When Should Puppies Get Their First Shots?

By Karen S. Johnson

Puppies are irresistible but vulnerable. They depend on you to replace that vulnerability with a vaccination shield. Your puppy should get his first shots between 5 to 7 weeks old, concluding with a few more rounds by 16 weeks old. Your veterinarian should assess your pup’s health prior to getting vaccinated, as illness can interfere with a vaccine’s ability to work. Your vet will prescribe a vaccination protocol based on your puppy’s health, lifestyle and breed, as well as your local laws.

First Shots

Expect your puppy to receive at least three of four core vaccines -- those recommended for all dogs -- in his first round: distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis. Your vet may prefer to give just a parvovirus vaccination as early as 5 weeks old, then a second dose with his other two core injections a week or two later. Parainfluenza or coronavirus, or both, will be added if these illnesses are a concern where you live; a multivalent injection, which combines the vaccinations into one shot, typically is given to minimize trauma and discomfort. The remaining core vaccine, rabies, won’t be given until at least 12 weeks of age.

Subsequent Rounds

Your puppy likely will receive the same core vaccines at 9 weeks and again at 12 weeks, with the addition of Lyme and leptospirosis vaccines if these are concerns where you live, or if you will be traveling to areas where these diseases are prevalent. He’ll get the last combination injection at 16 weeks. Your vet will add the rabies vaccine at either 12 or 16 weeks, depending on your local laws. If you will be boarding your dog or frequenting dog parks, your vet may recommend a Bordetella, or kennel cough, injection. This and the parainfluenza vaccine give your pup protection against a severe upper respiratory infection called tracheobronchitis. If he becomes ill, the vaccines should lessen the severity of his condition.

Your Puppy and Immunity

Healthy puppies are born with some immunity obtained from their mother, but neither you nor your vet knows how much of that protection remains. This residual “borrowed” or “passive immunity” can interfere with the vaccines’ effectiveness. Yet, he’s at a vulnerable age to catch diseases, so leaving him unprotected is not a good option. His first vaccinations are given early in case his immunity has dissipated. His next rounds will reinforce his protection in case the passive immunity interfered with his earlier shots.

Curtailing His Social Activities

Because your pup’s immune system status is unknown, don't risk exposing him to other dogs who could infect him, even after his first few rounds of vaccines. That means no dog parks where the degree of harmful exposure is high. Your conundrum, however, is that your puppy’s ideal socialization period to familiarize himself with both humans and animals, is between ages 3 and 16 weeks. Ask your vet about a safe window during his shot series to schedule play days with family or friends with healthy and vaccinated pets. Also look for organized puppy classes that have strict vaccination requirements.

Side Effects

Your pup may experience some discomfort after getting vaccinated, particularly in the injection area, but serious side effects are rare. However, don’t take any chances if you are concerned -- particularly if your puppy vomits, gets diarrhea, seems weak, develops a cough or has trouble breathing. Contact your veterinarian immediately.