There is a lot to think about when it comes to getting a puppy: finding the right breeder, making sure your home is puppy-proofed and considering training classes are just the tip of the iceberg!
As breeders we get a lot of questions about vaccinations. It can be a confusing topic and in particular, buyers are often wondering which, if any, vaccinations their puppy should have already received from a breeder before coming home.
First of all, breeders are not legally required to vaccinate their puppies. The only vaccine legally required in the United States is Rabies and puppies typically have to be 12-16 weeks of age (varies based on state) to receive this particular vaccination.
We will get to the reason behind this timing below. So, it’s certainly possible to bring home an 8-week-old puppy without vaccinations, but we would strongly caution anyone from buying from a breeder who does not provide their pups with their first round of vaccinations.
Typically, receiving basic vet care including vaccinations, a health check-up, and a microchip are all signs a breeder cares about the health and wellbeing of their puppies. These factors alone do not equate to a reputable breeder, but every reputable breeder would at the very least provide these initial vet care basics!
Breeders and puppy vaccination schedules
Schedules can vary slightly, but in general, most recommend the following:
DHPP/DAPP: 6-8 weeks, 10-12 weeks, 14-16 weeks
Rabies: 12-16 weeks (based on state and local laws)
The goal is to have 3, sometimes 4 rounds of the combo DHPP/DAPP vaccine separated by 2-4 weeks.
There are other “non-core” vaccinations such as Bordatella and Leptospirosis that your vet may recommend depending on your location and lifestyle that are typically given around 12-16 weeks of age.
You might be thinking: the timing is confusing enough but what do all these letters even stand for?
First of all, you will often see DHPP or DAPP used interchangeably. The “H” and the “A” actually represent the same disease: Canine Hepatitis or sometimes called Adenovirus. This is a viral disease that is passed through urine and can damage the liver and kidneys.
Now, back to the “D” which stands for Distemper. Canine Distemper has long been one of the deadliest puppy viruses and is easily transmitted by a number of wild animals as well as dog through airborne exposure. The disease typically begins with respiratory symptoms, but most on to seizures, digestive issues, and even death.
The “P” stands for parvovirus — a particularly terrifying one for puppy breeders and owners as it is extremely contagious and very deadly for puppies under 4 months. This virus, which attacks the digestive and immune system and causes diarrhea and vomiting is highly contagious through direct contact and the feces of an infected dog.
The final “P” refers to Canine parainfluenza. This viral disease is similar to the human flu causing upper respiratory infection and coughing in infected dogs.
I’ve been told my puppy is not fully protected against these canine viruses until their final round of vaccines?
So why not just wait to vaccinate the puppy until then?
Mother dogs (as well as other mammals) produce colostrum for the first 24-48 hours after delivering a litter. This colostrum provides nutrients as well as immunity or maternal antibodies to the newborn pups. For up to 14 weeks these maternal antibodies serve to protect the puppies. But gradually as the puppies get older, around 6 weeks of age, the antibodies begin to lessen and the puppies own immune system begins to develop.
If we wait until 14-16 weeks to start vaccinating a pup then they will likely be left exposed to harsh viruses with a young, underdeveloped immune system. But beginning vaccinations as early as 6 weeks helps close the immunity gap — in other words, as the maternal antibodies are falling, the vaccines help stimulate the puppy’s immune system to make antibodies.
While your puppy is still vulnerable to certain viruses until around 4 months, he/she is definitely less likely to contract such an illness if he/she has received one or more rounds of the DHPP/DAPP vaccine.
Another way to explain it is that the initial vaccine primes the puppy’s body against the virus, and the following doses further stimulate the immune system to create more antibodies until the antibodies are at a safe level for fighting off these viruses. A breeder who is not vaccinating their puppies before 8 weeks is definitely placing them at a higher risk for developing the previously mentioned viruses.
Why do breeders typically not vaccinate a puppy for rabies?
While puppies need multiple boosters for other viruses like those mentioned previously, rabies is an exception. Studies have shown that only one dose of rabies vaccine is enough to adequately protect your dog from this virus if the vaccine is given after the maternal antibodies have subsided and your puppy’s immune system has developed enough to provide an adequate response to the vaccine.
This is why, legally, states actually require you to wait to vaccinate your puppy against rabies until at least 12 weeks of age (usually 16) to absolutely ensure the vaccine’s efficacy. Any earlier and the maternal antibodies may inadvertently “protect” your puppy from the vaccine and render it ineffective.
The reason only one rabies vaccine is needed is that the rabies virus has a very slow onset as compared to other viruses. So, your dog has a chance to build up more antibodies as needed (After the first vaccine has primed his immune system) if he is in fact exposed to the virus.
Furthermore, while rabies is a very dangerous disease for both dogs and people, your puppy is much less likely to catch it at a young age as compared to some of the other viruses mentioned previously like parvovirus. The reason is that the rabies vaccine is the only vaccine required by law in every state- so other dogs are typically much less likely to be carrying rabies as compared to other viruses.
Your puppy is also unlikely to be exposed to wild animals carrying rabies when he is still so young. Adult dogs with fully fledged hunting skills who may tangle with a raccoon in the woods are at increased exposure.
Most breeders send their puppies home at around 8 weeks. If a breeder has kept a puppy for training or otherwise until 12-16+ weeks, then he/she should be vaccinated for rabies.
We hope this article helped to clear up some of the confusion surrounding all these puppy vaccines and what to expect from your breeder when it comes to the basic healthcare of your newest family member! As always, consulting your vet for your specific dog is important as vaccine schedules can vary slightly depending on factors such as the age of your puppy for his initial vaccine.
Jenna and the JLDD Team