Understanding when to have your puppy vaccinated can be complicated by her age, breed, strength of maternal immunity and vaccination schedule. If you've had your dog for more than a few weeks, it's a good idea to make a quick call to your vet — puppies should receive their first round of puppy vaccines as soon as they are weaned, advises Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital.
How do vaccines work?
Older animals fight off viruses using their natural immune systems. Immediately after they are born, puppies have no natural immunity to viruses other than the temporary maternal immunity they inherit and maintain from their mothers during the weaning period.
When pets fight off a virus, they build immunity. This can be a difficult process if your dog catches a virus, becomes ill and has to resist the invader.
Introducing a killed or a weakened form of a virus to your puppy when she's healthy allows the dog's body to attack the less-dangerous virus, overcome it and build immunity, explains Veterinary Centers of America.
As with humans, your pup might have some mild side effects from a vaccine, but shouldn't become seriously ill. A pre-vaccination health checkup by your vet, which might include bloodwork, decreases the chances of a bad reaction to a puppy vaccine.
Dog vaccination schedule
Puppies should start getting their puppy vaccines as soon as they are weaned and should be finished with subsequent rounds by 16 months. Your vet will give you a schedule for vaccinations, some of which will require two rounds.
As a puppy is weaning, she's receiving maternal immunity through the mother's milk, according to The UK Kennel Club. This is why it's a good idea to get a list of the vaccinations the mother of a dog you adopt has had. If a mother doesn't have immunity to a particular virus, she can't pass that immunity on to her litter.
Initial puppy vaccines might take place five to seven weeks after the dog is born, depending on when she's finished weaning. The second round of puppy vaccines might start a few weeks later and continue until the dog is approximately 14 to 16 weeks old, according to Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital.
Ask your vet when it's safe to start letting your pup play with other dogs, which can transmit viruses. It's important to socialize a dog during the first few months of her life, but you'll want to control the settings.
Why multiple doses?
Unless your vet is able to do antibody testing, you can't be sure your puppy has developed immunity to a specific virus after one round of puppy vaccine treatment. The first vaccination your pet receives is often a killed vaccine, used as a primer dose. A second dose helps build a stronger immune response and can last a lifetime.
Some vaccines, such as DHLPPC, Bordetella, Lyme and rabies, can require annual booster shots.
Adverse reactions to vaccines
If your dog has a bad reaction to a vaccine, don't panic. Symptoms can include soreness, mild lethargy, a lump at the site of the shot, over-salivating, diarrhea, difficulty breathing or hives.
Vaccines begin to work within hours. Dogs can experience reactions within minutes of being vaccinated, with reactions usually occurring within the first two days. A quick call to your vet (with pictures or video) to explain your dog's symptoms will allow her to assess the situation. In extreme cases, symptoms can take up to several weeks to clear up without your dog being in a life-threatening situation, according to Veterinary Centers of America. If symptoms continue this long, your vet will probably tell you to come in for a checkup.
Vaccines aren’t guaranteed for life
If you believe your puppy has been fully and successfully vaccinated, don't let your guard down as your dog ages. It's natural for immune responses to weaken as a pet ages. If your dog takes medications for illnesses, such as cancer, this can suppress the immune system and make your pet more prone to picking up viruses.
As with the COVID-19 virus that affects humans, dog viruses can mutate and new strains can infect your pet. Read your vet's blog, newsletter and social media posts to stay up to date with pet health as your best friend goes through life with you.