Your Puppy Vaccine Schedule, According to Veterinarians

Core vs Non-Core and Everything in Between

A puppy getting vaccinated by a vet.
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With new puppies come great responsibilities—like vaccines. Vaccinating your puppy protects them from getting and spreading seriously scary diseases. Of course, life with a rambunctious little canine is hectic and deciding which vaccines to order for a puppy can be daunting. We spoke with several experts to find out which core vaccines are must-haves, which non-core vaccines you can hold off on, and how to set up a puppy vaccine schedule to ensure your new family member lives a happy, healthy life. 

Meet the Experts:

  • Dr. Felicity Moffatt is the Head of Veterinary Medicine at Dr. Treat, a pet health and wellness startup in San Francisco. A graduate of The University of Melbourne Veterinary School, Dr. Moffatt has over a decade of experience in veterinary surgery and clinic operations. She’s accredited by both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council.
  • Dr. Mondrian Contreras, DVM, is a Member of the Pumpkin Veterinary Advisory Board. He also owns and operates a vet clinic and doggy day care business. He’s on a mission to make sure pets and the people they love are taken care of. 
puppy vaccine schedule why do dogs need vacines
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Why Do Dogs Need Vaccines?

Dogs, especially when they are puppies, require vaccines to build immunity against life-threatening illnesses. Like human babies, puppies new to the world are more susceptible to pathogens. Dr. Moffatt says some viruses, like parvovirus, are not only more common in young animals, but they can also do more damage.

Beyond that, there are logistical reasons to vaccinate your puppy. If you plan to board your dog at any time in a kennel or daycare center while you’re on vacation or at work, pup will need to be up-to-date on all vaccines. Many U.S. states require pets to be vaccinated with core vaccines. Plus, vaccines now will save you big vet bills later if your dog is exposed to rabies, distemper or any number of illnesses. 

Core vs. Non-Core Vaccines for Puppies

According to The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), core vaccines are those that are necessary for all puppies, unless there is a serious health issue that exempts them. Dr. Moffatt says the two big core vaccines are rabies and distemper. In most states, rabies vaccination is required by law. But, depending on where you live, several other shots may be considered core vaccines.   

For example, at Dr. Treat in San Francisco, where Dr. Moffatt works, the bordetella, leptospirosis and canine flu shots are also considered core vaccines for puppies (we’ll explain what each of these are below!). “These diseases are more common and outbreaks have occurred in recent years,” she says. “So, we consider these core for all puppies.”

On the other hand, the AVMA lists these as non-core vaccines, meaning they are optional and should be administered to dogs whose lifestyles make them more susceptible to those diseases.

Ask your vet if you’re unsure what the requirements are in your area compared with the recommendations. It’s also worth keeping track of local outbreaks, like dog flu and Lyme disease, to see if a vaccination is a good idea.

What Shots do Puppies and Dogs Need?

Puppies and dogs need core vaccines to prevent the spread of disease like rabies and distemper. When it comes to non-core vaccines, ask your vet what’s best. To give you guidance, start here:

Core Vaccines

1. Rabies

Rabies is scary because it spreads through animal bites or saliva and can affect all mammals (including humans). There’s no real treatment or cure; infected animals typically die after the virus takes over their nervous systems and they show signs of aggression, drooling and paralysis. The AVMA says rabies is totally preventable through vaccination, which is why it’s required by law throughout the U.S. 

2. Distemper

Sometimes called the DA2PP, DAP, DHP or DHPP vaccine, the distemper shot protects against four viruses: distemper, adenovirus type 2 (hepatitis), parvovirus and parainfluenza. Because different clinics may offer different concoctions, make sure you know exactly what your vet is administering. Healthy Paws Pet Insurance says distemper affects the “respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems and is often fatal, while adenovirus can cause disease in many parts of the body.” Parainfluenza is one of the viruses responsible for kennel cough. Puppies under four months are particularly susceptible to distemper.

Non-Core Vaccines

1. Bordetella

Bordetella is another virus that causes kennel cough (Dr. Moffatt notes this vaccine specifically fights off the bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium). It’s a respiratory illness that spreads through close contact among dogs, especially in boarding facilities, which is where the “kennel cough” name comes from. If your pup loves crowded dog parks or visits the groomer’s often, a bordetella vaccine is wise.

2. Leptospirosis

Dr. Moffatt says leptospirosis is a curly-cue shaped organism that can cause kidney and liver issues. Symptoms can look a lot like the flu (diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy) according to the AVMA. Though not often fatal, it’s no fun. This bacteria spreads easily in warm, moist climates or after rain storms through soil and standing water. Dogs who slurp up puddles after a summer shower could be at risk. Leptospirosis can also spread to humans. 

3. Canine Influenza

No one likes the flu! Fever, snot, cough and respiratory distress are all symptoms. Unlike human flu which is pretty seasonal, dogs can catch canine influenza year-round (and it’s very contagious). While the AVMA says most pups recover in a few weeks, some (usually older, younger or immuno-compromised dogs) may develop pneumonia which could be life-threatening.

4. Lyme Disease

We have ticks to thank for spreading Lyme disease to dogs and people. Roaming through the woods, going on hikes and frolicking through grass are all great ways to pick up ticks and risk exposure to Lyme disease. Infection leads to fevers and swollen joints. Pets & Parasites says Lyme disease is way more prevalent in the upper Midwest and Northeast, so if you live in the Southwest your dog may not need this vaccine.

5. Rattlesnake

Here’s where our Southwest dog parents need to pay attention! Rattlesnake vaccines for dogs are recommended in areas where pups are at a greater risk of being bitten by snakes. It protects against the venom in snake fangs which could be lethal.

Dog Vaccines
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Recommended Puppy and Dog Vaccine Schedule

Yowza, that’s a lot of vaccinations—and most require a few doses to be effective. Dr. Moffatt says puppy exams often start around eight weeks old. If the puppy is healthy, vaccines are good to go. This can happen earlier or later, depending on your dog and vet.

“Three examinations are recommended,” Dr. Moffatt says. “One at eight weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks. The required vaccinations are given appropriately spaced over the course of these visits.”

If you purchase a puppy from a breeder, ask about any vaccinations they’ve already been given. Some breeders will administer certain shots around five or six weeks old. (Note: Always use a reputable breeder who puts the litter’s health first.)

The American Kennel Club notes not all puppy vaccine schedules look the same, but here are general guidelines to discuss with your vet.

  • 6-8 weeks: Distemper/DAP/DHP/DHPP (core); Bordetella (non-core)
  • 10-12 weeks: DAP/DHP/DHPP (core); Canine Influenza, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease (non-core)
  • 16-18 weeks: DAP/DHP/DHPP, Rabies (core); Canine Influenza, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease (non-core)
  • 12-16 months: DAP/DHP/DHPP, Rabies (core); Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease (non-core)
  • Every 1-2 years: DAP/DHP/DHPP (core); Canine Influenza, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease (non-core)
  • Every 1-3 years: Rabies (core)

Adult Dogs and Boosters

You’ll notice many shots are recommended every few years beyond puppyhood. Dr. Moffatt says this is crucial to building herd immunity among dogs in a community.

The AKC says titer tests are available for adult dogs that measure their immunity to a disease. This can help determine whether a booster is necessary. The only exception is rabies. You’ll probably have to bring your dog to the vet for a rabies booster every three years or so, no matter what.

Dr. Moffatt also notes that lifestyle and location changes could mean adjusting adult dog vaccinations. “An old dog that does not go trekking with its owner and only walks around the block, for example, is unlikely to need leptospirosis vaccination,” she says. If you move to Arizona from Vermont, you may need to swap out the Lyme disease vaccine for the Rattlesnake shot.

Can Vaccines Cause Side Effects in Dogs?

Yes, vaccines can cause side effects in dogs. The AVMA notes these side effects are almost always mild and the benefits far outweigh the risks. You may notice your dog is sleepy, doesn’t have much of an appetite or develops a mild fever. These symptoms should go away in about a day.

Dr. Moffatt also advises pet parents to look for mild swelling or pain at the injection site, vomiting, diarrhea and hives post-vaccine. In severe cases, your dog may experience breathing issues which could be a sign of an allergic reaction. This typically happens within an hour of being vaccinated.  “It is important to monitor your pet closely following vaccination,” she says, “particularly after puppy vaccines, as this is the first time they are receiving these injections.”

Side effects can happen at any age, even if your dog was fine after their first puppy shots. 

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How Much Does It Cost to Vaccinate a Puppy?

Pet parenthood isn’t always cheap. Vaccines can range in price depending on where you live and where you got your dog.

A huge perk of adopting a dog is that many shelters ensure all animals are vaccinated and spayed or neutered before being put up for adoption. Other shelters may have low-cost partnerships with local vet clinics.

Dr. Contreras says the canine influenza vaccine typically costs between $20 and $55 per dose. The AKC puts rabies vaccines around $20 and distemper between $75 and $100. MarketWatch puts the cost of each vaccine (core and non-core) between $28 and $52. For the two core rabies and distemper shots, expect to pay between $50 and $70.

Dr. Contreras suggests looking at pet insurance options with preventative wellness plans that cover vaccines or asking your vet for a technician-only visit for booster shots to reduce cost.

Keep in mind vaccines are as necessary to responsible puppy care as leashes, food and bedding. They keep you, your pup and other pets safe!

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Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...