Ask five people about puppy vaccinations, and odds are you'll get five different answers. While there is no universal immunization schedule for puppies, in 2003 the American Animal Hospital Association developed canine vaccination guidelines designed to protect as many puppies and dogs as possible while minimizing the risks of over-vaccination.
One key concept of the AAHA guidelines is that immunization schedules should be determined on an individual basis, rather than being considered "one size fits all." That said, some diseases are found throughout the United States, and all dogs are at risk of exposure. Vaccinations for these diseases are called core vaccinations, and include those for distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus. The AAHA recommends puppies receive these vaccinations every three or four weeks, starting at six or eight weeks of age and ending at 14 or 16 weeks. The fourth core vaccine is rabies: AAHA recommends a single dose for puppies, to be given at no earlier than 12 weeks of age.
Most other vaccinations fall into the non-core category. These vaccines are given on an as-needed basis, after you and your vet have considered the risk of the dog's exposure to the disease. Non-core vaccines include those for four-way leptospirosis, Lyme disease and bordatella. If given, AAHA recommends leptospirosis and Lyme vaccines at no earlier than 12 weeks, with a second dose two to four weeks later. Bordatella can be given as early as at eight weeks, with a second dose at 12 weeks. Less common non-core vaccinations include those for canine influenza and canine oral melanoma, and the rattlesnake vaccine.
Vaccinations That Are Not Recommended
Some vaccinations are not recommended for any dogs, in any case. These include the two-way leptospirosis vaccine and the coronavirus vaccine. Unfortunately, many combination vaccines include the coronavirus vaccine, as well as non-core vaccines such as those for leptospirosis and bordatella. Ask your veterinarian about using core-only vaccinations instead.
For the core vaccines, if the last shot is given at 16 weeks or younger, AAHA recommends re-vaccination one year after the last shot. Future boosters should be given at intervals of three years or longer. If the last shot is given after 16 weeks, the dog can be placed on a three-year or longer schedule. Rabies vaccination boosters are mandated by law in most areas. Annual non-core vaccines are recommended for dogs who continue to be at risk of contracting the diseases in question. These vaccines are generally for bacterial rather than viral infections; immunity to bacteria is shorter-lived than viral immunity.