Puppy Shot Schedule: Vaccination Options & Alternatives

“..there is NO single, correct way to vaccinate a puppy” 

Nancy Kerns from the Whole Dog Journal says it best, “Many people are surprised when they learn that there is NO single, correct way to vaccinate a puppy.” Seriously! Unlike humans, when it comes to dogs and cats, both vaccination combinations and the schedule for giving these puppy vaccinations is less clear. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) promotes vaccination guidelines, based on the work and recommendations of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The AAHA vaccination guidelines are the closest thing there is to a universally accepted canine vaccination protocol. There are many recommendations for what your puppy's shot schedule should look like. This would also work well for cats. Below are a few of those recommendations via traditional veterinary practices.

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AKC Recommendation for Puppy Shot Schedule

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Puppy Vaccinations: What We Are Really Saying

Another way of saying this, is there is a more current strategy that will give my dog the general protection they need without excessive vaccines or in combinations that would be less beneficial to my pet given their individual circumstances stances (e.g. breed, city pet, rural pet, sporting & performance pet). 

One of the key factors that show which strategy your veterinary care professional might swing (Old school vs New school) is their age. Not always true but the rule of thumb definitely shows this and is confirmed by the many educated pet parents revealing this fact. Not keeping up with proven research and changing times is a major point of contention in the Veterinarian-Patient relationship in North America and Europe.

If you look around any of the working dog groups on social media, you see the name “Dr. Dodd” or the “Dodd protocol” referred to as the more current and commonsense vaccination schedule for young pets. Dr. Jean Dodd is an esteemed veterinarian from California and is known for her sage advice along with her willingness to stay ahead of conventional pitfalls that place pet health first.

Benefits of Puppy Vaccinations

Puppy vaccines are an essential way to fortify against common diseases and infections. The American Veterinary Medical Association gives five solid reasons to vaccinate your puppy:

  • Receive immunity from common illnesses.
  • Avoid expensive treatments for life-threatening diseases.
  • Stop disease transmission between dogs and other animals.
  • Protect your puppy from wildlife diseases like rabies.
  • Follow local and state requirements for dog vaccinations.

Young puppies are very susceptible to infection because their immune systems aren’t fully mature. You should also note, just like humans, some vaccines require several shots to immunize your puppy from specific diseases, and some vaccines may require a follow-up booster every few years.

Side Effects of Puppy Vaccinations

While not all vaccines have side effects, you should note a few puppy shots can have mild side effects, which usually manifest within a few hours after the shot. Sides effects of puppy vaccinations may include:

  • Discomfort and swelling near the shot site
  • Lethargic 
  • Fever
  • Other respiratory symptoms like sneezing, coughing, or a runny nose

If your puppy has more severe side effects, it could be an allergic reaction to the vaccine or a more life-threatening reaction to the shot.  Severe symptoms that may indicate a bigger problem include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse
  • Swelling around the neck, face, and eyes
  • Swelling around the vaccine area enlarges after a few weeks

Call your veterinarian if your puppy has any of the symptoms after vaccination.

Puppy vaccines fortify your dog’s immune system to fight against infections and diseases. The American Veterinary Medical Association states five fundamental reasons to vaccinate your pet:

  • Prevent pet illnesses.
  • Avoid expensive treatments for common dog diseases.
  • Prevent diseases from passing between pets and other animals.
  • Protect your pet from wildlife diseases like rabies.
  • Comply with local or state requirements for pet vaccinations.

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Related Link: Choosing Canine Supplements Wisely

What Vaccines Do Puppies Need?

There are lots of vaccines available to puppies. Sometimes it is difficult to know which vaccines are essential, but all dogs should get the core vaccines. Other vaccines are elective based on your environment or lifestyle.

Core Vaccines for Puppies

All puppies should get these core vaccines:

Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvo (DHP or DAP)

This is a combo vaccine that covers distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus. Distemper is a contagious disease that spreads through airborne exposure and affects the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and nervous systems. 

A viral infection, hepatitis, affects the kidneys, lungs, eyes, liver, and spleen. Symptoms include fever, congestion, vomiting, jaundice, mucous, and stomach enlargement. While it won’t kill your puppy, there isn’t a cure. 

Parvovirus is the most deadly and affects the gastrointestinal system. Parvo is very contagious, and puppies under four months old are at risk of getting it. Parvo causes extreme dehydration and will kill a dog within 72 hours.


Rabies is a universal vaccine that most states and countries require your dog to get vaccinated every few years. A common viral disease among wildlife, rabies can attack the central nervous system, which causes anxiety, hallucinations, paralysis, drooling, fear of water, and death.

Non-Core Vaccines for Puppies

Non-core vaccines are elective vaccines you can get for your puppy. These elective vaccines may be more critical depending on where you live or plan to travel with your dog:


A bacterial disease, leptospirosis spreads from pets to people. Leptospirosis causes fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting, muscle pain, and kidney failure. But it can also not show symptoms at all. 


Parainfluenza is a virus that contributes to kennel cough. A very contagious respiratory virus, parainfluenza is a very common pathogen and is often confused with canine influenza.


Bordetella is a bacteria that often causes kennel cough. Coughing and vomiting are common symptoms, but more severe symptoms are seizures or death. Bordetella is very contagious. If you plan to utilize puppy training classes, kennel services, or dog daycare, you’ll need this vaccine.

Canine Influenza

Canine influenza attacks your puppy’s respiratory system.


Heartworm prevents worms from lodging in the heart and pulmonary arteries. These worms can also spread to the liver, kidneys, and organs. Puppies should begin heartworm medication when they are around 12-16 weeks old. 


Canine coronavirus is different from the human virus COVID-19. The coronavirus causes respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. It will not kill your dog, but your dog may suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, and appetite loss. 


Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial disease that weakens the heart, joints, and kidneys. Infected dogs can experience swollen lymph nodes, high temperatures, appetite loss, and limping. If you live near tick-infested forests, you’ll want to get the Lyme vaccine for your puppy.

The Alternative Puppy Shot Schedule

The following vaccine protocol is offered for those dogs where minimal vaccinations are advisable or desirable. The schedule is one Dr. Dodd recommends and should not be interpreted to mean that other protocols recommended by a veterinarian would be less satisfactory. It’s a matter of professional judgment and choice.

9 – 10 weeks of age

Distemper + Parvovirus, MLV

e.g. Merck Nobivac (Intervet Progard) Puppy DPV

14 – 15 weeks of age

Distemper + Parvovirus, MLV

18 weeks of age

Parvovirus only, MLV

Note: New research states that last puppy parvovirus vaccine should be at 18 weeks old.

20 weeks or older, if allowable by law

Rabies – give 3-4 weeks apart from other vaccines

Mercury-free (thimerosol-free, TF)

1 year old

Distemper + Parvovirus, MLV

This is an optional booster or titer. If the client intends not to booster after this optional booster or intends to retest titers in another three years, this optional booster at puberty is wise.

1 year old

Rabies – give 3-4 weeks apart from other vaccines

3-year product if allowable by law; mercury-free (TF)

Perform vaccine antibody titers for distemper and parvovirus every three years thereafter, or more often, if desired. Vaccinate for rabies virus according to the law, except where circumstances indicate that a written waiver needs to be obtained from the primary care veterinarian. In that case, a rabies antibody titer can also be performed to accompany the waiver request. Visit The Rabies Challenge Fund for more information.

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How Much Do Puppy Vaccines Cost?

The cost of puppy vaccines depends on your area and veterinarian. As a general rule, core vaccine vet visits can cost between $75-100. Depending on your clinic, each shot is about $15-20. You may want to contact your vet to find out what they charge per shot. The cost of vaccinations becomes less expensive as your dog moves into adulthood. 

Some animal shelters charge less for vaccinations or will even vaccinate your puppy for free. If you rescue a dog, they often come fully vaccinated. Contact your local shelter to see if they offer vaccination services for puppies. 

How Often Does My Dog Need a Booster?

After your dog's initial vaccination as a puppy, it will need to get a booster every 1-3 years, depending on the vaccine. Dog vaccines that generally require a booster shot include:

  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Parvovirus
  • Hepatitis
  • Parainfluenza
  • Lyme
  • Leptospirosis
  • Influenza

Before you give your dog a booster shot, you may want to get a titer test to determine your dog’s immunity levels. The results from the titer test will let you know what boosters your dog will need.

Tips & Recommendations from Dr. Dodd on Dog Vaccinations

  • An annual booster using distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, killed, or modified-live virus parvovirus is given at one year of age. Thereafter, boosters are given every three years until old age. Beyond 10 years of age, booster vaccinations are generally not needed and may be unwise if aging or other diseases are present. For animals at high exposure risk to parvovirus disease, an additional parvovirus vaccination can be given at the six-month point, if killed parvovirus is used. This extra booster is typically not needed if MLV parvovirus is used.
  • I use only killed 3-year rabies vaccine for adults and give it separated from other vaccines by at least two and preferably three to four weeks. A booster at one year of age is usually required, followed by every three years thereafter.
  • I do not use Bordetella, coronavirus, leptospirosis, or Lyme vaccines unless these diseases are endemic in the local area or specific kennel. Furthermore, the currently licensed leptospira bacteria do not contain the serovars causing the majority of clinical leptospirosis today.
  • I do not recommend vaccinating bitches during estrus, pregnancy, or lactation.
  • I recommend that the distemper-measles vaccine be given without hepatitis between six to eight weeks, because of the reported suppression of lymphocyte responsiveness induced by polyvalent canine distemper and adenovirus vaccines (Phillips et al., Can J Vet Res 1989; 53: 154-160).
  • For animals previously experiencing adverse reactions or breeds at higher risk for such reactions (e.g. Weimaraner, Akita, American Eskimo, Great Dane), alternatives to booster vaccinations should be considered. These include avoiding boosters except rabies vaccine as required by law; annually measuring serum antibody titers against specific canine infectious agents such as distemper and parvovirus; and homeopathic nosodes.

Note: This last option is considered an unconventional treatment that has not been scientifically proven to be efficacious. One controlled parvovirus nosode study did not adequately protect puppies under challenging conditions. However, data from Europe and clinical experience in North America support its use. If veterinarians choose to use homeopathic nosodes, their clients should be provided with an appropriate disclaimer and written informed consent should be obtained.

About Dr. Jean Dodd

W. Jean Dodds, DVM became a veterinarian in 1964 after graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College and has spent more than five decades as a clinical research veterinarian. Dr. Dodds actively participates in the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation.

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