Vaccinations for Puppies
Vaccination is a great way to give your puppy immunity to infectious diseases and make sure they are as safe as they can be.
Getting a new puppy is a really exciting time with lots to think about, but it’s important not to forget to give them their vaccinations! Puppies can suffer from a range of nasty diseases, some which cause a lot of discomfort and others that can kill. Thankfully, we can protect our puppies from some of these. Vaccination is a great way to give your puppy immunity to some of the worst infectious diseases, and make sure they are as safe as they can be.
When should my puppy be vaccinated?
Once your puppy is 6 - 8 weeks old, they can have their first vaccinations – usually called the primary course. This consists of two or three injections, given 2 – 4 weeks apart, based on local risk factors which your vet will discuss with you. Some puppies will have their first of these vaccinations while they are still with their breeder.
After your puppy's second round of vaccinations we advise waiting two weeks until taking your puppy outside so that they are fully protected in public spaces. Once any puppy has had their initial course of injections, they will only need one injection per year afterwards to keep that immunity ‘topped up’.
More than just a jab
A vaccination appointment is much more than a quick injection for your puppy.
Your puppy will be weighed, and have a thorough medical exam. Your vet will probably ask you lots of questions about how your pet has been behaving, about any issues, and about specific topics such as their eating and drinking habits. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions, including about behaviour – your vet will be able to help you get your new puppy settled in as fast as possible.
As well as the thorough exam, your vet will administer the vaccinations. The injection is given under the skin at the back of the neck, and is well tolerated by the vast majority of puppies.
The infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) vaccine is the only vaccine which is not injectable. This is a liquid which is given as a squirt up the nose – no needles involved!
Canine Parvovirus, commonly known as parvo, is a highly contagious viral disease that can be life threatening to your puppy. It is most likely to infect puppies up to six months of age, but can affect older dogs as well. Unfortunately outbreaks are still commonly reported in the UK, and a parvo infection can kill.
Parvo is spread by direct contact with saliva or faeces of an infected animal; humans can also carry the disease on their hands and clothing from one puppy to another. Usually puppies will have severe vomiting and diarrhoea which is often bloody (haemorrhagic) and this will lead to dehydration. Anorexia, depression and fever are also common signs.
Puppies with parvo will require hospitalisation, often for many days, and will be put on a drip to correct dehydration. Antibiotics will be given to prevent any secondary infections as well as antiviral medication if available. Unfortunately a lot of puppies with parvo won’t survive, even with intensive supportive treatment, which is why it is so important to prevent the disease with vaccination in the first place.
Distemper virus can be fatal and attacks several body systems including the respiratory and nervous system. Even in puppies which recover from the virus, distemper can cause long term neurological problems. The first signs of distemper are often sneezing, coughing and a mucus from the eyes and nose, followed by fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, depression and weight loss. Distemper is sometimes called ‘hard pad’ because the pads of the feet of some affected puppies become very thickened.
The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with fresh urine, blood or saliva, plus sneezing, coughing and sharing food or water bowls.
Sadly there is no known cure for distemper; the only treatment is to alleviate the signs. Even if a puppy survives distemper there are often long-term effects such as muscle spasms, epileptic fits and even limb paralysis.
Infectious Canine Hepatitis is a viral disease which affects the liver, kidneys, eyes and lungs of a puppy. It is spread by contact with saliva, urine, faeces, blood or nasal discharge of infected puppies. The urine of an infected puppy can be infectious for up to a year, and the virus can survive in the environment for many months.
Signs can vary from slight fever to sudden death. Other signs include loss of appetite, pale gums, conjunctivitis, coughing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. The disease can develop very quickly and sadly there is no specific treatment; however vets will try and alleviate the signs and puppies can sometimes survive with intensive supportive treatment.
Leptospirosis, often referred to as lepto, is caused by a bacteria not a virus. Puppies can become infected if they come into contact with infected urine, or by contaminated water, so if your puppy likes to swim or is partial to drink from stagnant water or canals they can be at risk, especially in areas with high numbers of rats. There are many different strains of leptospirosis and humans can get it as well (called Weil’s disease). It can be fatal in both puppies and humans.
The signs often start 4 to 12 days after exposure to the bacteria. Look out for fever, muscle pain, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, jaundice and lethargy. Leptospirosis primarily affects the kidneys and liver so more serious cases will get kidney and liver failure.
Treatment will usually consists of antibiotics, fluid replacement, controlling the vomiting and other supportive liver treatments. Less severely affected puppies will recover but still carry the bacteria in their urine for months, posing an infection risk to other animals and humans. There are many stains of leptospirosis – the most comprehensive canine vaccine available covers four strains, and is known as the ‘L4 vaccine’.
Also called kennel cough, canine infectious tracheobronchitis is a respiratory infection caused by a number of bacteria and viruses. Kennel cough is airborne and highly infectious, and can be spread by being close to infected dogs, or sharing items such as toys or bowls. The name kennel cough can be misleading as, although it can spread rapidly in situations with lots of dogs such as boarding kennels, any dog in contact with an infected dog can contract the illness.
The main sign of infectious tracheobronchitis is a forceful hacking cough, which may sound like retching, or trying to clear something stuck in the throat. Infectious tracheobronchitis may go away on its own if your puppy’s immune system is able to fight off the condition, but many puppies need prescription medication to help them recover. It is best to get your puppy checked out by your vet at the first signs of coughing as not only will they be posing an infection risk to other puppies, but the longer the condition persists, the higher the chance of more serious complications, such as pneumonia. There are also other, more serious causes of coughing, so any coughing puppy should be checked over.
You can minimise the chance of your puppy contracting infectious tracheobronchitis by having your puppy vaccinated. It is important to note that your standard yearly booster does not protect against infectious bronchitis/kennel cough.
Thankfully rabies is not present in the UK, but if you want to take your puppy abroad and bring them back into the country, or if you want to adopt a puppy from overseas, they will need to be vaccinated against rabies for their pet passport. There are several other requirements for overseas travel, which differ depending on where you are travelling to. Speaking to your vet before you travel and getting all your documentation in place is critical for a smooth and stress-free journey for you and your pet.
Expert top tip
We asked Tammy Miles, Senior Registered Veterinary Nurse at Vets4Pets Leeds Birstall, for her top tip for ensuring that puppies have a positive experience at their first vaccination appointment:
"As difficult as it is to see your little baby receive an injection, try to keep calm, it's amazing how much your puppy can pick up on their owner's anxiety even when they have only spent a short amount of time with their new family."
"If you feel that you will become too anxious or are needle-shy yourself, the vet can ask for nurse assistance whilst you step out of the consult room briefly whilst the vaccination takes place."
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