The old puppy shots schedule – taught to me and other student vets at vet school decades ago – went like this:

We need to protect puppies from as young an age as possible.  So let’s give them their first vaccination at six weeks of age.  However, every puppy gets a big dose of protective antibodies in the first suckle (of colostrum) from its mother.  These antibodies wane over time but are still relatively high in the puppy’s body at six weeks of age and tend to neutralize vaccinations given at that time.

So, in short, the first puppy shots given at six weeks of age, are very often not effective. 

Because we can’t rely on it, we then recommended another two rounds of vaccine at around 10 and again at 14 weeks of age.  Unfortunately owners are often instructed to keep their puppies away from the world until the 14 week vaccine.  Doing so they miss out on socialization during the most critical imprinting period.  The result for many is a dog that is not fun to take out and likely to react negatively to many normal aspects of its environment.

The biggest threat to life by far for any young dog are behavioural issues stemming from inadequate socialization at the right age! 

Keeping your puppy separated from the world until its last puppy shots is a recipe for disaster.  Socialization can and should be full-on during this time, and can be done safely.

Luckily, now we know better.

Research has revealed that over-vaccinating puppies predisposes them to autoimmunity diseases without offering better protection from disease.

So here are two puppy shots schedules that minimize the number of vaccines given to very young puppies.  The first (A) utilizes a delayed first vaccine, thereby reducing the number needed in puppies by one.  The second (B) is based on new vaccines that are able to overcome the maternal antibodies still lingering in puppies at weaning and similarly reduce the number of vaccines required.

Better Puppy Shots Schedule A

The first new puppy shots schedule goes like this:  

By eight weeks of age the level of antibodies from their first feed of colostrum rich milk from mom has dropped low enough to make vaccination at this time highly effective in around 95% of puppies.  Since we can rely on it, only one follow up puppy vaccination is needed, around four weeks later (ie at 12 weeks old).  Giving a booster 12 months later has been found to then protect the puppy for life.

As a breeder, if it wasn’t so important to get the puppy out there socializing with its new owners by eight weeks of age I would keep it a week or so longer and delay the first vaccination to 9 to 10 weeks of age.  This would bring its effectiveness up close to 100%.  However, there is only a narrow timeframe of opportunity to expose puppies to the world and owners are the best placed to give their puppies the one on one attention doing this well requires.

What Puppy Shots to Give When

I routinely only vaccinate puppies for Distemper, Canine Hepatitis, and Parvovirus.  In this case, more is not necessarily better.  Giving combinations of multiple vaccines has been shown to be harmful to the development of a strong immune system in puppies.  However, if you plan to use kennel boarding services in the future, additional vaccination against Kennel Cough will be required.

In some areas vaccination against Leptospirosis and Rabies is also recommended.  However, poor immune response and adverse reactions to Leptospirosis vaccine are relatively common.  Also, the strains that cause disease in your area may not be covered in the vaccine unless matched with local testing.

Dr Dodds Puppy Shots Recommendations including Rabies

According to pet vaccine expert Dr Dodds, who is an advocate of minimising puppy shots to only what is necessary, the current ideal puppy shots protocol is as follows:

9-10 Weeks Old:  Distemper and Parvovirus (modified live vaccine)

14-16 Weeks: Repeat of Distemper and Parvovirus (modified live vaccine)

20 Weeks or Older (if allowed by law to delay this long):  Rabies

1 Year: Optional booster with modified live vaccine of Distemper and Parvovirus (a Vet can check the level of antibodies in the dog’s serum and vaccinate if the titre is below desirable levels.)

1 Year after the initial dose: Rabies (killed vaccine) separated by three to four weeks from the distemper-parvovirus booster

Better Puppy Shots Schedule B

There are new vaccines available now that are not susceptible to neutralization by maternal antibodies still lingering in your pup from its first colostrum rich milk.  This vaccine is marketed under the brand names Protech, Duramune and Nobivac.  As a result your puppy can respond fully to the vaccine as young as 10 weeks of age. Your puppy is considered fully protected against Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus just 7 days later.  One single puppy vaccine given at 10 to 12 weeks of age will thus protect your puppy until it requires its first annual booster 12 months later.  However in areas where there is a current epidemic, many veterinarians will recommend another shot 4 weeks later just to be sure.

Adult Boosters

Despite the fact that immunity from the C3 vaccine (against Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus) usually lasts for at least three years, most veterinarians will still send you an annual reminder that your dog’s booster vaccination is due.  Though the vaccine is unlikely to be necessary an annual physical examination of your dog by your veterinarian to check against possible issues is certainly not a bad idea.  Owing to political considerations, in Australia the Australian Veterinary Association has compromised with the profession.  While acknowledging the effectiveness of the new protocol for puppy shots, the AVA’s recommendation is to give DHP (the C3 vaccine against Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus) boosters every 3 years after the 12 month shot.

Annual vaccination against Kennel Cough is necessary to maintain protection as immunity from boosters only lasts around 12 months.  If you regularly kennel board your dog then most facilities insist that you do this.  However the vaccine only protects against a few of the many possible agents that cause this disease.  Kennel Cough is not usually a severe disease, causing coughing and hacking for about 3 weeks in an otherwise healthy dog.

Regarding further boosters after the puppy shots, it is desirable to check antibody titres every three years thereafter to check if revaccination is necessary.

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