Vaccinations for Puppies
Before the advent of vaccinations, communicable diseases such as rabies, distemper and parvovirus claimed the lives of innumerable puppies. Vaccines trigger protective immune responses and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents.
Your puppy received his early immunity through his dam’s colostrum during the first few days of nursing. As long as your puppy still has that immunity, he will be immune to the diseases his dam is immune to. That's one reason it's important for the dam to be up-to-date on her vaccinations before she's bred.
While your puppy is covered by the immunity he received from his dam, any vaccinations you give him won’t provide sufficient immunity. But after several weeks this maternal immunity begins to decrease. As it does so, both the chance of a vaccination being effective and the chance of getting a communicable disease (if unprotected) rise. The problem is that immunity diminishes at different ages in different dogs. So starting at around six weeks of age, a series of vaccinations is given in order to leave as little unprotected time as possible. During this time of uncertainty it’s best not to take your puppy around places where unvaccinated dogs may congregate. Deadly viruses, such as parvovirus, can remain in the soil for months after an infected dog has shed virus in its feces there.
Vaccination is a medical procedure, and as such, is not one-size-fits-all. Vaccines are divided into core vaccines, which are advisable for all dogs, and non-core vaccines, which are advisable only for some dogs. Core vaccines are those for rabies, distemper, canine parvovirus, and hepatitis. Non-core vaccines include those for leptospirosis, bordetella, parainfluenza, and Lyme disease. Your veterinarian can advise you if your dog’s lifestyle and environment put him at risk for these diseases. Remember, more is not better!
Although adverse reactions are uncommon, some vaccines are more likely to cause them than others, and such reactions are more common in young puppies and toy breeds. For example, leptospirosis has a comparatively high rate of adverse reactions in puppies, it is usually not advisable for them. If reactions to vaccines do occur, they usually happen within the day or two following administration, and consist of a low-grade fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Less commonly, severe reactions, such as hives, facial swelling, or vomiting may occur almost immediately.
Timely vaccination is imperative for puppies to remain protected against disease. Every dog's needs are going to be somewhat different, so meet with your veterinarian so that a personalized vaccination schedule can be developed.
Most vaccinations are combined so that only one injection needs to be given. A "5-way" vaccine, for example, usually includes distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, hepatitis, and parainfluenza. Although it's possible to administer your own vaccinations, it's prudent to have a veterinarian do so because the veterinarian knows what vaccines are advisable in your area, not all vaccine is equal, vaccine acquired elsewhere may not have been stored properly, and in the rare cases of vaccine failure, the cause will be unknown. Rabies vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian for legal reasons in case your dog bites somebody.
Don't take chances with your puppy. Immunization saves lives.