Cap Region Pets

Ask the Expert: Does my puppy really need vaccines?

Q: We got a new puppy recently and took her to the vet for her first shots and exam. She was in good shape and the doctor gave her a vaccine. He said she would need another one in three weeks and she would get one every three weeks until she is 4 months old. My husband says that’s silly and they are trying to up-sell us to make more money and she doesn’t need any more expensive shots. I really love her and I am worried. Will she be OK?

A: Congratulations on your new puppy! Vaccines are very important to protect puppies from severe and sometimes fatal infections. Puppies are generally started with vaccines at 6 weeks of age. The puppy then gets another vaccine every two to four weeks until at least 16 weeks of age. It is very important to stay on this schedule to protect your puppy from distemper, parvo, parainfluenza, and hepatitis. Most vaccine manufacturers will give a guarantee only if this schedule has been followed.

One vaccine at 6 weeks is very unlikely to protect your puppy properly. Puppies generally get some immunity from their mothers but this immunity fades over time and the puppy must make her own antibodies to stay protected. Most puppies need a bare minimum of three injections at an interval of two to four weeks, with the last injection at 16 weeks or older, in order to provide adequate immunity against a disease threat. Some puppies may need more than this. You need to trust your veterinarian to evaluate your puppy and set up the vaccine schedule that properly protects her.

I understand that a new puppy can be expensive. They seem to need almost as many things a human baby! The price you pay for puppy vaccines will be well worth preventing the heartbreak and expense of a potentially fatal disease.

Additionally, it is very important for your puppy to get an examination by your veterinarian regularly. Puppies grow quickly and are prone to skin and ear infections and other issues that may not be noticed by many owners. Your veterinarian can give her a comprehensive exam to check for all these issues. It is also important to weigh her at each visit and plot her growth on a growth chart. Puppies that grow too fast or too slow can have problems.

She will also get her monthly heartworm and parasite prevention appropriate for her weight at each visit. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends deworming treatments every three weeks for puppies. Heartworm prevention should be started at 6 weeks of age and continued monthly. Your veterinarian can determine if she is growing properly and if adjustments to her diet may be needed.

Most veterinary offices also help new puppy owners by going over health topics at each visit. These are things like: nail trimming, ear cleaning, grooming, house-training, teeth brushing, proper chew toys, diet choices, barking, biting, doggie day care, socialization, communicable diseases, and other topics.

The puppy stage can be a lot of work but it is a stage in your dog’s life that you will always treasure. It goes by much too quickly and what you do now will shape your puppy’s whole life. Be sure to take lots of photos and write down some of your fondest puppy memories!

Good luck with your new puppy!

Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.