Puppy Vaccine Best Practices

Never miss a shot with this schedule.

by Oneal Bogan, DVM
May 4, 2021
man and lab puppy on park road

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As a kid — okay, as an adult pre-pandemic — it’s unlikely you ever looked forward to a jab. And look at us now, going, make it a double! Dogs rarely flinch when they get a vaccine, but the process of scheduling more than a handful of puppy shots can be dizzying for new pet parents. Fear not, we’ll explain everything.

The first thing to know is that your dog’s shots are split into two groups: core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are named as such because they prevent the most common and dangerous diseases, and if all dogs get them (as they should), it can lead to herd immunity. Non-core vaccines protect against diseases that may be less prevalent or deadly — though in certain areas they’ll be bumped to the core category if a high number of dogs become infected. Your vet can personalize a vaccination protocol to your dog based on their age, lifestyle, and risk of contracting various diseases in the places where they spend time. Without further ado, the shot list and schedule:

Core Vaccines

Rabies

The one vaccine you’ll likely recognize, rabies is required by law in most states since the disease is deadly to pets and their people. While cases in either are rare (thanks to herd immunity no doubt) rabies can still be carried by wildlife like raccoons and coyotes so it’s low risk, not no risk.

DA2PP / DHPP

These core combination vaccines are vital to kick-starting your puppy’s immune system to make antibodies for all of these pathogens: distemper, adenovirus 2, hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza. Despite being a potent cocktail, this one requires a couple of boosters, spaced out a month apart.

Non-core Vaccines

Leptospirosis

This infection is caused by bacteria that can be transmitted through the urine of an infected animal (usually rats), either by direct contact or contact with contaminated soil or water. It wreaks havoc on dogs’ kidneys and liver, and can be fatal in severe cases. Though there are antibiotics that treat it, your vet may recommend the vaccine if you live in high-risk areas like cities (because: rats) and/or if your dog drinks from puddles of standing water on walks. Some vets offer a DHLPP combo vaccine, which is DHPP plus lepto.

Bordetella

The Bordetella pathogen is the most common cause of kennel cough, which is super contagious. It’s also pretty easily treated with antibiotics, but if your dog hangs out at dog parks or doggie daycare on the regular, it’s wise to get them covered with this vaccine. In fact, most kennels require it if you’re pup will be boarding there day or night. This one runs its course in six months so stay up to speed with the boosters.

Canine Influenza

Flu shots aren’t just for your folks. Similar to Bordetella above, canine flu is recommended for dogs with healthy social lives (dog park, daycare).

Lyme Disease

As if ticks weren’t ghoulish enough, they carry Lyme disease, which is debilitating to humans and dogs alike. While less of a threat in the city, Lyme disease is pretty rampant in rural, wooded environs. If you live in such an area, your vet will highly recommend it. And if you’re an urbanite who spends weekends in the great outdoors (lucky dog!) you should also consider this vaccine.

Puppy Vaccine Schedule

At this point, you may be thinking, Thanks, you’ve made the process clear as mud. Knowing what vaccines are out there is only the beginning. If you’re a new puppy parent, clear your calendar. It’s recommended that puppies begin their vaccination schedule at eight weeks old, then are boosted every three-four weeks. (Of course, you can’t always know a rescue pup’s birthdate, but your vet can estimate their age.) Here’s what a schedule typically looks like: 

At 8 weeks, your puppy will receive the first dose of DA2PP and Bordetella (if it’s recommended).

At 12 weeks, it’s time for a second dose of DA2PP and a Bordetella booster (again, if it’s recommended). 

At 16 weeks, they’ll be given their last DA2PP booster, along with their first rabies shot.

At this point, your puppy should be all set until they’re one year old; afterwards they’ll need the following boosters: Bordetella every six months, DA2PP annually, Lepto and/or Lyme (if recommended) also annually, and rabies every three years. It’s important to keep in mind that this is a standard vaccination schedule, but your vet may tailor it to your dog’s unique situation and adjust as they age (i.e. senior dogs or dogs with health issues should skip certain vaccines).

Vaccine Schedules for Adult Rescue Dogs

If you’ve adopted an adult dog, first of all, that’s amazing. Many adult rescue dogs don’t come with a convenient vaccination history, though. In this case, it’s pretty safe to stick with rabies, DA2PP, and whichever non-core options your vet recommends (excluding ill or exceptionally elderly dogs). Alternately, you can opt for a Titer, a blood test that measures antibodies and determines if your dog is already immune. More on that in an upcoming article for The Wildest.

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Oneal Bogan, DVM

Oneal Bogan, DVM, is a mixed animal veterinarian from Colorado. Dr. Bogan loves the variety of animals she gets to work with. She owns her own mobile practice which provides at-home care to large and small animals. Dr. Bogan also works at a local small animal clinic. In her free time, Dr. Bogan loves to hike, ride horses, and read. She also loves writing and hopes her advice helps all pets live a happy, healthy life.