A Comprehensive Guide to the Puppy Shot Schedule

Puppies and dogs need vaccines just like human babies and adults do. As dogs grow up, the shots they’ve received often require a booster to stay effective.

Although trips to the vet can be a bit of a headache, keeping up with your dog’s vaccinations, boosters, and antibody titers keeps your pup safe from dangerous and deadly diseases. This is precisely why I wanted to do the research for you when it comes to a recommended puppy shot schedule.

Disclaimer: The Can My Dog articles contain information based on the individual research and opinions of the author of the site – who just so happens to be a dog. How you utilize the information given is completely up to you. Proceed at your own risk.

Why Are Puppy Vaccines Important?

When a puppy gets a shot, the vaccine helps to prepare the puppy’s immune system to fight against disease-causing pathogens. 

Vaccines contain important antigens that imitate the structure of a pathogen in a dog’s immune system. The antigens do not cause disease.

The purpose of a puppy vaccine is to stimulate the immune system to recognize the antigens in the bloodstream. When the puppy is exposed to the real pathogen later on, the immune system will recognize the invader and defend the puppy’s body against it.

The immune system of a puppy that has been vaccinated is programmed to fight off an infection or reduce its effects, giving your dog a happier, healthier, and longer life.

Core and Non-Core Puppy Vaccinations

Core puppy and dog vaccinations are essential for all canines and are therefore prescribed for each one of them. Non-core vaccines, on the other hand, are selectively recommended based on the dog’s lifestyle.

For example, if your dogs spend a lot of time outdoors, the vet may advise some non-core vaccines. In this guide, I’ll explore both the core vaccinations and the non-core ones.

Core vaccines are considered essential because there is either a widespread risk of exposure, there are severe side effects of the disease, or there is a risk of transmission to other puppies, animals, and humans. 

The American Animal Hospital Association lists these as core vaccinations:

  • Rabies
  • Canine Distemper
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Hepatitis

The rabies vaccination is a legal requirement in a lot of states. That means puppies must regularly be vaccinated against rabies, although the mandate time frame is different in each state.

The AAHA labels the following as non-core vaccinations:

  • Dog flu (Canine Influenza)
  • Lyme disease
  • Bordetella
  • Leptospirosis

Non-core vaccines are still very important for dogs that are determined to be at risk of exposure to those specific infectious illnesses. At your vet appointment, the vet will review which of the non-core vaccinations your pup qualifies for.

Are Puppy Vaccines Optional?

Of course they are (most of them, anyway). Although it’s recommended that you shouldn’t ever skip a shot day at the vet, not every pup needs to be vaccinated against every illness.

Some vaccinations will only be administered after assessing a variety of factors that include the following:

  • Lifestyle
  • Age 
  • Travel habits
  • Environment
  • Medical history

Therefore, before you can start a puppy shot schedule, your vet will discuss the right protocol for your furry friend. 

When Should I Start Scheduling Puppy Vaccinations?

Generally, puppies should start getting shots as soon as they go to their new home. This time frame usually falls between 6 and 8 weeks of age.

The puppy vaccination schedule runs every three weeks until the dog grows to four months old. The final round of vaccines comes at your puppy’s four month appointment.

If the puppy’s mom is healthy with a strong immune system, the mother will pass antibodies on to the puppy during breastfeeding. That’s why the vaccinations should start when the puppy weans off its mom’s milk.

Which Shots Will My Puppy Get?

Your puppy will likely hate these upcoming trips to the doctor, but they are unavoidable and play an integral part in your puppy’s long-term health.

Here is a description of each of the shots your puppy will receive and when, as well as the symptoms that accompany the corresponding disease:

Bordetella Bronchiseptica Vaccination at 6 to 8 Weeks

This is a nasty disease caused by an infectious bacterium, and it is the main cause of kennel cough. The vaccine is in the form of an injectable or a nasal spray. Proof of this vaccine is mandatory for services such as dog daycare, group training, and boarding facilities.

The unpleasant symptoms of bordetella bronchiseptica include:

  • Intense coughing fits
  • Whooping
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures (rare)
  • Death 

Canine Distemper Vaccination at 6 to 8 Weeks

This scary and severe contagious disease is caused by a virus. It attacks the respiratory, GI tract (gastrointestinal), and nervous systems. It also causes what is often referred to as a hard pad, which makes your dog’s foot pad thicken and harden.

The disease infects dogs as well as other animals, such as skunks and raccoons. Distemper spreads through the air and is extremely infectious. The virus is released when an infected canine coughs or sneezes. It also spreads from sharing food, water bowls, and toys.

You must vaccinate your puppy against canine distemper because once contracted, it cannot be cured, and an infected dog stays virulent for months.

Treatment for canine distemper consists of managing the symptoms and trying to prevent secondary infections and side effects.

Symptoms of canine distemper include the following:

  • Discharge from eyes and nose
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Twitching 
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Death 

Canine Hepatitis Vaccination at 10 to 12 Weeks

Canine hepatitis is a viral infection attacking the major vital organs of the puppy. The eyes, liver, kidney, spleen, and lungs are the targeted organs.

There is no cure for canine hepatitis and treatment involves managing the symptoms. The pups usually fight off the mild form of hepatitis. However, the severe form is largely fatal.

Canine hepatitis is not related to the virus that causes hepatitis in humans. 

Symptoms of canine hepatitis are as follows:

  • Jaundice
  • Slight fever
  • Congestion of mucous membranes
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach enlargement
  • Liver inflammation 

Canine Parainfluenza Vaccination at 10 to 12 Weeks

This virus contributes to puppies contracting kennel cough. For puppies who will be around other dogs, the canine parainfluenza vaccination is very important.

Coronavirus Vaccination at 6 to 12 Months

This virus is not the same as the human COVID-19 virus. The canine coronavirus attacks a dog’s gastrointestinal system. It can also affect the respiratory system.

Vets will keep a sick dog warm and hydrated while doing what they can to help manage nausea and pain. There are, however, no drugs that kill the canine coronavirus once it’s contracted.

The symptoms mainly present as gastrointestinal symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting 

Heartworm Vaccination at 12 to 16 Weeks

While there is no specific vaccine for this condition, vets can give heartworm preventives. The vet will prescribe a regimen of regular medication to prevent your puppy from contracting heartworms.

Heartworms are transmitted to puppies through a mosquito bite. Once the worms go through a lifecycle, they lodge themselves inside the right portion of the dog’s heart. The worms also invade the pulmonary arteries that supply blood to your dog’s lungs.

This is not the only place the worms can burrow inside. They can also travel through the dog’s whole body, especially the liver and kidneys. Adult worms can grow up to 14 inches and look like strands of pasta. When they tangle into a ball, they block supply to virtual organs.

Diagnosis of heartworms is done via a blood test. In the early stages of a heartworm infection, the puppy will likely display no symptoms.

In the later stages of a heartworm infection, the following symptoms may appear:

  • Cough
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathing difficulties 

Kennel Cough Vaccination at 6 to 8 Weeks

Kennel cough is caused by an inflammation of the upper airways. The inflammation can be from a viral, bacterial, or secondary infection. Some infections that result in kennel cough include bordetella and canine parainfluenza, as I discussed earlier.

A mild presentation of kennel cough can be managed by a cough suppressant, while a more severe case requires antibiotics. A case of kennel cough is often caused by multiple infections simultaneously.

This disease spreads easily between dogs that are kept close together. This is why dogs kept in kennels are most susceptible.

Symptoms of kennel cough include:

  • Harsh and dry coughs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Retching
  • Gagging
  • Death (rare)

Leptospirosis Vaccination 10 to 12 Weeks

This disease is caused by bacteria, and sometimes dogs can be infected yet remain asymptomatic. Leptospirosis can be cured with a course of antibiotics, and the treatment should be administered as soon as symptoms appear. 

Leptospirosis is a bacteria that is widely present in both soil and water. It can also be transmitted between people and animals, making it a zoonotic disease.

Symptoms of leptospirosis include:

  • Fever 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Severe body weakness
  • Lethargy 
  • Jaundice
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle pain
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Infertility 

Lyme Disease Vaccination at 16 to 18 Weeks

Also known as borreliosis, this infectious disease is transmitted by ticks carrying bacteria known as a spirochete. If Lyme disease is promptly diagnosed, a course of antibiotics is an effective treatment. However, the puppy may relapse in a matter of months or years.

Lyme disease mainly affects the joints, heart, and kidneys. It can cause neurological complications if it stays untreated for long.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • Limping 
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite 

Parvovirus Vaccination at 6 to 8 Weeks 

Commonly referred to as “parvo,” this disease affects all dogs. Puppies under 4 months and unvaccinated dogs are considered high risk for contracting it.

Rapid onset of dehydration from severe diarrhea can kill a dog within 48-72 hours. Rush your puppy to the vet if it starts exhibiting symptoms. 

There is no known cure for parvo, but treatment can be quite effective in helping the immune system to fight it.

Parvovirus attacks the GI system, and symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Severe and bloody diarrhea

Rabies Vaccination at 16 to 18 Weeks

Rabies is a familiar disease because it affects all mammals. It is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system, causing associated symptoms.

Your puppy will contract rabies if it is bit by a rabid animal. Treatment must be administered within the first few moments of the infection. Otherwise, the probability of death is high.

A rabies vaccination is mandatory in most states. Consult your vet for the rabies vaccination legislation in your area.

The symptoms of rabies are progressive:

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme drooling
  • Hydrophobia
  • Paralysis
  • Death

One-Year-Old Puppy Shots

When your puppy turns one year old, a visit to the vet involves boosting their core vaccinations. 

These vaccinations receive a booster that stays effective for the corresponding amount of time: 

  • Leptospirosis – 1 year
  • DA2PP – 1 year
  • Canine Influenza – 1 year
  • Bordetella (Kennel Cough) – 1 year
  • Rabies – 1 year
  • Lyme Disease – 1 year

The Cost of Vaccinating Your Puppy

The amount of money you will spend on vaccinations varies depending on several factors. 

The most common variable is whether you live in an urban or rural setting. Vets in busy cities and towns tend to charge more compared to vets in smaller and rural areas. Be sure to ask a vet to confirm their prices and fees.

Considerations for first year vaccine costs:

  • Vaccinations including core vaccines administered three times (at 6,12, and 16 weeks) is about $75 to $100. The core vaccines in this package are the DHLPP. 
  • The rabies vaccine is usually between $15 and $20.
  • Animal shelters have lower vaccination charges than vet offices and occasionally offer free shots.
  • If you own a shelter dog, it is likely up-to-date with its vaccination schedule up to the time of adoption.
  • Puppy vaccinations typically cost more than adult dog vaccines.

Conclusion on Scheduling Puppy Shots

Vaccinations are critical during the first year of a puppy’s life. The puppy shot schedule must be adhered to without deviation. This ensures that your furry companion stays healthy and protected from the horrible diseases I covered today.

Although it takes some time and money, the effort you invest to keep up with vet visits and the money you spend on your puppy is all worth it in the long run.

The information in this guide should not replace the wisdom of your puppy’s doctor. Be sure to consult with your vet for further information and guidance, and follow their advice when it comes to the essential and optional shots.

If your dog or puppy is showing signs or symptoms of an infection or virus, refer back to this guide on the optimal puppy shot schedule and go see a vet!

Love you guys,


P.S. If you’re new to this world, you may want to check out my Ultimate Guide for First Time Dog Parents. It’s a great reference to get you started on this journey.

This article has been reviewed by our Editorial Board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our Editorial Policies.

Disclaimer: The Can My Dog articles contain information based on the individual research and opinions of the author of the site – who just so happens to be a dog. How you utilize the information given is completely up to you. Proceed at your own risk.

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