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of annually, as has been previously done. The non-core vaccines usually need to be boostered yearly or as needed as a dog’s risk factors for the diseases change throughout its life. The one part of the canine vaccine protocols that has not changed is the importance and frequency of vaccinations for puppies. At no other point in a dog’s life are vaccinations as important as they are for puppies!

When puppies are born, their immune systems are not functioning. It takes several weeks for the immune system to begin to function - and many months until the immune system is fully developed. Puppies would have no protection against the many infectious agents they are exposed to immediately after birth if they did not get maternal antibodies. Maternal antibodies are passed from the mother to the puppy across the placenta and in the milk the puppy gets from the mother. These maternal antibodies protect the puppy from many diseases including most of the diseases that puppies are vaccinated for. The recommendations for timing and frequency of puppy vaccinations are based on the length of time these maternal antibodies are present in a puppy’s system.

In general, puppies should be vaccinated for parvovirus, distemper virus, and adenovirus type 2 at 6-8 weeks, then again at 9-11 weeks, and finally at 12-14 weeks. Rabies vaccine can be given one time when the puppy is 12 weeks of age, or older. Puppies are given a series of vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart to ensure that the vaccine is given after maternal antibody levels have decreased enough to allow the puppies’ immune systems to respond to the vaccine. If the level of maternal antibodies in a puppy’s system is too high, these maternal antibodies will interfere with the immune response to the vaccine and little or no immunity will result. The exact age at which levels of maternal antibodies decrease to levels that do not interfere with vaccines varies from puppy to puppy. This understanding has led to the current practice of starting puppy vaccination at 6-8 weeks. This is the age at which a puppy’s immune system is mature enough to respond to vaccines and at which some puppies have maternal antibody levels low enough to allow the vaccine to function. However, at 6-8 weeks some puppies still have maternal antibody levels which are high enough to interfere with the vaccine. In these puppies, the vaccine has no effect. When vaccination is repeated at 9-11 weeks, most, but not all puppies have low maternal antibody levels and will respond to the vaccine. By 12-14 weeks, maternal antibody levels have decreased enough to allow all puppies to respond to the vaccine and develop immunity to the diseases for which they are vaccinated.

Why not just vaccinate all puppies one time - at 14 weeks - when all of them will respond to the vaccine? Because some of the puppies already have decreased levels of maternal antibodies at 5-6 weeks of age and are therefore susceptible to the diseases we are trying to prevent. Waiting until 14 weeks of age would leave these puppies unprotected for up to two months! It is imperative that these puppies, the first to have decreased maternal antibody levels, get vaccinated as soon as they can respond to the vaccine. This prevents a lapse in disease protection

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