You've got your new puppy home, so what's the deal with all the vaccinations? My puppy has had some shots; so he is protected now, right? How soon can I let my puppy play with other dogs? Take her to a match? The answers to these questions require some understanding of the immunization process.
There are many diseases that are potentially serious or even fatal to our dogs. And it is generally considered prudent to vaccinate against: distemper, hepatitis, adanovirus cough, parainfluenza, parvovirus, coronavirus, leptospirosis, bordatella, and lyme, with local incidence a factor in deciding which to include. A "combo", or multivalent, shot typically combines "fractions" for each of the first five diseases and may include fractions for corona and/or two lepto strains. Rabies is a special case as local law usually specifies when and how often inoculation is required.
When a puppy is born, its immune system is not mature and it is wide open to infection. The mother's milk for the first day or two is called "colostrum" and is rich in all the antibodies the mother has to offer. The first couple of days of nursing determine what kind and how much immunity the puppy receives from its mother.
These maternal antibodies give the puppy early protection but also interfere with the action of vaccines. Antibodies weaken at varying rates based upon a number of factors and are gone by 16 to 20 weeks.
As vaccines will not "take" until the maternal antibodies have faded sufficiently, vaccinations are given as series of shots at two to four week intervals from about 6 weeks to 16 weeks, followed by a booster after 12 months. The purpose is to gain early protection. If vaccinations were not started until after 16 weeks to avoid antibody interference, the animal would have a large window of vulnerability to disease.
WHEN IS MY PUPPY IMMUNE?
Vaccination does not give 100% certainty of immunity, although there is no doubt that they can control diseases. It is a complex situation with differences in vaccine efficacy, and duration testing results are presented in statistical terms; e.g., for a hypothetical test, perhaps 80% of pups are found to respond to the vaccine at 3 months, or protection is found to last less than a year in 30% of the test subjects.
The parvovirus raises the most concern because it is a nasty disease and survives a long time in the environment. Many believe that the only certain prevention in puppies up to three months is isolation and strict avoidance of any contaminated environment, while stringently practicing good hygiene. And some will advise caution out to six months.
THE RESPONSIBILITY IS YOURS
Unfortunately, these concerns conflict with the desire to socialize the young puppy. What do you do? Ultimately, the responsibility for the decision is yours, the owner. You should look to your veterinarian for professional advice. This article is intended to help you understand the considerations involved.
The concepts of contaminated environment and greater, or lesser, risk are important factors. Obviously, it is prudent not to expose a dog of any age to another animal with active disease or to areas that such a dog may have contaminated. But also high risk would be a home where there recently has been a dog with a virulent disease such as parvo. Also, any animal clinic where rigorous sterilization of the exam and common areas is not practiced or a boarding/kennel facility. Similarly, public areas where feral (wild) dogs roam. On the other hand, the risk may be relatively less around puppies you know to be healthy and vaccinated or at a shopping center that is not a hangout for feral dogs. Formal dog shows generally discourage the presence of un-entered animals and puppies less than six months. However, club matches often have classes for puppies as young as two months. So, is it safe to take young puppies to matches for example? No, it is not 100% safe but then what is? However, I do think that it is relatively safe. The only problems I have ever heard about at our matches concerned Lyme disease, which is a danger to dogs of all ages and generally avoidable by carefully checking for, and removing any, ticks within 24 hours of possible exposure.
ANTIC, June, 1999
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