Vaccinations against common diseases are usually given in combinations of at least three and as many as five at two- to four-week intervals.
Canine distemper can be passed simply by sniffing an infected animal’s urine. Parvovirus is passed in other dogs’ stool. However, active immunity to these diseases does not develop until about twelve weeks of age. Until that time, your puppy should not be exposed to other dogs.
Puppy shots usually begin at six weeks, and the boosters follow every few weeks. These vaccines are intended to protect against six diseases, based in part on where you live and what your vet recommends.
As with any immunization — such as those given to children — they contain weakened doses of the actual diseases they protect against. This stimulates the puppy’s immune system to create antibodies against that illness, so that if he’s exposed to the disease, his immune system will recognize and destroy it.
The rabies vaccination isn’t given until sixteen weeks of age.
Born with immunity
When puppies are drinking their mother’s milk, they’re protected against the diseases to which she has immunity (just like with people and breast-feeding babies). However, since this protection declines in the first few weeks of a puppy’s life, the shots to pick up where the mother’s milk left off are given over several weeks.
If your puppy came from a breeder, they’ll often give the whole litter their first series of shots. However, many vets will repeat a vaccination given by a breeder in case the vaccine was given when the puppy was too young (in which case it won’t work) or wasn’t handled properly (not kept consistently cold, the expiration date wasn’t carefully watched, etc.). For example, one of the Bedlington Terriers I had while growing up came down with distemper when he was about ten weeks old; the only explanation was that the vaccine given by the breeder was ineffectual. Falstaff survived, by the way — after days spent in a hot, steamy bathroom to help him breathe — but he never matured properly.
Is there danger in clustering inoculations? There is common experience and anecdotes that suggest some dogs may be in jeopardy if they are given all their shots at one time. Some breed advocates have said for a long time that their breed (for example, Weimaraners) can be sickened or even killed by having all their vaccinations at one time. Most vets are accustomed to giving the puppy vaccinations in a combined cluster, but there are also doctors who are open to the idea of spreading out the vaccinations. This requires more visits to your vet, but it may save your pet’s life if he has a bad reaction from receiving the usual dosage of several immunizations all at one time.
If you do choose to separate the inoculations by a few weeks, most vets will not require you to pay for a separate visit each time. To save you money and keep the vet’s schedule clear for other patients, when it is time for another inoculation you can bring your dog to the vet without an appointment and do what is called a “pass back” — a technician takes the puppy back into the treatment area and a vet, vet tech or nurse gives the next injection in the sequence.
The rabies vaccine protects you and your puppy (or dog as she gets older) against this deadly disease. Rabies is fatal to humans and dogs once symptoms of the disease appear (interestingly, it may be a year before a person who has been exposed shows such symptoms). It is in our best interest to make sure that all dogs are vaccinated, which is why rabies vaccinations are required by law. If an infected animal bites an unvaccinated dog, she will get the disease — and she will die from the rabies if she isn’t treated before symptoms appear.
It’s unlikely that people would get close enough to the wild animals that pose the greatest threat of rabies (including skunks, raccoons and bats) to be bitten by them. But our pets can get mixed up with any of these carrier animals and get bitten — and then pass the rabies on to humans.
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Copyright © Tracie Hotchner – Originally appeared in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know by Tracie Hotchner