Puppies’ First Shots: Learn How to Protect Your Puppy from Diseases

Dog at vet
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Getting a new puppy is probably one of the most exciting days of your life. You’ve bought all the toys you can find, prepared a dog bed, bought the best brand of puppy food, formed a schedule for taking your new puppy outside, and even arrange play dates with other dogs in order to help him get socialized. You couldn’t be more prepared. But what you’ve failed to remember is the round of puppies’ first shots that are necessary to ensure your puppy’s health.

If this is your very first puppy, then you may feel a bit anxious that you’ve already failed before you’ve even picked up your new pup, but fear not. The very first shots, though essential, can still be provided to your puppy, as long as you do so in a timely manner.

What is included in the first set of puppy shots?

Typically, your puppy will receive a multivalent vaccine. This is an injecting that includes all of the shots that are needed in a single injection.

Puppy first shots

This saves a lot of time, money, and frustration for your puppy instead of being injected six or seven different times. One of the most common multivalent vaccines that are given is the DHLPPCV, which includes the necessary genetic information for your pup’s system to fight diseases like:

  • Distemper: canine distemper is a very serious illness that is caused by a virus. There is no known cure once it has been contracted, which makes this vaccine extremely vital for your puppy. It can be spread through the air, as well as having direct contact with infected animals. It includes the virus attacking the tonsils and lymphatic system of your dog, and replicates itself over the period of one week.
    After this, the disease attacks the respiratory system, nervous system, gastrointestinal, and urogenital system. Symptoms of this disease include extremely high fever, red eyes, and watery discharge from the eyes and nose. The infected dog will become white lethargic and start to shed pounds quite quickly. Coughing, diarrhea and vomiting will also occur, as well as the onset of seizures, paralysis, and bouts of hysteria. To help answer your questions on distemper in dogs, see our previous article on the subject for more insight.
  • Hepatitis: this viral infection targets a dog’s liver and can lead to a quick decline in his health. Once infected, it can be spread through feces, blood, saliva, urine and nasal discharge, making it very easy to be spread to other dogs if they haven’t been vaccinated. Once contracted, your dog will experience coughing, a loss of appetite, high fever, depression, and a tender abdomen. As the liver is affected, there will be similar symptoms to liver disease, such as jaundice, vomiting, and confusion and/or coma as a result of liver failure.
    Most dogs may recover after being sick for a short period of time, while other dogs may die from the virus itself or from the liver disease. Infected animals can still be treated with injections and make a full recovery, while some animals may do so all on their own.
  • Leptospirosis: caused by the spirochetes-slender bacteria, they are spread by the urine of infected animals into sources of drinking water. Contaminated water can remain infective for a period of up to six months. The signs of an infection are typically quite mild, and appear from four to twelve days after infection.
    Leptospirosis causes fever, vomiting, lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, muscle pain, and blood in the urine. It tends to attack the liver, so your dog will present with symptoms of jaundice and liver disease as well. Dogs who recover without treatment of the disease can remain carriers of leptospirosis, and shed bacteria in their urine for up to one year.
  • Parainfluenza: also known as canine cough, it is a highly contagious respiratory infection. It may seem similar to the symptoms of canine influenza, but they are not related in any way and require different vaccinations. Caused by a virus, it can be spread quite easily in the air, and causes coughing, sneezing, runny eyes, fever, discharge from the nose, lethargy and a loss of appetite.
    Because of how contagious it is, dogs that are boarded together in kennels and shelters can catch the disease quite quickly, and may lead to an epidemic if none of them have been vaccinated. Dogs may recover from this disease quite easily on their own, but they can continue to spread the virus to other dogs if there is no treatment. After the disease has been contracted, treatment is quite aggressive and involves the administration of antibiotics and antiviral drugs.
  • Parvovirus: this viral disease is another fast-acting infection that can result in a life-threatening illness. Because it acts so quickly, it is easily communicable to other dogs and can be difficult to take care of. It mostly affects the intestinal tract and the white blood cells, making it difficult for a dog’s immune system to fight it off. Infected puppies are likely to experience heart damage and have lifelong heart problems.
    The symptoms of an infection include severe vomiting, lethargy, bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, and extreme dehydration. It is mostly transmitted through an infected dog’s feces, and can survive on any object for many months. There is no treatment to eliminate the virus after infection; rather, treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms, ensuring hydration and improving the dog’s immune system. Hospital treatment can last from five to seven days in order to provide a dog with a fighting chance of survival. Check out our article on dog parvo and how to treat it to give you more information on the disease.
  • Coronavirus: this viral infection is very specific to dogs, both wild and domesticated. It multiplies within the small intestine and begins to attack it as well as the lymph nodes. The disease is quite mild, but exposure is typically complicated, as it is the result of a lack of vaccination, which exposes young dogs to other diseases that worsen the disease. The majority of infections will show no symptoms at all. Fever is rare, and there may be some vomiting and a few days of diarrhea.
    Respiratory problems are more likely to occur, as well as anorexia and depression. The symptoms are more serious in young puppies, and can result in severe dehydration and inflammation of the small intestine, most times resulting in death. Viral strands from an infected dog are shed in the feces and remain active for a period of six months. Treatment involves antibiotics, antiviral medications and ensuring sufficient hydration, though most adult dogs tend to recover on their own.

Along with multivalent vaccines, there are other shots that a puppy is going to need, especially if you intend on socializing him with other dogs.

Vaccine vs parvo

Bordetella, also known as kennel cough, is not provided as a shot, but is administered through drops into your puppy’s nose. The disease causes inflammation in the trachea and bronchi of the lungs, making it difficult for your dog to breathe. This can result in dry coughing, retching, nasal discharge, lethargy, fever, lack of appetite, and pneumonia. It can be transmitted through the air, which is why it is essential for your puppy to receive protection against it if you intend on boarding or introducing your puppy to other dogs. Our article on kennel cough will give you more insight to the disease and how to treat it, check it out.

Rabies is also another essential vaccine that keeps your puppy healthy. Although this is not administered within the very first weeks of having your puppy, it is essential that it be included in the rounds of vaccines that are administered early on in your puppy’s life. Typically given within the 12th and 16th weeks of your puppy’s life, the rabies vaccine prevents your dog from contracting this very lethal disease.

There is no cure for infected dogs, and the disease infects the dog’s brain and central nervous systems. Infected dogs will either show symptoms of furious rabies (aggression), paralytic rabies (weakness and loss of coordination) or both. For more on how to prevent rabies in your pets, see our piece on this subject.

When do puppies get their first shots?

A reputable breeder typically won’t allow you to take your new puppy home before six to eight weeks of age. This is because this is the time when a puppy should receive his first round of vaccines. This includes the multivalent vaccines in its first round. If you are picking up a puppy at this age, then you’re going to have to schedule routine visits to your veterinarian to continue administering the further rounds of vaccines. On your first visit to the vet, you should bring the medical history you obtained from the breeder and a stool sample so that it may be checked for worms.

Lyme disease bites

The second multivalent vaccine is given around nine weeks of age, and then again at twelve weeks. A Lyme disease vaccine is also added to this, as your puppy becomes more active and is exposed to more of the outdoors where ticks reside. This is usually dependent on the area you live in, however, and may not always be administered if you don’t reside in a heavily populated tick area.

The last round of the multivalent vaccine is given at sixteen weeks of age, at which time your puppy will receive his first rabies vaccine. After this, your dog will continue receive boosters on an annual schedule, or every three years for the rabies vaccine.

Why vaccinate a puppy so young?

The reason why puppies are vaccinated at only a few weeks of age is because this is the time that they start weaning from their mothers. Puppies are dependent on the antibodies that are present in the nursing milk in order to keep them healthy. But as they wean from it, they no longer have the protection that they need to fight off certain diseases.

This passive immunity that has been passed on from the mother requires some time to wear off, or else there could be complications resulting from the vaccinations. It is during this period that you should refrain from exposing your puppy to other dogs, as they can either transmit or receive infections from other unvaccinated dogs, and make the situation quite dire.

Care should be taken by your vet when administering vaccinations to young puppies. It is possible for them to have adverse reactions even when this passive immunity has worn off. Signs of complications include pale gums, staggering, weakness, or being unresponsive to any stimuli.

Can I administer my puppy’s vaccines myself?

It is possible for you to purchase certain vaccinations from farming stores and give them to your puppy.

Vaccinate your puppy yourself

This can save you a lot of money in the long run, but it is not highly recommended. Although it’s quite a simple process to do, there is no actual proof that your dog has been vaccinated. Only veterinarians are qualified to provide records to county clerks for dog registration with proof that your puppy has received all of its shots. For this reason alone, you are much better off taking your puppy to the vet to get his first shots.

Is it too late for my puppy if he’s missed shots?

On the off chance that you do get a new puppy from a breeder who hasn’t done any vaccination, then all is not lost. It is recommended that you make it known to the wider public about this breeder’s practices so that no one else will have to risk buying a sick puppy. The first round of vaccines can be administered at any time if they have not received them yet, and have not started showing any signs or symptoms of infection.

Older puppies and unvaccinated dogs will have a different vaccination schedule, as their immune systems have had more time to develop, but it is still possible for them to receive all of the shots that they need to maintain their health.

Sick puppy

Getting a new puppy at a very young age can be quite expensive, especially with all of the vaccines that have to be administered. Although vaccines may seem quite pricy, they actually cost a lot less in comparison to having to treat a sick puppy for all of the diseases he’s contracted.

Remember that although having a new puppy can be extremely fun and exciting, it’s a lot of responsibility to look after his health. Building a sufficient budget to deal with these costs will ensure that you don’t start believing that getting a new puppy was a mistake. If you do choose to purchase or adopt an older puppy, many of these vaccines may have already been taken care of for you.

What are some of the side effects of vaccines?

Just like human vaccines, there are possible side effects that may occur in some puppies. Some new puppy owners may become alarmed at the sight of such symptoms, but it is a normal reaction to the vaccines, as their immune systems try to cope with the presence of these new bacteria and viruses. Some of the most common side effects you may notice are:

  • lethargy
  • vomiting once or twice
  • diarrhea once or twice
  • soreness or swelling at the site of injection
  • loss of appetite

You should keep a careful eye on your puppy when any of these signs occur, and contact your veterinarian immediately. You will be advised to continue watching your puppy. If any of these side effects continue for more than twenty-four hours, then you should bring your puppy to your vet immediately.

Puppy disoriented after vaccination

In the case of more serious reactions, there can be:

  • swelling of the neck, face or body
  • large swellings all over the body, called hives
  • there is difficult breathing
  • disorientation
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness

At the first sign of any of these symptoms, you should seek the assistance of your vet immediately. In such cases, your vet may recommend that your puppy being receiving individual vaccines instead of a combination in order to minimize the effects of these symptoms from reoccurring. Administering the Leptospirosis and rabies vaccines have been known to trigger more of these serious symptoms than any other vaccines.

What if I choose to avoid vaccines altogether?

It is understandable that to vaccinate your puppy is entirely your choice. You can choose to save money and avoid all vaccinations. A puppy can live a full, long healthy life as long as he is not exposed to the sources of these deadly diseases. However, this doesn’t mean that your choice isn’t without repercussions.

If you are deciding to board your dog while you are away on long vacations, your puppy will not be accepted without specific vaccines. This is to ensure that your unvaccinated puppy is not transmitting the disease to other dogs that he is coming into contact with.

Unvaccinated puppy alone

Other vaccines, such as rabies, are required in many states when you conduct the annual registration of your dog. Failing to have your dog registered can result in a large fine being paid and the possible surrender of your dog, as it is required by law. Other places that provide care to pets, such as groomers, doggy day cares, and dog parks will not allow unvaccinated dogs into these areas. This can make it extremely difficult for you and your pet to obtain the care that he needs when it comes to exercise and having clean fur and skin.

Getting a new puppy at a very young age can be quite expensive, especially with all of the vaccines that have to be administered. Although vaccines may seem quite pricy, they actually cost a lot less in comparison to having to treat a sick puppy for all of the diseases he’s contracted.

Remember that although having a new puppy can be extremely fun and exciting, it’s a lot of responsibility to look after his health. Building a sufficient budget to deal with these costs will ensure that you don’t start believing that getting a new puppy was a mistake. If you do choose to purchase or adopt an older puppy, many of these vaccines may have already been taken care of for you.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.