Photo by Tham KC
“Isn’t he adorable? We just got him this week, and he’s already had all of his shots.”
Yes, the new pup is adorable, but he’s only nine weeks old, so it’s not possible for him to have had all of his shots. He is still at risk of contracting serious canine viral infections, the most notable being parvo and distemper. Both of these can be fatal and also transmitted to other young dogs.
The breeder may have thought that giving this pup two or three vaccinations between six and nine weeks old, when the pup goes to his new family, will somehow protect him better and be more convenient for the new owners. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth because of the very nature of how vaccines work.
Right after birth, the pup would have ingested colostrum from his mother’s milk while nursing. Colostrum is full of antibodies against diseases like distemper and parvo. The puppy cannot make his own antibodies at this early stage in life, so his mother’s antibodies (maternal antibodies) are giving him temporary protection while he nurses. These maternal antibodies circulate for a number of weeks protecting the pup and gradually diminish to the point of being ineffective. The precise time they become ineffective is unknown and varies for each pup.
By the time the mother’s antibodies are gone, ideally the pup would be larger and strong enough to have started generating his own antibodies when exposed to a vaccination. The precise time the maternal antibodies are gone and the time when the pup can generate his own antibodies when vaccinated are not known. If we vaccinate too early, the maternal antibodies will render the vaccine useless. If we wait too long, the pup is vulnerable to the virus and can get ill from it.
To get around this, we give the vaccines in a series every three to four weeks, starting at 8 weeks of age and ending at 16 weeks of age. This means a puppy will get three sets of vaccines by the time it is 16 weeks of age. It is okay to give the vaccines prior to 8 weeks of age, but the series starting at 8 weeks of age and going until 16 weeks of age is the only way to ensure protection.
From the moment a vaccine is given until a puppy’s body produces a full complement of antibodies to that virus can take up to 10 days. The pup is potentially vulnerable to a virus while the vaccine is slowly ramping up antibody production. During this same time, even though this is an important socialization time for a pup, excess exposure to dog parks and other areas where dogs gather, along with the feces of any dog, should be kept to a minimum.
Vaccines can only perform their magic if the puppy is healthy, free of internal parasites (worms), has no other disease process at the same time, is given good nutrition, and is given lots of TLC. These reasons along with improper transportation, storage and administration of vaccines are why a pup that has been vaccinated comes down with the disease the vaccine was intended to prevent.
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