The When, Why, and How of Your Dog’s Vaccinations

Vaccinations are an important part of any healthy dog’s health care routine. Vaccinations protect your dog from diseases that have the potential of being fatal. Diseases like distemper, parvo, canine influenza, and coronavirus.

It’s not only important to your dog’s health to maintain their vaccinations, though. The rabies vaccination is designed as much to protect humans from contracting the fatal virus as much as it is to protect dogs.

The Recommended Vaccine Schedule for Your Dog

The First 12 Months

The first 12 months of your puppy’s life is the most important time for vaccinations. Although puppies will receive some of their mother’s antibodies against disease, this protection is minimal. This is why owners of new puppies are told never to expose their dogs to strange dogs and outdoor or public areas until they have received their full set of puppy vaccinations.

The following is a table of recommended vaccinations and vaccination ages as per the American Kennel Club.

Puppy’s Age

Vaccination Recommendations

Optional Vaccines

6 to 8 weeks

Distemper, Parainfluenza, measles


10-12 weeks

DHPP (Distemper, Adenovirus, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza usually given as a single “combination” vaccine.)

Coronavirus, Bordetella, Leptospirosis, Lyme disease

12 – 24 weeks


14 – 16 weeks


Coronavirus, Lyme disease, Leptospirosis

12-16 months

Rabies, DHPP

Coronavirus, Bordetella, Leptospirosis, Lyme disease

* Each of these vaccinations is administered via traditional injection with the exception of Bordetella which is an inhaled vaccine.

The Debate Over Puppy Vaccinations

Puppy Vaccinations

There is some debate as to how safe it is to give multiple vaccinations at one time. Similar to the controversy with human vaccinations, there is a percentage of people (both the general public and in the veterinary community) who believe that vaccinations against multiple illnesses at one time can be detrimental to your dog’s health.

These people believe that puppies immune systems are not matured until 6 months of age. Before this, puppies are protected by their mother’s antibodies. A mother dog’s antibodies last for varied periods of time depending on the disease and the individual dog. This means that six-week-old puppies receiving the DHPP vaccination may still be protected by their mother’s antibodies. Maternal antibodies render a vaccination ineffective because they fight the injected illness rather than promote the development of antibodies in the puppy’s own body. To be effective, vaccines must be given after maternal antibodies are no longer present in a puppy’s system so the puppy creates their own antibodies. This is why puppies are given vaccinations at various times throughout puppyhood because there is no way to tell exactly when maternal antibodies “run out”.

A study by Vanguard found that the combination DHPP vaccination given to six-week-old puppies was only effective 52% of the time. This percentage rose to 88% in nine-week-old puppies and 100% in twelve-week-old puppies. For this reason, it is believed that vaccinations before twelve weeks of age are too much risk for little “reward”.

In addition to this research, a study by Purdue University found that administering multiple vaccines at once increased the risk of adverse reactions. For dogs under 22 pounds, this risk increased 27% for each additional shot given. For dogs over 22 pounds, this risk increased 12% with each additional shot given.

Lastly, it is believed that the underdeveloped immune system of puppies gets weighed down by multiple vaccinations. This suppressed immune system makes it increasingly likely that the puppy will contract other illnesses.

Going by the findings of both of these studies, the following vaccination schedule is recommended:

Puppy’s Age

Vaccination Recommendations

Optional Vaccines

5 weeks

Parvovirus IF the puppy is at high risk

6 weeks

Canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus infection spread out over multiple days

12 weeks

Titer testing to determine if additional canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus infection vaccination are needed

12 weeks

Canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus infection spread out over multiple days

Leptospirosis IF it is a concern

Coronavirus IF it is a concern

Lyme disease IF it is a concern

16 weeks

Titer testing to determine if additional canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus infection vaccination are needed

16 weeks

Canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus infection spread out over multiple days

24 weeks

Rabies (this may be required earlier depending on state law)

12 – 16 months

Titer testing to determine which vaccinations are needed.

Vaccinating Adult Dogs

Vaccinating Adult Dogs

Vaccinating adult dogs every year has long been recommended. In more recent years, many vets have moved to vaccinating dogs every three years. The most recent research by Dr. Ronald Schultz, however, suggests that this too is unnecessary.

Schultz found that most dogs maintain immunity for many years after their 16-week vaccinations. For some dogs, this immunity lasted three years, for some, it lasted seven years, for others, it lasted a lifetime!

For this reason, it is recommended that owners of adult dogs get titer testing done prior to any recommended vaccinations to check for current levels of immunity. Titer tests take a small amount of your dog’s blood and check the levels of antibodies in the blood against specific diseases. When a high level of antibodies is present, a dog does not require revaccination.

Before and After Your Dog’s Vaccinations

There is nothing that you need to do prior to your dog’s vaccinations unless your dog shows signs of illness. If your dog seems unwell prior to vaccinations, let your vet know ahead of time. Vaccinations tax the immune system by introducing an illness to the body to promote antibody production. If a dog is already unwell, it is not a good idea to tax their system further by vaccinating them.

If your dog is well enough to receive vaccinations, it’s important to keep a close eye on their health following their injections. Vaccinations commonly cause a dog to feel slightly lethargic or “off color”, but it’s important to watch for signs of more serious illness. If your dog has trouble breathing, swelling, a rash, develops nodules, vomits, or expresses more serious signs of illness after a vaccine take them to the vet immediately. Reaction to vaccination is rare but must be addressed quickly by a vet when it happens to prevent progression that could be life threatening.

If your dog has had an adverse reaction to vaccinations before, always remind your vet of this before future vaccinations. Dogs who have had vaccine reactions previously have a high likelihood of repeat reaction.

Mandatory Vaccination

Rabies vaccination for dogs

In the United States, there is currently only one mandatory vaccination for dogs – rabies. Rabies can be fatal to animals and humans which is why states make it a mandatory vaccination. Most vets now give the rabies vaccination on a 3-year cycle.

There are a few instances where veterinarians can write a medical exception for the rabies vaccination. This is provided only in cases where the vaccination poses a serious threat to the health of the dog, for example, an immunocompromised dog or a dog with severe allergic reactions to rabies vaccinations in the past.

Is Not Vaccinating an Option?

With so much uproar over the potential dangers of vaccinations, is not vaccinating your dog an option?


The diseases that your dog is vaccinated for are very real. Without protection against these diseases, your dog can become seriously ill, spread the illness to other dogs, transmit illness to humans, or even die. So while it’s necessary to be cautious over your dog’s vaccination schedule, it’s still important to keep your dog up to date on all of their preventative care!