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First Year Puppy Vaccinations & Beyond: Owner’s Complete Guide to Dog Shots

All your life, all you ever wanted was a loyal companion, furry best friend and sidekick – a dog. Now that the day has finally come, you’re all set for a new life with your new puppy, right? Not so fast.

Before you even start your research on dog training, it’s important you know that this animal is now fully dependent on you for its health and well-being. This includes the first set of puppy shots for your furry friend.

Every vaccination has a specific purpose in preventing common health problems your puppy may face in the early stages of its life. In some cases, failure to provide your new pup with the proper vaccinations can be downright fatal.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Let’s be clear – the puppy shot schedule can vary depending on external factors, such as: location (do you live in the rural mountains or in a dense city?), individual risk factors (genetics from parents) or general breed risk factors. Also, not all veterinarians agree on the same schedule.

Some of these puppy shots are required, while others are highly recommended. In other words, not all dogs need to follow these recommendations to the dot. Always consult with your local veterinarian on which vaccinations make the most sense.

According to Dr. Francis Park D.V.M. of South Hills Animal Hospital in the state of California, the general recommended shot schedule is as follows:

AgeShot #1Shot #2Shot #3
5-7 weeksDHPP (optional)Parvovirus (optional)
8-10 weeksDHPP (1)
11-13 weeksDHLPP (2)Bordetella (optional)
14-16 weeksDHLPP (3)Bordetella (recommended)Rabies

Beginning Puppy Vaccinations Before 8 – 10 Weeks

There has been a lot of debate on when puppies should start their vaccination treatments. The vaccination schedule presented above is just one popular opinion among veterinarians all over the world. Not all veterinarians agree on the same schedule.

Dr. Ronald Schultz, chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, has made an interesting argument in starting your puppy’s shots later.

A respected researcher studying dog vaccinations since the 1970’s, Dr. Schultz recommends you don’t begin your puppy’s vaccinations before 8 to 10 weeks old. The reason is that the dog mother’s milk will pass natural antibodies to her puppies up until ages 14 to 16 weeks old. This natural form of immunity can sometimes interfere with any vaccinations given during that crucial time span.

Because of this, Dr. Schultz urges dog owners and vets to begin the vaccinations when puppies hit the 8 to 10 weeks mark. “The puppy [should] receive his last series of shots between 14 and 16 weeks,” says Schultz. He added that puppies should be vaccinated with the core vaccines, such as DHLPP with the rabies vaccine.

Further reading:

Core vs. Non-Core Puppy Shots

First year puppy shots for your dog are broken down into two categories: the core and non-core vaccinations. Core shots are, in almost all cases, necessary for the long term well-being of your puppy.

They’re the vaccinations that protect them from diseases classified as high-risk and pose a threat to your puppy’s life. They are highly recommended for canines with no vaccination history, such as newborn puppies.

As we’ve discussed in the beginning, the need for non-core shots will depend on individual assessment from your veterinarian. The diseases that non-core vaccinations target are often self-limiting and don’t pose a major threat to your puppy’s life. However, these shots are not terribly expensive and if you can afford them, I would highly recommend them.

Core Vaccinations

  1. Rabies*
  2. Distemper (DHLPP)
  3. Parvovirus (DHLPP)
  4. Adenovirus (DHLPP)

Non-core Vaccinations

  1. Bordetella
  2. Lyme Disease
  3. Leptospirosis (DHLPP)
  4. Canine Influenza
  5. Parainfluenza (DHLPP)
  6. Adenovirus Intranasal

*According to the American Veterinary Medical Administration, the only vaccination required by law is the Rabies Vaccination.

To be clear, non-core vaccinations for dogs do not mean that they are not important. In fact, some of the vaccines given in the core category are often combined with some in the non-core category. For example, DHLPP is a fairly common single vaccination that includes multiple vaccinations from both categories.

Non-core vaccinations are believed to be generally less effective in protection against their intended diseases than with core vaccinations.

Further reading:

Puppy Vaccination Costs

Happy doctor looking at his husky patient with owner near by

The cost of vaccinations will vary between clinics and animal hospitals, as private clinics are often slightly cheaper. Depending on where you live, shot costs will typically be adjusted to the area’s cost/standard of living. For example, if you live in a rural or suburban area, it is likely cheaper to get the vaccinations there than in an expensive metropolitan city such as San Francisco. Despite the relatively large variance in canine vaccination costs, some core shots are absolutely necessary for a healthy dog.

Average Costs of Core Puppy Shots

The average cost of the DHLPP vaccination for a three session schedule is $80 USD. Depending on external factors, the cost range can be anywhere from $65 to $95.

In addition to DHLPP, the mandatory Rabies shot will set you back between $15 to $20, depending on where you get it.

According to the VetInfo, the total average cost for these core shots will cost you just $100. This is a relatively small price to pay for a healthy puppy.

The good news is that these initial puppy shots are the most expensive they will ever be in your dog’s lifetime. Vaccination boosters for your dog may only cost $15 to $50, depending on where you plan to get them.

Some veterinarian clinics will package the Rabies shot with other core vaccines, so it’s best if you clarify the details with your vet. Additional costs may occur if you agree to your vet’s recommended non-core vaccinations.

Average Costs of Non-Core Vaccinations

Some of the non-core vaccinations are included in the DHLPP vaccination, but other important shots such as the Bordetella may cost you roughly $20 to $30 for the recommended two sessions.

The Lyme vaccination will set you back between $10 and $15 per shot. This is typically administered twice, costing you a grand total of $20 to $30 for Lyme.

The Canine Influenza vaccination, which protects your puppy against the canine flu virus, will cost you about the same as Lyme and Bordetella. This means two inoculations will run you a total of roughly $20 to $30.

4 Ways to Find Cheaper Puppy Vaccinations

If you still think these puppy shots are expensive, we don’t blame you. They can definitely add up to bite your wallet. Not to worry, here are some tips on reducing your vaccination costs for your dog.

1. Shop Around for Vaccination Prices

If you live in an affluent neighborhood, it may be wise to shop around in adjacent cities to save some money. Middle or lower-class neighborhoods tend to have better pricing for vaccinations, so don’t be afraid to call around. It’s worth noting that some states, like Colorado, are required by mandate to be price competitive with other private clinics in the area. You are likely to save some money, but don’t expect anything too significant.

2. Check Local Animal Shelters & Organizations

Another good bet is to see if your local animal shelters, animal welfare organizations or rescue groups offer vaccinations for dogs. If they do, there’s a good chance you can get them for a highly discounted price. Sometimes, you may even be able to get them for free!

To find these organizations, try PetFinder’s search tool.

3. Veterinary Schools for Vaccinations

Do you live near an accredited Veterinary school? If so, that’s great news! Having your puppy or dog get its shots at the university is often cheaper than at a private clinic. Bear in mind, your dog’s shots will be administered by Vet students. However, there will be a licensed vet to supervise the students.

Check out the AVMA list of accredited Veterinary schools to see if there’s a school near you.

4. Pet Financial Aid to Cover Shots

If you’re still struggling to pay for these vaccinations, know that there are charities that specifically aim to help owners provide basic needs for their dogs. The Humane Society has an extensive list organizations that can give you financial assistance in these type of situations.

Visit the Humane Society’s list of pet financial-aid organizations here. Note that some organizations are state-based, while others provide nationwide help.

Further reading:

Rabies Vaccination

The rabies vaccination reduces the risk of their dog contracting the often fatal disease.

This shot is self-explanatory – it’s a preventative for the infamous Rabies, a nasty virus that spreads through the saliva of an infected animal. These animals can include wild raccoons, bats, coyotes, foxes, skunks and more. But the question lies – does my dog still need the Rabies vaccine? The answer is YES.

Without this shot, it becomes extremely dangerous to allow your dog to even be outside where potential encounters with wild animals may happen. When a human gets bitten by an infected animal, there are ways to treat the bite before infection spreads. With your dog, there is NO treatment for Rabies at this time.

The fatality rate of a dog infected with Rabies is 100%. Get your puppy the Rabies vaccine.

Rabies Vaccination Schedule

The Rabies vaccine is first inoculated within the first 4 months of your puppy’s young life, usually in weeks 14 to 16. Puppies are expected to receive another round of the Rabies vaccine after year one. From there on out, the vaccine can be administered once every three years through your dog’s adult life.

Rabies Vaccination Regulations

According to the AVMA, this shot is not only required for domestically-owned dogs, but also for cats and ferrets in the United States. However, all states regulate the administration of the Rabies vaccine slightly different.

For example, in some states, only a licensed veterinarian is able to inoculate the dogs, while in other states, a vet technician or trained specialist may also do so.

The frequency for giving your dog the Rabies vaccine will also depend on the state. It’s also not unusual for some states to allow the exemption of the Rabies vaccination for dogs with certain medical conditions as determined by a licensed vet.

Most of the time, states adopt these regulations state-wide. However, there will be instances where this decision has been delegated to the local governments (counties and cities). For more information on the specific Rabies regulation for your dog in your state, visit the AVMA State Rabies Chart.

To save yourself the trouble, I would just get my puppy the Rabies shot. Better safe than sorry when it comes to your dog.

Further reading:

DHLPP Vaccination

Veterinary clinic gives puppy DHLPP vaccination

The DHLPP shot is a highly recommended vaccination for puppies. It stands for Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvovirus and Parainfluenza – all of which, are extremely dangerous (and highly contagious) diseases in dogs.

Canine Distemper

The first letter of the abbreviated DHLPP is Distemper – a nasty infection caused by a highly contagious virus. This particular virus can be contracted through the air or bodily fluids such as saliva. Because of this reason, this disease is most prevalent in animal shelters, where dogs are usually crowded in kennels.

Upon contracting the Canine Distemper virus, dogs may experience a widespread of moderate to severe symptoms, depending on the dog. The virus can infect the respiratory system along with the intestinal tract. In some cases, infection can spread to the central nervous system of your dog.

Canine Hepatitis

Caused by the Adenovirus Type-1, the Canine Hepatitis is a contagious and deadly disease contracted through the transmission of bodily fluids. A clear-cut sign of hepatitis in your dog is the “hepatitis blue eye,” a thin blue-ish membrane covering your dog’s eye. This disease usually leads to death in your dog, but can be prevented with the DHLPP vaccination.


There are several types and strains of the Leptospirosis that can affect both human and dogs. The DHLPP vaccine for dogs will only work against two of the most common types – Canicola and Icterohaemorrhagiae. Even after inoculation, your dog may still be susceptible to other types of Leptospirosis.

A dog infected with Leptospirosis may experience high fevers, severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration.


The dog parvovirus is a disease that infects the gastrointestinal tract of your dog and is most fatal for young puppies. In fact, when contracted, the fatality rate is a staggering 91% when left untreated. According to the AVMA, it takes just 48 to 72 hours for death in most cases. Some symptoms include: lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and (often bloody) diarrhea.

Parvo in dogs can be transmitted in contaminated areas or through the feces of other dogs. This is why it is crucial not to walk your puppy or have them interact with other dogs until the DHLPP vaccination has been administered.


In addition to the Bordetella bacteria, the Parainfluenza virus can lead to the Kennel Cough. Described as the dog’s Bronchitis, the Kennel Cough can have prolonged symptoms such as: coughing, nasal discharge, gagging, sneezing and fevers.

Although the symptoms may be annoying and unpleasant, this is by no means life threatening to your dog. Often times, this medical condition will go away without any further treatment to your dog.

DHLPP Vaccination Schedule

The first set of the DHLPP vaccine can be administered to your puppy as early as 5 weeks old, but is recommended after the 8th week.  The DHLPP Vaccine is administered in 3 (or 4) week intervals, depending on your vet’s assessment of your puppy. Whether your vet goes with 3 or 4 week intervals, it doesn’t matter much.

If you bought your puppy from a reputable breeder, most of the time they will give your puppy this first set of DHLPP before you receive him or her. Make sure to ask your breeder if you are unsure about this to avoid any confusion and/or excessive inoculations.

In adulthood, the DHLPP vaccination can be given to your dog every three years. Always consult with your local vet.  

Further reading:

Bordetella Vaccination

Sick dog contracts the kennel cough because he did not receive the bordetella vaccination.

The Bordetella bronchiseptica is notorious for causing the Kennel Cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis. Hence, the nickname: “the kennel cough vaccine.” And although the Bordetella vaccination is not required by law for puppies, most doggy day care centers, kennel hotels, dog training groups, grooming facilities and dog parks require this vaccine before your dog may be allowed on the premises.

This reason is because the Kennel Cough is highly contagious and can spread easily in a setting where numerous curious puppies try to get to know each other. As mentioned, the Kennel Cough is non-life threatening, but can be a huge nuisance to both the puppy and the owner.

These bronchitis-like symptoms in your dog may persist for many weeks before they start to subside. However, the good news is that they usually tend to go away with or without treatment. Nevertheless, the chance of contracting Kennel Cough from the Bordetella bacteria can be easily avoided with this effective vaccine.

Bordetella Vaccination Schedule

The Bordetella vaccination is a non-core vaccination; however, many veterinarians may treat this as a core vaccine due to its popularity and importance. Most vets will highly recommend this vaccine and most dog owners agree, as it makes both you and your puppy’s life more pleasant. Can you imagine not being able to let your puppy interact with other canines at such a curious-filled stage in life?

If you have decided that the Bordetella vaccination is right for your puppy, the vaccination can be administered during weeks 11 – 13 and weeks 14 -16. That’s twice in a span of three to four weeks. And depending on how often your dog frequents a day care center or grooming center, the dog may need a booster every 6 to 12 months. Every facility may have different rules regarding the Bordetella vaccination, so make sure to check with them.

Bordetella Vaccination Controversies

1. Frequency of Bordetella Vaccination in Dogs

A common question among both dog owners and veterinarians is, “how often does my dog need the Bordetella vaccination?” Yes, even among vets.

This leads me to the first controversy – veterinarians can’t seem to agree on the intervals for regular Bordetella boosters in adulthood. The more common recommendation is for dogs to receive the vaccination every six months. However, a growing group of vets, such as Dr. Ford, suggests that there is no evidence that point to any value in such frequent intervals of boosters. Rather, receiving the Bordetella vaccinations on a yearly basis may make more sense.

Every veterinarian will have their recommendation, but it’s ultimately up to you (the owner) to make the final call.

2. Does My Puppy Need the Bordetella Vaccination?

Another controversy surrounding the Bordetella vaccination is whether dogs need it at all. There’s no question this vaccine helps protect your puppy against the possibility of contracting Kennel Cough. However, it becomes a debate because this medical condition is mild in nature and does not usually pose much of a threat to the dog’s long term health.

On top of that, the Bordetella vaccination does not guarantee that your puppy (or adult dog) does not contract the Kennel Cough. As mentioned, there are many ways to contract the cough, including the Canine Parainfluenza virus covered by the DHLPP vaccination. In fact, there are dozens of different bugs that can lead to the common medical condition.

But despite this controversial debate, the fact of the matter is that facilities that hold multiple dogs will require this vaccination before entry. So to answer the question (does my dog actually need the Bordetella vaccination?), probably. If you live in on a farm, isolated from these facilities and other dogs, then it may not be necessary – although still recommended.

Further reading:

Lyme Disease Vaccination

Veterinarian doctor removing a tick from the Cocker Spaniel dog without lyme disease vaccination

According to The Vox, Lyme disease has become a force to be reckoned with in the United States, affecting a startling 300,000 people per year. No one is safe, not even your dog. The good and bad news is that there is a Lyme vaccination for dogs (but not for human).

Lyme disease stems from the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, and is usually transmitted through pesty Deer ticks – also known as the Ixodes species. Due to climate change (global warming), areas all over the world have become habitable for ticks to thrive. For example, the United States has this problem in the Northeast, Midwest and mid-Atlantic states.

This medical condition can be a great nuisance, as it could have lingering effects throughout a dog’s lifespan. Some symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, depression and/or swollen joints. In some rare cases, more serious symptoms include urine and kidney failure, heart disease and seizures. Roughly 15 – 25% of dogs treated for Lyme arthritis will show signs of the disease reoccurring in the future.

Does My Dog Need the Lyme Vaccination?

There are a few things to consider before you decide whether your puppy should get this shot. The first question to ask is: do I live in an area with a tick problem? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 95% of cases of Lyme disease come from just 14 different states.

This means that your dog may be okay, unless you’re from: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia or Wisconsin.

See here for Lyme disease statistics in your state.

states that dogs have a high risk of tick bites and lyme disease

How often do you put your dog in situations where it may encounter a tick? If your dog frequents outdoor settings like dog parks, woods and mountains in a high-risk state, a tick bite would not be an unrealistic thing to happen. In this specific scenario, it may be better get the Lyme vaccination for your dog and not take any chances.

If you live on a farm, it is always a good idea to give your dog the vaccination. Your dog will more than likely interact with the livestock to a certain degree and ticks are notorious for infecting the livestock of farmers all over the world.

Alternative to the Lyme Vaccination

If for whatever reason you decide not to have your dog inoculated with the Lyme vaccine, there are other precautions you can take for Lyme disease in dogs. The good news is that there is a lag phase of 24 to 48 hours after an infected tick attaches to the canine host before transmitting the Lyme disease.

This means that as long as you regularly inspect your dog for ticks after going outdoors, you may greatly reduce the risk of infection. A quick removal of any attached tick is key for this to be effective.

To remove a tick from your dog using tweezers, lightly pinch the tick as close to your dog’s skin as possible (try not to pinch them). Pull the tick straight up in one swift motion. If you leave the head attached, it may still cause an infection. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, your local vet is a great option. Just make sure you remove the tick as soon as possible.

Further reading:

Adverse Reactions of Dog Vaccinations

All dogs will show side effects or reactions to a certain extent following vaccinations.

Like with human vaccines, certain adverse reactions, side effects and risks may arise with vaccinating your dog. These reactions typically aren’t life-threatening and should not deter you from getting your puppy the recommended shots. In fact, it is potentially much more harmful if you skip puppy vaccinations altogether.

According to veterinary immunologist Dr. Ronald Shultz, potential side effects and adverse reactions can include (but not limited to):

Common Side Effects:

  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Hair Loss at injection area
  • Low-grade or moderate fever
  • Mild soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Sneezing (nasal discharge)
  • Oral ulcers

Moderate Side Effects:

  • Suppressed immune response
  • Behavioral changes
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced milk production
  • Lameness (unable to walk)
  • Granulomas/Abscesses
  • Hives
  • Facial edema
  • Atopy
  • Respiratory disease
  • Allergic uveitis (Blue Eye)

Anaphylactic Reactions

One of the most alarming potential side effects is Anaphylaxis, a rare and life-threatening reaction occurring almost immediately after injection of the vaccine. The anaphylactic reaction can happen within minutes to hours after the administration of the vaccine, which is why it’s crucial to monitor your dog closely for the following 24 to 48 hours.

The good news is that these incidents are rare, and if you get your dog immediate medical treatment, they have an excellent chance of surviving. Without treatment, it could lead to shock, cardiac and respiratory failure, and eventually death. Dr. Schultz estimates that this event will happen roughly 1 in every 15,000 doses of vaccines administered in dogs.

This severe reaction is most common in shots with “killed vaccines,” such as the Rabies, Coronavirus, and Leptospirosis (DHLPP) vaccines. Killed vaccines generally have more virus particles (per dose), along with extra chemicals to improve a dog’s immune response – all of which, can increase a dog’s chance of an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis:

  • Sudden diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shock
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Cold limbs
  • Pale gums
  • Swelling of the face

If any symptoms arise after inoculation, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Just because your dog did not experience negative reactions the first time around, doesn’t mean that they are safe for future boosters.

Further reading:

Over-vaccinating Your Dog

Too many vaccinations may create unnecessary risks and side effects for your dog.

A common question among new dog owners is, does my dog really need to get these vaccinations every year? There is confusion surrounding this topic because of the misinformation that’s been spread through different generations of dog owners. Some say that dogs need core vaccination boosters once every year, while others claim they need them once every three years. So which is right?

Prior to 2003, the norm was to have your adult dog vaccinated annually. However, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have since changed their guidelines on vaccination schedules, recommending vets to change their protocols to vaccinate once every three years instead. Most veterinarians have adopted this new guideline, but there will always be some old-school vets who still suggest annual boosters.

Adult dogs only need to get vaccinated once every three years.

Does Over-vaccinating Hurt My Dog?

The short answer is yes, potentially. “Some vaccines should not be given annually. Giving them too often does nothing but put pets at risk,” according to the Jean Dodds DVM, president of Hemopet – a non-profit animal blood bank.

Some possible risks and side effects from over-vaccinating your dog include:

  • Fever
  • Stiffness and soreness of joints
  • Moderate vomiting
  • Susceptibility to other infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • Behavioral change in your dog
  • Anemia
  • Arthritis
  • Liver failure
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Seizures (neurological events)

These side effects of dog vaccinations can arise anytime from immediately afterwards to weeks and months later. If you suspect your dog is experiencing the negative effects of inoculation, contact your vet immediately. In some cases, dog vaccines can increase the dog’s chances of chronic diseases in the later stages of their life.

Further reading:

Jennifer Huffton

Saturday 21st of July 2018

Do dogs need to get DHLPP? My vet is suggesting that my 6 week old puppy only gets DHPP without the lepto vaccine. Please let me know soon. Thanks very much


Sunday 22nd of July 2018

Jennifer, consult with your local veterinarian. If they suggest your dog only gets the DHPP vaccine, then it would be wise to listen. Always trust the expert, but you can always ask why.

rebecca davis

Friday 20th of July 2018

Thanks, this is comprehensive! Do you have any recommendations or suggestions or even information regarding intranasal vaccinations for dogs? I'm not a big fan of needles and can't bear the thought of my puppy having to go through ALL these shots.


Friday 20th of July 2018

Thanks for your question, Rebecca. That's a great topic! I'll make the edit to include information on intranasal vaccines as well. :)

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