Puppy Vaccine Schedule: When and Why Dogs Need Their Shots

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If you have children, then you know the importance of a vaccine schedule. Well, it’s the same with a puppy.

Vaccinations are essential for protecting puppies against various infectious diseases, some of which can be fatal. When it comes to puppy vaccine schedules, there are several factors to consider, including the age of the dog when you got your new puppy, the type of vaccine and local laws.

Note: this information about the puppy vaccine schedule is presented as informational only. For any questions about vaccinations your puppy or dog needs, please consult your veterinarian. We are not doctors and we don’t play one on TV.

puppy at the vet in blue scrubs
Photo credit: Canva.

Understanding the puppy vaccine schedule

Typically, puppies should start receiving vaccinations when they are six to eight-weeks old. Then, they continue every two to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old.

The vaccines are usually given in a series to ensure that the puppy develops a strong immune response. After the initial series, booster shots are necessary to maintain immunity. For example, dogs need a rabies booster every one to three years — depending on the type of vaccine they got.

It is important to note that the vaccination schedule for dogs may vary depending on your veterinarian’s recommendations and whether or not they follow the American Veterinary Medical Association vaccine guidelines. Other factors include the puppy’s lifestyle and the risk of exposure to certain diseases.

For instance, if you live in a place where stores put out communal bowls of water for dogs walking by, then you’ll want to make sure your puppy gets a vaccine specific to water-borne pathogens.

It is crucial to understand which vaccines are necessary for your puppy and when they should receive them.

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines are the vaccines that every puppy should receive. These are the ones that protect against highly contagious and severe diseases.

These vaccines are essential and veterinarian-approved. Even the American Kennel Club (AKC) includes them in a guide to first-year vaccines for puppies.

The following are the core vaccines that puppies should receive:

  • Canine Distemper
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Canine Adenovirus
  • Rabies

Non-Core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines are optional vaccines that a doctor may recommend based on the puppy’s lifestyle, risk factors and location. These vaccines are not necessary for every puppy. However, they can provide additional protection against specific diseases.

The following are some of the non-core vaccines that puppies can receive:

  • Bordetella (Kennel Cough)
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Canine Influenza

For example, if you take your dog to a groomer, they may require your puppy to have the bordetella or kennel cough vaccine. That’s because, at the groomer, dogs are often in close proximity to one another. This is the kind of situation where one dog can pass along a disease to another dog.

Puppy Vaccine Schedule

When it comes to keeping your puppy healthy, following a vaccination schedule is crucial. Here is a typical vaccine schedule for puppies.

6-8 Weeks

Puppies should start getting vaccinations at 6-8 weeks old. At this age, they are most vulnerable to diseases and need protection. The first vaccine your puppy will receive is usually a combination vaccine that protects against several diseases, including distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis.

16 Weeks

Around 16 weeks old, your puppy will receive their second round of vaccinations. This round usually includes a booster shot of the combination vaccine, as well as a vaccine for rabies.

First Year of Life

During the first year of your puppy’s life, they will need several more rounds of vaccinations. Your vet will determine the schedule based on your puppy’s specific needs.

After that, you can expect your puppy to get booster shots as needed to keep them fully vaccinated. This will continue throughout their life.

What the vaccinations protect against

Having your dog on a regular vaccine schedule can help protect them against these common diseases.


Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that attacks a dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration.

The virus is spread through contact with infected feces or contaminated objects. Puppies are especially vulnerable to parvovirus. However, adult dogs can also get it, too.

The DHPP vaccine (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus) is the best way to prevent parvovirus.

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a viral disease that attacks a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Symptoms include fever, coughing, diarrhea, seizures and paralysis.

Dogs catch this virus through contact with infected saliva, urine, or feces. The DHPP vaccine is also effective against canine distemper.


Rabies is a deadly disease that affects the nervous system of mammals, including dogs and humans. Humans and animals get rabies when an infected animal bites them. Most states require pets to have a rabies vaccination and to keep them up to date.

Canine Influenza

Canine influenza, also known as dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, fever and lethargy.

Two different strains of the influenza virus are the culprit. Therefore, the H3N2/H3N8 canine influenza vaccine can help prevent the spread of the virus.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to dogs through the bite of an infected tick. Symptoms include fever, lameness and joint pain.

The Lyme vaccine can help protect dogs from this disease, but it is not 100 percent effective. If you plan to spend time in the woods or places where ticks are plentiful, this vaccine may be a good idea.

On the other hand, if you decide not to put the lyme disease vaccine on your puppy’s schedule, make sure you check them for ticks after every outing. If you see one, consult with your vet about how best to remove the tick. Also, it is possible your vet may want to start your dog on antibiotics, just to be safe.

Puppy socialization before vaccination

Photo credit: Canva.

In addition to protecting against illnesses, regular vaccination can also help with puppy socialization. Puppy shots are usually given during the critical socialization period, which is when puppies are most receptive to new experiences.

This socialization can help puppies learn to be comfortable with new people, places and things. That goes a long way towards making them more well-adjusted adult dogs.

However, it is important to note that while vaccinations are the best way to protect puppies from infectious diseases, they are not foolproof. Therefore, you should keep your puppy away from other dogs until they have completed their vaccination series.

Also, you should take steps to prevent exposure to ticks and other disease-carrying pests during this vaccination period. At the same time, scheduling regular checkups with your veterinarian can help detect and treat any health problems early on.

Factors Influencing Vaccination

Vaccinations are an essential part of keeping dogs healthy and preventing the spread of diseases. However, the vaccination schedule for dogs may vary depending on several factors.


A dog’s lifestyle is a significant factor that influences its vaccination schedule. For example, dog that frequently interact with other dogs, attend dog parks or go to grooming facilities have a highrt risk of exposure to diseases. These pups may require more frequent vaccinations.

On the other hand, dogs that stay indoors most of the time and have minimal contact with other dogs may require fewer vaccinations.

Geographical Location

The location where a dog lives can also influence its vaccination schedule. Dogs that live in urban areas may be at a higher risk of exposure to certain diseases, such as canine influenza. This is due to the higher population density and increased interaction with other dogs.

In contrast, dogs that live in rural areas may be at a higher risk of exposure to diseases such as leptospirosis due to their proximity to wildlife. Or, if you spend time in the woods with them, they (and you) may be more likely to come home with ticks on them.

State Laws and Vaccinations

It’s important to note that state laws may require certain vaccinations for dogs, such as the rabies vaccine. Additionally, some boarding and grooming facilities may require proof of vaccination before allowing pets to use their services.

According to the Animal Legal and Historical Center, nearly every state in America requires dogs to be vaccinated against rabies. It is the most common vaccination requirement. In fact, in most instances, you have to present a rabies vaccine certificate in order to get a dog license.

However, some states leave this requirement up to local jurisdictions. A few years ago, the Colorado legislature tried to change this rabies rule from being a local enforcement to becoming a statewide law.

Final thoughts

Overall, regular vaccination is an important part of caring for a puppy or dog. It helps protect against potentially fatal illnesses, prevent the spread of diseases and can even aid in puppy socialization.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, you should consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule for your puppy. Again, this article is for informational purposes only.

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