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Puppy Vaccines 101: Which Shots Does my Puppy Need and When?

Puppy Vaccines 101: Which Shots Does my Puppy Need and When?

A white puppy receiving a vaccine.

It’s the one thing you’re really not looking forward to with your new puppy: puppy shots.

Nobody wants to see their pet suffer, and we all know getting stuck with a needle is no fun. But puppy vaccines can literally save your dog’s life so, while they aren’t a party, puppy shots are indeed necessary if you want to set your dog up for a lifetime of good health.

Core Puppy Vaccines

Not every puppy is going to need every vaccine, and some ‘high risk’ puppies may need a more intense and aggressive vaccination program. Quite a lot depends on:

  • The puppy itself.
  • The litter your puppy came from.
  • The breed.
  • Which part of the country you live in.
  • Your local veterinarian’s recommendations.

However, per the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there is a generally agreed upon ‘best practices’ protocol for puppy vaccines.

The “core” puppy vaccines are the ones the AVMA considers necessary, and they are for:

  • Distemper: Canine distemper is a serious and often fatal virus with no known cure that also affects raccoons, wolves, foxes, and skunks. It attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems, leading to coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, paralysis, and often death.
  • Hepatitis: Canine hepatitis is a liver disease caused by canine adenovirus type-1 (CAV-1), which has no relation to the human form of hepatitis. The symptoms can range from slight fever and congestion to vomiting, jaundice, stomach enlargement, and liver pain. Canine hepatitis is deadly in its most severe form, but most dogs can overcome the milder strains.
  • Parvovirus: Parvo is a highly contagious virus that attacks the gastrointestinal system, leading to loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, weight loss, and often severe, bloody diarrhea. A far less common form of it attacks the heart muscles, often leading to death.
  • Parainfluenza: Canine parainfluenza is one of the most common causes of “kennel cough” (also known as infectious tracheobronchitis), a contagious, non-life-threatening cold-like condition that causes coughing and other symptoms.
  • Rabies: The rabies virus invades the central nervous system of humans and animals and causes acute inflammation of the brain, leading to headaches, anxiety, hallucinations, paralysis, and sometimes death. Early treatment (ie, within hours of infection) is essential. Most states require a rabies vaccination. Check with your local vet about the rabies vaccination laws in your state.

There are a number of other viruses that most vets recommend vaccinations for. These include:

  • Leptospirosis: Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that attacks the whole body, including the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system, leading to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death. Leptospirosis is “zoonotic”, meaning it can be transmitted to humans, with children being the most at risk of acquiring the bacteria from an infected pet. Although the AVMA doesn’t consider this a “core” vaccine, the leptospirosis vaccine is often folded into the DHPP combination shot to make it “DHPPL”. The “lepto” bacteria usually live in puddles and lakes, so if your puppy or dog is a big puddle-/lake-licker, this is an important vaccine to get.
  • Bordetella: Bordetella is the most common cause of kennel cough (see “parainfluenza” bullet point above). It is caused by a highly communicable bacterium and leads to severe fits of coughing, vomiting, and, in rare cases, seizure and death.
  • Coronavirus: Canine coronavirus primarily attacks the gastrointestinal system, causing nausea, lack of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Lyme disease: Lyme disease is a tick-transmitted bacterial infection that causes symptoms in 5-10% of affected dogs. The predominant symptom is limping due to joint inflammation, but there can also be a lack of appetite and depression and on rare occasions more serious complications such as kidney, heart, or nervous system damage.

What is a 5 in 1 vaccine for dogs?

Vaccines for Canine Distemper, Adenovirus, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza are usually taken care of via a single shot known as a 5-Way Combination Vaccine or a 5 in 1 Vaccine. Rabies is always handled separately.

A 6 in 1 Vaccine or 6-Way Combination Vaccine includes the core five vaccines and the Coronavirus vaccine.

A 9 in 1 Vaccine or 9-Way Combination Vaccine includes the core five vaccines and protects against four strains of Lepto.

A 10 in 1 Vaccine or 10-Way Combination Vaccine includes the core five vaccines, Coronavirus vaccine, and protects against four strains of Lepto.

Lyme and Bortadella Vaccines are typically sold separately and can be added as booster shots if needed.

Vaccination Schedule

Before you even pick up your puppy – whether it’s from a breeder, a shelter, or a friend – you should have a visit to the vet scheduled. Ideally, you take your pup to the vet before you even bring him/her home for the first time. The sooner the better so that your vet can give your puppy a proper examination, including a fecal check for intestinal parasites, and help you schedule your puppy’s shots.

The exact schedule for puppy vaccines will depend on the above-mentioned factors and your vet’s recommendations, but generally, puppies start getting vaccines at around six weeks of age and continue through 5 months of age, followed by annual or semi-annual booster shots depending on the need.

It is important to note that at certain ages, certain dogs are not capable of “responding” to certain vaccines – that is, mounting a good antibody defense to the vaccine and thus building immunity to it. This can be very hard to judge and varies from breed to breed and litter to litter and depends on how much “passive immunity” the mother has already passed down to the puppy through the colostrum via nursing during the first 36 hours of life. Generally, though, puppies are most responsive to vaccines between the ages of 6 and 18 weeks.

While it is best to work out your puppy’s specific vaccine schedule and protocol with your veterinarian, there is a generally recommended vaccination protocol for the first year of a puppy’s life. Keep in mind that most dog vaccines offer combined protection against multiple illnesses.

What shots do puppies need and when?

  • 6 to 8 weeks of age: 5-Way Vaccine (9-Way Vaccine if Leptospirosis is a concern). Optional: Bordetella.
  • 10-12 weeks of age: 5-Way Vaccine or 9-Way Vaccine again. Optional: Coronavirus (6-Way Vaccine & 10-Way Vaccine).
  • 12 weeks: Rabies (Note only licensed veterinarians are allowed to administer rabies shots in certain states. Please check your state law)
  • 14-16 weeks of age: 5-Way Vaccine or 9-Way Vaccine. Optional: Lyme & Coronavirus.
  • 18-20 weeks of age: 5-Way Vaccine or 9-Way Vaccine. Optional: Lyme & Coronavirus.

Suggested booster shots: 5-Way (every 12 months); Bordetella (every six months), rabies (every 1-3 years depending on state laws), Lyme disease (every 12 months).

Other Considerations

How much are puppy shots?

You’ll probably spend more on shots and vaccines in the first year of your dog’s life than in the rest of his/her years combined. That said, it is still not a huge expense. A lot depends on where you live (urban areas are always going to be more expensive than rural areas), but generally speaking, you should expect to spend anywhere from $75 to $150 for all the shots in the first year – a small price to pay for your dog’s lifelong health and well-being.

Remember that, while most vets advise against this, you can also administer your puppy’s vaccines yourself at home, which may reduce the cost for you and the stress on your dog.


Serious complications from vaccines are rare, and in most cases, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Vaccines can sometimes trigger mild allergic reactions such as hives and facial swelling, and, much more rarely, more severe reactions such as vomiting and fever.