORTANT: If your puppy does have a bad reaction to his shots, it's important to remind your veterinarian about that at his next vaccination appointment.

Some vets may want to give a puppy like this an antihistamine before giving the shots, and/or to monitor him for a while afterwards... just to be safe.

It's also possible that your vet will recommend giving the vaccines separately rather than as a 'combo' vaccine to reduce the risks of a reaction.

Although a puppy or dog can react badly to any canine vaccine, there seems to be a higher incidence of allergic reaction to the vaccines for Rabies, Parvo and Leptosirosis.

There are some dog breeds that are more likely to suffer an allergic reaction, these include (but aren't limited to).....

Australian Shepherds

Miniature Dachshunds

West Highland White Terriers

Old English Sheepdogs


Portuguese Water Dogs


Harlequin Great Danes

Scottish Terriers

Shetland Sheepdogs

Also dogs who are mostly white in color, or have 'diluted' coat colors (such as blue or fawn, or blue-fawn) and merle or black/white color combinations seem to be more at risk.

So, the bottom line is that you need to watch your puppy closely for the first day or so after he's had his puppy shots.

Any major reaction is most likely to occur within 24 hours (often much sooner).

An allergic reaction of any sort is unlikely to happen after the first shot though, it's subsequent ones that you should pay particular attention to.

Although it's necessary to be aware of what could happen, don't panic about this! Thousands of puppies are vaccinated every day with no ill-effects, or only a very mild reaction.

The risks you run if you don't vaccinate your pup are much higher, so protecting your puppy is way too important to be forgotten or avoided.

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