Vaccinating Your Puppy

By Edwina Gildea on 15 December 2017

Vaccination is a vital step in protecting your puppy from several diseases which can prove to be fatal if the puppy is left unprotected. The prevalence of these diseases will vary from country to country and so the essential vaccines that your puppy will get will be different in the UK compared to other countries.

The key diseases that your puppy will be vaccinated against are Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza and Parvo virus. Puppies can have antibodies passed on to them from their mother in the early stages of life that will help to protect them initially but as these antibodies start to wane it is important that we support the puppy in developing their own protective antibodies so that they have a head start in fighting off these diseases if they are ever exposed to them. Vaccination not only protects the individual pet but also acts to curtail the spread of the disease with the longer-term aim of eradicating the disease. This is often referred to as improving herd health. This has been achieved with some diseases but we still need to protect our puppies and adult dogs in the UK from the challenges of Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza and Parvo virus.

Each veterinary practice will develop their own vaccination protocol based on the vaccine they use along with the knowledge of the level of herd health and the disease prevalence in the locality. As your puppy’s immune system is relatively immature in early life, it is required to give a minimum of 2 injections as part of the puppy vaccination schedule in order to stimulate the immune system to produce the level of antibodies that will provide protection. The vaccination course that your puppy gets is often referred to as the primary course which is then boostered at its annual health check. We will discuss this in more depth at a later date.

The interval between the vaccinations will vary depending on the brand of vaccine your veterinary surgeon uses. I am sure at this stage you are very keen to bring your puppy out but your vet will advise that you refrain for a given period before doing so. Again, the duration will vary depending on the vaccine used and the age at which your puppy received its second injection. The reason for this advice from your vet is not to be a party pooper, but more to do with the gradual response by your puppy’s immune system to produce antibodies to the protective level.

So, what should you expect when you go to your vet for your puppy’s first vaccination?

Remember it can be overwhelming for a new puppy owner as well as your puppy, so in preparation you could write out any questions you have in advance of the visit so that you ensure you leave with all the answers to your questions.

Although your visit to the vet is with the intention of getting your puppy vaccinated, it is important to be aware that this visit is primarily seen as a health check which will lead to administering of the vaccination. It is important that your puppy is healthy so that its immune system can respond optimally to the vaccination to produce the protective levels of antibodies. If your puppy is not in full health it is likely that the immune system is focused on another ailment and so would not be able to respond effectively. If this is the case, your vet will address the ailment and advise that you come back at a later time to start the vaccination course.

To ensure your puppy is in full health or to check the health status of your pup, the vet will check many different things throughout the consult. They will often start with a physical examination to check your puppy, starting at its head and working back. In this process, your vet is checking for any conformational/genetic abnormities e.g. cleft palate, heart murmurs or hernias. If you have a male puppy they will also check to determine if the testes have descended. They will also check the temperature to ensure that your puppy is not showing any early signs of illness. In addition, they will palpate the lymph nodes which lie behind the jaw, in the armpit and groin of the puppy which tend to enlarge in the presence of infection.

Following the physical exam, they may discuss a preventative deworming/defleaing program to ensure your puppy is not affected by any parasites in the short and long term. Following the health check, if your puppy is in full health, the vet will then give the first vaccination. The volume is small i.e. 1 ml as is the needle but some puppies may react with a little yelp. Rest assured that the long-term benefit of vaccination greatly outweighs the brief discomfort your puppy may demonstrate.

On returning home you may notice that your puppy is quieter than normal. This can be quite normal given the excitement of the visit plus the fact that the body is responding to the vaccine and is working hard to produce protective antibodies. This can also lead to the puppy getting a mild rise in temperature which may result in it going off its food for a short period. This does not occur in every incidence but is worth being aware of. However, if this occurs and persists for longer than 24 hours you should consult your vet.

After your primary vaccinations, your puppy will continue to require vaccinations throughout its adult life but we will discuss this when your puppy is a year old.

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MVB MRCVS, NATIONAL VETERINARY MANAGER


Edwina joined Pfizer Animal Health in 2006 as an Area Veterinary Surgeon moving into the role of the National Veterinary Manager role in 2014 and more recently becoming the Companion Animal Veterinary Lead. Over this period, she has been involved with Zoetis R&D, marketing and technical teams at national and international level in bringing many innovative companion animal products to market. Prior to this, she worked as a general practitioner in the livestock and companion animal sectors in both Ireland and Scotland. Whilst at Zoetis, Edwina has maintained contact with general practice with weekend locuming to retain her clinical skills and continued insight into veterinary practice.

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