It is important to have your puppy vaccinated against 3 diseases – Distemper, Parvovirus and Adenovirus (Hepatitis), but there has been disagreement, especially among breeders as to when the proper time is to vaccinate. In light of current research on the immune system the vaccination protocol has changed and in the future may change some more.
Current vaccines are very good at protecting against these viruses. So good in fact that a mother bitch that has been properly vaccinated will pass on protective immunity to her pups for up to 15 weeks. In fact, she will pass on protective immunity to almost 90% of her pups for 9 weeks!
Let me quote Dr. Richard Ford, a leading expert in immunology and vaccines, at the Western Veterinary Conference this year, “If you are giving a puppy/kitten a vaccine prior to 9 weeks of age you might as well just squirt it in their ear.” What he is saying is that there is no need to give a puppy that has been born from a properly vaccinated mother a vaccine before 9 weeks of age because it is not going to do a thing. It will not give your puppy any more protection.
What the research is showing is that the maternal protective antibodies has shifted. It used to be that we would have to start vaccinating puppies at 6 weeks of age to protect them. Now we can safely start at 9 weeks of age. As vaccines improve we may see even more of a shift and mother’s maternal antibodies may protect even longer forcing us to change when we vaccinate.
Here is how it works – the mother passes on her antibodies to her puppies and the puppies then are protected until the antibodies deteriorate away. They start to deteriorate away between 9 and 15 weeks. At 9 weeks of age, 80-90% of puppies are still protected by their mother’s antibodies, at 12 weeks of age that number drops to 50-60% and by 15 weeks of age none of the puppies are protected by their mothers antibodies anymore.
A puppy will not produce its own antibodies until it is exposed to that disease either by natural infection or by proper vaccination. So it is important to vaccinate appropriately based on risk. Obviously at 9 weeks of age the vaccine will only help 10% of the puppies the others are still protected by their mother’s antibodies and the vaccine will not offer any more protection.
Now, over vaccinating leads to immune system problems such as allergies and other immune system disorders, so we are going to want to limit how many vaccines we have to give. If you understand the immune system you will see that it is not necessary and can be detrimental to the immune system if you give two shots less than 3 weeks apart. Some breeders have been instructed by old information to give vaccines at an early age and two weeks apart – this is no longer necessary and in many cases can cause harm to the immune system of the developing puppy.
Proper protocol now is to give a vaccine of Distemper, Parvovirus and Adenovirus at 9 weeks, 12 weeks and then between 15 and 16 weeks of age. This protocol will then need to be followed up a year later with a booster to give the most protection. After that your dog will need to be titer tested or less preferably given a booster every 3 years.
Other vaccines such as Lepto or Lyme disease will only be needed depending on the part of the country you live in and should be given later after the initial series of vaccine has been completed.