Why do puppies require a series of vaccinations?
Young puppies are highly susceptible to infectious diseases because their immune systems are not fully mature. While nursing, their mother’s milk contains antibodies that provide some immunity to diseases. However, these maternal antibodies do not last long, and there may be gaps in protection as the milk antibodies decrease and the puppies’ immune systems aren’t yet capable of fighting off infection. To keep these gaps in protection as small as possible, a series of vaccinations are scheduled, usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most puppies, the final vaccination in the series is administered after 14 weeks of age. Remember that an incomplete series of vaccinations may lead to incomplete protection, making your puppy vulnerable to infection.
What vaccines does my puppy need?
Every puppy will need a series of 3 distemper-combination vaccines for upper respiratory and GI viruses (distemper, adenovirus, hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza,). Once the puppy is old enough, it should be vaccinated against rabies as well. These two vaccines are considered "Core Vaccines" because every dog should receive them regardless of lifestyle (rare exceptions apply).
There are also optional vaccines for dogs based on lifestyle:
1. Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough) - This is an infection that can cause inflammation of the airways (tracheobronchitis). The vaccine can reduce the severity and duration of infection and should be given to dogs that have nose-to-nose contact with other dogs. Some boarding, grooming, or training situations require this vaccine as well.
2. Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) - This is spread by the deer tick. Symptoms may include fever, joint pain, lethargy, and inappetence. Kidney failure can occur in some patients as well. If your dog spends a large amount of time near deer ticks, then consider this vaccine.
3. Leptospirosis - This infection is spread by the urine of an infected animal (raccoon, dog, human, etc.). The infection can cause kidney and liver failure and is transmissible to you. If your dog will have access to stagnant water, consider this vaccine.
What are possible side effects that I may see?
Although <1% of the population will develop a vaccine reaction, it is important to monitor your dog after it receives a vaccine. The most common adverse responses are mild and include fever, lethargy, and reduced appetite. Pets may also experience temporary swelling at the site of vaccination. Most adverse reactions will resolve within 12-24 hours.
Rarely, more serious adverse reactions can occur. Allergic reactions appear within minutes or hours of a vaccination and may include repeated vomiting, swelling of the face or legs, difficulty breathing, or collapse. Contact your veterinarian immediately if any of these symptoms are seen.