There is a lot of controversy nowadays about vaccinations. Which vaccinations should your puppy get? How often does your puppy need to be vaccinated? Do you really have to go back every three weeks for another vaccine? How important is all this anyway?

Times have definitely changed. It used to be that puppies got a lot more vaccinations than they do today. We also gave vaccinations more frequently over the lifetime of the dog than we do today. About ten years ago, we started to learn that some vaccinations instill immunity for a longer period of time than previously thought. This caused many of us to change our vaccination recommendations for our patients.

Puppies still need to be vaccinated every 2 to 3 weeks until they are 16 weeks old. The reason is the effect of maternal antibodies. Puppies receive maternal antibodies from the dam. These maternal antibodies are more powerful than any vaccination that we can give (Go Mom!). As a result, vaccinations that are given while maternal antibodies are high will be ineffective. They just won’t work. The problem is that we don’t know with any certainty when any individual dog’s maternal antibodies will drop off. They might drop off (allowing effective vaccination) at 9 weeks or at 16 weeks.

This puts the veterinarian in a race against Mom’s antibodies. To try to win the race and make sure that puppies don’t get sick or die from preventable diseases, we vaccinate puppies every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old. In this way, we can make sure that we are vaccinating them at the point when the maternal antibodies drop for that individual puppy. If you accidentally miss a scheduled three week vaccine booster, you should go to your veterinarian’s office as soon as you can to get back on schedule.

There are core vaccines and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are those that every puppy should receive. These include Parvovirus, Rabies virus, Distemper virus and Adenovirus. Non-core vaccines include everything else. These types of vaccines are best given after 16 weeks.

Does your dog need any non-core vaccinations? That depends on where you live and what your puppy does each day. To find out the answer for your puppy, sit down with your veterinarian and have a conversation about the risks to your dog. For example, if your dog is going to dog parks, dog shows or boarding facilities, she will need a Bordetella bronchiseptica (AKA kennel cough) vaccination. If you live in the northeast, your veterinarian will most likely recommend that your pup receive a Lyme vaccine. Most vaccines, but not all, will need to be boostered (i.e., given again) to be effective in the long-term. If your veterinarian has recommended boosters, don’t assume that your puppy is safe until after the vaccination has been boostered.

Small dog owners often worry about giving multiple vaccinations at the same time. Indeed, the little ones can be susceptible to vaccine reactions when given multiple vaccinations at one time (but so can big pups, too). In cases like this, your veterinarian can split the vaccines up by giving them on different days. If that is the case, make sure to leave at least two weeks between vaccinations. You will have to make more trips to the veterinarian’s office, but whatever makes your pup safer is worth the trouble.

Don’t forget to make the vaccination procedure as low stress as possible for your pup by using great treats the entire time she is being vaccinated. For more information on how to help your pup love the veterinarian, refer to my previous column, Are You a Driver or a Passenger?, on how to make sure that your pup’s experiences at the veterinarian’s office are positive.

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Image: My Baby Brother by Cvalentine / via Flickr