Vaccines, Boosters, and Vets: Healthcare For Your Dog

The following details some of the important veterinary care your puppy needs during the first year of life. All puppies should be vaccinated to protect them from illness and also to protect other dogs, animals, and even humans from catching diseases from them

vet with retriever dog

This is only a broad guide - it is important that you work together with you veterinarian to be certain your puppy is receiving the appropriate health care he or she needs throughout his or her first year, especially when it concerns vaccinations.

What are vaccinations, exactly?

The vet injects your puppy with a preparation of a particular organism or set of organisms, and those enter the bloodstream to instruct the puppy's immune system what that disease looks like so their body will form antibodies to the particular illness, making it possible for the puppy to defeat the same infection in the future. Core vaccinations are those which are required by law or required by all puppies, while non-core vaccinations are those which are optional depending on your veterinarian's recommendations and your pet's daily routine.

Are vaccinations safe?

Many people avoid immunizing their puppies because of things they have heard or read about vaccinations making dogs sick or even killing them. While side effects do sometimes result, these are rare and generally minor. The fact is, however, that the diseases we are protecting them from through vaccination -- especially canine parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus or hepatitis, and feline panleukopenia or parvo, leukemia and FIV (or feline immunodeficiency virus) -- can be far more devastating than the slim chance of a reaction.

Puppies must also be de-wormed. Unless their mother was consistently de-wormed before and during pregnancy, the chances are excellent that the puppy will be born with worms. “Strategic” de-worming requires treatment at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12 weeks old; puppies that have a severe infection by one or more parasites should continue de-worming monthly until they are about 6 months old.

Dog being injected with a vaccination needle
Vaccinations are an essential part of responsible dog ownership

6-7 weeks: The first full health check

At 6-7 weeks old (or even as soon as 5 weeks for the parvovirus vaccine, according to some experts), your puppy should have their first complete physical in order to set a baseline for the future. The exam should include a fecal examination and general check-up, along with the first set of shots. Veterinarians are very careful about scheduling puppy’s first vaccines, because if they are given too soon, protection offered by mother’s milk will kill off the vaccine, and the immunization won’t do any good. If shots are given too late, the puppy may contract an illness in the meantime.

The initial core vaccines are called the DHLPP series, and they protect puppies from distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus, some of the most common and serious infectious diseases that affect dogs, especially puppies.

Also consult with your vet to see if the following non-core vaccinations are recommended for your puppy. Whether they are often depends on where you live, the situation with other pets in your household, travel possibilities with your puppy, etc. (It is usually not recommended that puppies be exposed to public places and other dogs until they have had their third set of vaccines at about 12 weeks, as they have not yet built up their immune system.)

1. Bordetella – Also known as bordetellosis, canine cough complex, tracheobronchitis, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, a highly contagious condition. Dogs and puppies most at risk are those who are immuno-depressed or un-vaccinated and have lived in a kennel, boarding or shelter situation with many other animals.

2. Coronavirus – After canine parvovirus, coronavirus is the second leading viral cause of diarrhea in puppies. However, a coronavirus infection, unlike parvovirus, is not as likely to cause severe illness and death. Most dogs will be exposed to coronavirus at some time in their life, usually through contact with the feces of other dogs. In recent years, veterinarians have ceased the automatic inclusion of coronavirus vaccine in a puppy’s initial core vaccinations due to the disease’s less serious nature. Administration is determined, like other non-core vaccines, on a case-by-case basis.

3. Leptospirosis - Leptospirosis is a dangerous bacterial infection that can be spread from animals to humans, and was once believed primarily a risk for dogs living in rural situations where exposure to wildlife and other domestic animals was frequent and common. However, in recent years, experts have begun to report increasing cases of Leptospirosis in city and suburban dogs as well as their rural cousins. While the Leptospirosis vaccine is still not part of the core group given to puppies, this practice is coming under some reconsideration because of this increase.

Non-Vaccine treatments that should be considered at this visit include the first flea and tick treatment and heart worm prophylactics for the puppy.

10-12 weeks: The second checkup

When your puppy is 10-12 weeks old, it is time for his or her next veterinary visit. Vaccinations at this time will include:

1. The DHLPP booster – Unfortunately, puppy’s system isn’t yet able to develop long-term immunity until he is at least 4 months old. For that reason, vets give puppies booster shots every 3-4 weeks during this period to keep the level of injected antibodies up until the immune system can create their own, and the obstruction from mother’s milk antibodies is reduced after weaning.

2. The first rabies vaccine – The timing of this important shot will depend on the regulations in your locality. Most areas require rabies vaccinations and registrations by law.

If your puppy hasn’t had their flea, tick and heartworm treatments, they should start now. They can also be renewed at this visit for those who have had them previously. This is a good age to discuss puppy training classes with your vet to get referrals, although your puppy’s immune system isn’t quite ready for that kind of exposure to other dogs.

In addition, you should also give serious consideration to puppy-proofing your home. Curiosity will increase as Puppy grows more mobile, and areas that used to be out of reach will now provide a perfect opportunity for catastrophe. Be sure to securely fasten all window screens, and put all poisons out of reach or under lock and key. Keep toilet lids down and doors and drawers closed to help keep Puppy at bay. Remember that he or she will be teething and will chew on anything that’s available – keep forbidden items off the floor.

14-16 weeks: Boosters and ongoing care

The 14-16 week checkup will involve the second DHLPP booster and another renewal of flea, tick, and heartworm treatments.

Now is a great time to introduce grooming and regular dental care to your puppy’s routine. Have your vet teach you how to brush the puppy’s teeth and start practicing. If you perform grooming activities regularly at home, it will help your puppy get used to that kind of handling, and how to sit still, which will be helpful as he or she gets older. Begin with short daily sessions, brushing the puppy all over, including her underside. Handle her paws so she will eventually allow her nails to be trimmed. Be sure to reassure and praise Puppy as you groom her so she will think it’s a great time! Doing as much of your own grooming as possible also provides an excellent opportunity for bonding time between the two of you.

Once your puppy has had all of her 16-week core vaccinations, it’s okay for training classes to begin. It is also the time to talk to your vet about scheduling your puppy to be spayed or neutered.

6 Months: Developmental checks

At 6 months, the vet visit will be more thorough than any since the initial one. There will be a complete physical exam for to see how the puppy is developing overall, along with a dental exam, and spaying or neutering unless it has been done already. Again, flea, tick, and heartworm treatments are renewed.

This is also an excellent occasion to discuss any concerns you may have regarding your puppy’s health or behavior, and any instructions your vet has given you to date. Find out when you should switch your puppy from special food to regular adult food, and what his ideal weight should be so you can keep an eye on it. Learn how to do an all-over hand check, which allows you to examine your growing dog from head to tail on a regular basis to feel for any problems between vet visits.

After these initial rounds of vaccinations in the first year, your vet will explain the proper scheduling for boosters and any new shots your dog might need in the future. Flea, tick, and heartworm treatment should be updated monthly, while the DHLPP, Rabies, Bordetella (if indicated), and parasites exams will be given annually. Some vaccines can now be administered every three years and still be effective. Consult your veterinarian on these.

It is one of the most important things you can do for your new best friend’s health to make sure he or she has quality, complete veterinary care, and that includes full immunizations appropriate to their age and lifestyle. Be certain to consult with your veterinarian, and listen to what they recommend for the best interest of your pup.

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