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Puppy vaccinations - How, when and why

Puppy vaccinations - How, when and why

Health & Safety

Vaccines are biological agents administered to a healthy animal in order to give that animal immunity against a specific disease or condition.

Vaccinations generally contain minute doses of de-activated microorganisms that in their live state, could potentially cause illness or disease. Introducing a minute amount of the de-activated agent of a vaccinatable disease causes the body to recognise it as an invasive agent without being exposed to the risk of the live form of the infection or organism. This triggers the immune system of the dog to fight off the agent, and so, build up antibodies against it that will remain in place to fight off the live form of the micro-organism in future, should the dog become exposed to it.

Not every potentially dangerous condition or illness can be vaccinated against, and even among those that can, what conditions are vaccinated against as standard vary from country to country, depending on the prevalence of the condition within the canine population as a whole.

In the UK, each condition that we commonly vaccinate dogs against requires a different vaccination agent.

Why do puppies need vaccinations?

Vaccinations are the most important way to safeguard the long-term health and wellness of dogs and puppies within the UK, and when the vast majority of dogs within a given area or country are vaccinated, this reduces the risk factors for all of the dogs in the area, even those that are not vaccinated. Vaccinating dogs and puppies are therefore very important, not just for the ongoing health and wellbeing of each individual dog, but for the overall health and condition of the dog population within the UK.

While adult dogs can be vaccinated at any age against the main transmissible conditions that they may come into contact with, vaccination is especially important for puppies and young dogs. As a dog ages, their immune systems develop and strengthen alongside of their physical development, giving them a greater chance of fighting off any potential disease or condition that they may come into contact with. Puppies and young dogs have not yet had the chance to build and strengthen their immune systems by means of exposure to the outside world, and so the risk factors for their developing or catching any illness or infection that they may come into contact with while young is much higher than it is for adult dogs.

Puppies are much more prone to developing both minor and major illnesses during their first few weeks and months of life than fully-grown dogs. This is why veterinary surgeons strongly advise all puppy owners not to allow their pups outside of the home or into contact with other dogs until they have received their initial vaccinations and have had time to develop the full protection offered by them.

What do vaccinations protect against?

In the UK, the core vaccines, which are recommended for all dogs as a standard are:

  • Adenovirus (Infectious Canine Hepatitis)
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Canine Distemper

The World Small Animal Veterinary Associationdoes not think of Leptospirosis as a core vaccine, however because the disease is so common in the UK, vets think it is essential to provide protection for your dog.

Non-core vaccines, which are also options are:

  • Canine Parainfluenza Virus (Kennel Cough). This is made up from several pathogens, and Bordetella is the most seen. Kennels generally require dogs to have had this vaccine.
  • Canine Herpes Virus – this generally effects pregnant bitches and young puppies, so your vet may recommend it.
  • Rabies is considered to have been eliminated within the UK, but if you are planning to take your dog abroad, you will require a pet passport, and part of this involves vaccination against rabies.

More information on all of these conditions and vaccinating against them can be foundin this article.

How is a vaccination administered?

Most canine vaccinations are administered by means of an injection. For a puppy’s first vaccinations, if they are receiving the new Leptospirosis 4 (L4) vaccine – this covers 4 strains of lepto, rather than the original 2; the puppies will generally need the following vet visits:

  • 8 Weeks Old – 1st general core vaccination + 1st L4 vaccination.
  • 10 Weeks Old – 2nd general core vaccination.
  • 12 Weeks Old – 2nd L4 vaccination.

The vaccine for kennel cough is usually administered separately as a nasal spray, although an injectable form of the vaccine is also available for dogs and puppies for whom a nasal spray will prove unsuitable.

The vaccine for rabies, if given, is administered on its own.

All vaccinations will be given by your veterinary surgeon in a consultation, usually at the surgery premises, although many vets will offer a home visit to administer vaccines if requested, at an additional cost.

When should my puppy be vaccinated?

When a puppy is born, they are partially protected from external infections and dangers due to an inherited immunity transferred to them through the milk of their dam. However, this will only protect them during the first few weeks of their life, and so it is important to arrange vaccination for your puppy at the appropriate developmental stage, so that they will be ready to go out into the wider world for the first time safely and fully protected.

You will still need to wait an additional seven to ten days after the third vaccine has been administered before your new puppy will be able to go outside safely and be covered against all the diseases.

WSAVA guidelines recommend that a booster for core vaccines is given 12 months after the initial puppy vaccinations. For older dogs, their vaccinations do need to be kept up to date but it is recommended that vaccines should not be given needlessly. WSAVA recommends that the core vaccines should not be given any more frequently than every three years after the 12-month booster injection. There are still other non-core vaccines that maybe needed more often than this, such as vaccines to protect against Kennel Cough and Leptospirosis. This can be too complicated for the average pet owner, so it is recommended you take your dog for a yearly health check by your vet. The vet will then be able to review your dog’s health and lifestyle, and then they will only give your dog the necessary vaccines which they think are needed.

Is vaccination risky?

In a very small minority of cases, some dogs and puppies may suffer from an adverse reaction to one of the component parts of the vaccine, or the carrying agent used to deliver it. This is extremely rare, however, and unless you have cause to suspect that this may be the case, should not be used as a reason to avoid vaccination. Your dog or puppy should always be in good health when vaccinated, and you should discuss any health concerns or problems with your vet before proceeding with vaccination.

A small number of dogs and puppies will develop a minor rash or sensitivity around the area of the injection site for a couple of days after administration, and many dogs will be a little sleepier or subdued than normal for a day or two following vaccination. This usually resolves itself promptly on its own, and again, should not generally be considered as a reason to avoid vaccination.

Many of the various diseases and conditions that are vaccinated against as standard are incredibly painful, often incurable, and sadly, may prove fatal. Vaccination can help to prevent this, and having your dog or puppy vaccinated and keeping their booster shots up to date is a vital part of responsible dog ownership. For diseases and accidents you can’t prevent, consider puppy insurance.

You should discuss any concerns you may have about vaccination with your vet, in order to establish the best way to proceed for your own dog.


1. WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines for Cats and Dogs -