Race Foster, DVM, Marty Smith, DVM
The vaccination of puppies is one of the crucial steps in assuring the puppy will have a healthy and happy puppyhood. The who, what, why, when, where and how of vaccinations are complicated, and may vary from puppy to puppy. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine which vaccines are appropriate for your puppy. To better understand vaccines, it is important to understand how the puppy is protected from disease the first few weeks of its life.
Protection from the mother (maternal antibodies)
A newborn puppy is not naturally immune to diseases. However, it does have some antibody protection which is derived from its mother's blood via the placenta. The next level of immunity is from antibodies derived from the first milk. This is the milk produced from the time of birth and continuing for 36-48 hours. This antibody rich milk is called colostrum. The puppy does not continue to receive antibodies through its mother's milk. It only receives antibodies until it is two days of age. All antibodies derived from the mother, either via her blood or colostrum are called maternal antibodies. It must be noted that the puppy will only receive antibodies against diseases for which the mother had been recently vaccinated against or exposed to. As an example, a mother that had NOT been vaccinated against or exposed to parvovirus, would not have any antibodies against parvovirus to pass along to her puppies. The puppies then would be susceptible to developing a parvovirus infection.
Window of susceptibility
The age at which puppies can effectively be immunized is proportional to the amount of antibody protection the puppy received from its mother. High levels of maternal antibodies present in the puppies' blood stream will block the effectiveness of a vaccine. When the maternal antibodies drop to a low enough level in the puppy, immunization by a commercial vaccine will work.
The antibodies from the mother generally circulate in the newborn's blood for a number of weeks. There is a period of time from several days to several weeks in which the maternal antibodies are too low to provide protection against the disease but too high to allow a vaccine to work. This period is called the window of susceptibility. This is the time when despite being vaccinated, a puppy or kitten can still contract the disease.
When should puppies be vaccinated?
The length and timing of the window of susceptibility is different in every litter, and even between individuals in a litter. A study of a cross section of different puppies showed that the age at which they were able to respond to a vaccine and develop protection (become immunized) covered a wide period of time. At six weeks of age 25% of the puppies could be immunized. At 9 weeks 40% of the puppies were able to respond to the vaccine. The number increased to 60% by 16 weeks, and by 18 weeks 95 % of the puppies could be immunized.
Almost all researchers agree that for puppies and kittens we need to give at least three combination vaccinations and repeat these at one year of age.
Drs. Foster and Smith prefer to vaccinate puppies with a combination vaccine at six weeks of age initially, with boosters given every three weeks until the puppy is about sixteen weeks of age. We feel that this schedule will help protect the widest range of dogs. We realize that with our protocol we will be vaccinating some dogs that are not capable of responding and we will be revaccinating some dogs that have already responded and developed a protection. But without doing an individual test on each puppy, it is impossible to determine when the puppy's immune system will be best able to respond. We also realize that in the face of an infection, due to the window of susceptibility some litters will contract a disease (e.g., parvo) despite being vaccinated. By using quality vaccines and an aggressive vaccination protocol we can make this window of susceptibility as small as possible. Our vaccination protocol may not be right for every puppy. Puppies that are not exposed to other dogs and have a very small chance of coming in contact with parvovirus may not need to be vaccinated as frequently. At the same time some 'high risk' puppies may need a more intense and aggressive vaccination program. It is best to work with your veterinarian on a vaccination protocol that is best for your individual puppy or kennel, taking into consideration your individual situation.
Against which diseases should puppies be vaccinated?
Experts generally agree that the core vaccines for dogs include distemper, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis and respiratory disease) and canine parvovirus-2. Some would say vaccines to protect against leptospirosis and coronavirus should also be considered "core" vaccines.
Noncore vaccines include canine parainfluenza and Bordatella bronchiseptica (both are causes of "kennel cough"), Borrelia burgdorferi (causes Lyme Disease), and for some veterinarians, coronavirus and Leptospira. Again, consult with your veterinarian to select the proper vaccines for your puppy.
A possible vaccination schedule for the "average" dog is shown below.
*A combination vaccine includesadenovirus cough and hepatitis (the inclusion of either adenovirus-1 or adenovirus-2 in a vaccine will protect against both diseases), distempter, parainfluenza and parvovirus. Some combination vaccines also protect against leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a relatively rare disease that affects few dogs. Today, most people give combination vaccines without leptospirosis to puppies (those under 12 weeks of age). In the latter portion of the puppy's vaccination schedule, vaccines with leptospirosis can be used to protect against this disease. Consult with your veterinarian to determine what will be best for your puppy.
The above recommendations apply to "most" puppies. Consult your veterinarian as to which vaccines are appropriate for your puppy. Remember, recommendations vary depending on the age, breed, and health status of the puppy, the potential of the puppy to be exposed to the disease, the type of vaccine, and the geographical area where the puppy lives or may visit.
For more information contact your veterinarian.
It is NOT true that a small breed of puppy should receive a smaller vaccine dose than puppies of larger breeds. All puppies regardless of age, body weight, breed and gender are given the same vaccine dose. Vaccines are generally administered in one milliliter (cc) doses. Simply follow the manufacturer's recommendations. To administer a lesser vaccine amount than recommended will likely result in insufficient immunity.
Time to produce protection
Vaccines do not stimulate immunity immediately after they are administered. Once a vaccine is administered, the antigens must be recognized, responded to and remembered by the immune system. In most puppies disease protection doesn't begin until five days post vaccination. Full protection from a vaccine usually takes up to fourteen days. In some instances, two or more vaccinations several weeks apart must be given to achieve protection. In general, modified live vaccines and those vaccines administered intranasally provide the fastest protection.
Why do some vaccinated animals still get the disease?
It is a fact that in the USA today, literally hundreds and perhaps thousands of vaccinated dogs and cats are still contracting the diseases they were vaccinated against. Some term this "vaccine failure", although it is more likely a failure of the immune system to respond than a problem with the vaccine itself.
Parvovirus is a serious case in point. How can a puppy get the disease and possibly die if it was vaccinated? Unfortunately, for some reason the vaccine did not stimulate the immune system enough to protect the puppy from disease. The reason may be interfering maternal antibodies, the vaccines themselves, the dog's own immune system, or genetics. By far the most common reason in puppies is interfering maternal antibodies.
Small animal vaccination protocol from Colo State University
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