Puppy’s first shots, Part 1 (core vax)

Puppies are wonderful. Puppies are cute. Puppies are little bundles of God-given therapy. Even for people who are allergic to fur, there are Bichon Frise puppies. A lot of people have raised or will raise a puppy sometime in their life, whether as a companion, as a playmate for their kids, to practice before having kids, et cetera. No matter what category you fit into, you want to make sure your dog grows up happy and healthy… and within the county rabies regulations.

What kind of shots do dogs need?


Experienced dog owners may know about the DHPP-LC, which includes Distemper, hepatitis (adenovirus), parvo, parainfluenza, lepto, and coronavirus. The DA2P includes Distemper, adenovirus-2 (which covers adenovirus-1), and parvo. Parainfluenza and lepto shots are can now be taken by choice and the coronavirus shot is now not recommended. More on those in part 2.

For an older puppy or dog, the first DAP shot needs to be followed in 3-5 weeks by a booster, which needs to be followed in one year by a second booster, after which the dog will only need a booster every three years. Once upon a time, shots were given every year but thanks to research, the needle jabbing doesn’t need to be quite as often as it used to be. Yay!

The law doesn’t require DAP, so why should your dog get it?

DAP protects against common, easy-to-treat diseases that can kill your dog. If your dog contracts yet survives one of these diseases, symptoms will likely persist for the rest of its life.

Why do younger puppies get 2-3 monthly shots?

Puppies first get maternal antibodies from their mother’s milk. These antibodies decrease as they are weaned. Maternal antibodies interfere with the success of a vaccination until the puppy is about 12 weeks old, give or take a few weeks. Ideally, the vaccine gets phased in as the maternal protection gets phased out. Although the window of actual vulnerability is not very long, the maternal protection sometimes ends very early and sometimes very late. This leaves a huge window of potential vulnerability so your vet can’t guarantee that the first booster will “take” until the puppy is about 16-17 weeks old. That’s why vets recommend doing an 8, 12, 16-week series.

Your vet may recommend that you don’t go on walks and such until a week after the last of the 4-week shots. This is called the parvo quarantine and it’s also related to the window of vulnerability. If you live in a place with a lot of dogs of unknown disease protection, the puppy does not leave the house. If you live in Beverly Hills and everyone on the street are Jennifer Aniston types, people who can afford personal trainers and spoil their dogs, letting your puppy walk around a bit is probably not risky at all. If you live among normal people in the middle, do a head count and decide whether you think the neighborhood dogs are vaccinated or not.

If you bring in a 6 week old puppy, be prepared for three boosters. It’s up to you to wait until your puppy is 11-14 weeks old to get the first shot but it’s better to start as soon as you get your puppy, just in case.


Chances are that the law requires you to get a rabies certificate and a dog license. Canine rabies technically doesn’t exist in the U.S. so why should you get one?

Veterinarians are required to strongly advise that you take the rabies shot. If you decline, and if your dog somehow manages to bite someone who doesn’t know whether your dog has rabies or not, shit hits the fan.

  1. Bitten person goes to a doctor.
  2. Doctor files a bite report.
  3. Police check up on the dog: no dog license means no rabies certificate but they can still ask your vet if you just didn’t bother getting a license.
  4. Police talk to your vet: vet’s record says, “client declined vaccine,” meaning that the vet played the public health official rôle and can’t do any more for your dog.
  5. Police quarantine your dog for 10 days, fine you $3000, and may euthanize your dog.
  6. If you’re not very lucky and your dog gets put to sleep, you have to deal with the legal process while facing the fact that you sentenced your own man’s best friend to death by refusing to give the dog a really cheap vaccine.

Besides that, your dog can get non-canine rabies from rats, bats, raccoons, people, et cetera, and that’s really what you’re vaccinating against.

In California, you may legally own a dog that has not been vaccinated for rabies if your dog has a note. Essentially. It makes life more complicated, though, because only dogs with certain conditions are allowed to have their doctor’s note and there are a lot more rules and risks for owners to remember when walking around with an unprotected dog.

We recommend taking the first rabies shot with the “last” puppy DAP (16-17 weeks), followed by a booster with the One Year Later DAP, followed by the three year boosters. See how nicely it lines up with DAP shots?



Now, what do shots look like?

It’s one thing to tell a kid to be brave and hold still.

Telling dogs is a whole other cookie.

Rule number one is to avoid being bitten. If the vet plus staff get bitten, we have to follow through whatever our protocol is and sometimes that involves a wave of bureaucratic procedural messiness that you don’t want to deal with. We don’t want to make you deal with that, either. We know that people on YouTube love to jeer at “inept” or “fearful” vets and vet techs but I promise, your dog is smelling the insecurity of a previous client, not your vet. Remember, most of us are confident by our third day of hands-on experience but the dog has no idea why we’re poking it with needles. Guess who’s freaking out?

Rule two is to restrain the animal exactly as much as necessary: no more, no less. Canine vaccines are not for humans and don’t come without risks for their own patients, either, so we try to avoid accidentally injecting ourselves or injecting into a dog where we don’t want to inject. Sometimes, a dog will be perfectly calm with just a precautionary hand resting on the neck and some treats for good measure… but completely flips out if a stranger gets any more intimate. Other times, a dog needs to be muzzled and held down by two people. We do what we can and try to make a note of what works and what doesn’t.

Most shots are given subQ (subcutaneous) or intermuscular in a thigh or shoulder, which basically means that we make sure we’re not sticking the needle into veins before delivering the shot. You might see us pull up the skin into a tent and insert the needle into the “door” of the tent. You might not. If you really pay attention, you will see us draw back the needle very quickly before pushing down the plunger. What we’re doing is checking for blood and if we draw blood, we’ve gone into a vein and we have to pull out and retry.

Your puppy may scream during this process, depending on how nervous it is. We can’t do anything about this because
1) your puppy has a personality and sometimes, that’s just how it goes, and
2) if we’re having a certain degree of difficulty just getting one shot in, we don’t want to do two shots just to sedate the poor thing, plus we have to supervise it for another hour or so, waiting for it to wake up and making sure it’s O.K.
You, however, can be a huge help.

One major thing to prepare your dog for shots and just going to the vet in general is to get your dog used to touching and poking, starting as young as possible. The basics of mimicking your vet are running your hands over your dog’s ribs, massaging the belly, playing with toes, sticking your fingers into the ears gently, holding the mouth open to look at teeth (using a finger brush and brushing teeth doubles as starter preventative dental care), and lots of hugs. I hope you don’t need an excuse to give a warm puppy lots of hugs but if you do, there you have it.

Also, ask if your vet allows “happy” visits, which goes like this: Puppy goes to vet clinic. Puppy is scared but Puppy gets lots of love and treats. Puppy starts to think maybe the vet clinic isn’t so scary. Puppy goes home.

To be continued.


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