McNeil Labradors

Understanding the Importance of Vaccinations

(The following information is not all-inclusive and has been compiled only as basic information on the subject of vaccination protocol.  Portions of this article are derived from an article written by Valerie Whalen, co-authored by Margo Carter)

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of completing the entire series of puppy inoculations.  Vaccinations are vital to the health of your puppy.  Please discuss a vaccination schedule with your veterinarian during the puppy’s wellness checkup as vaccine protocols may vary depending on the area in which you live. 

Immunity is the body’s ability to cope with disease and foreign agents which are viral or bacterial. 

Vaccines work by activating the immune system.  Each injection introduces a carefully prepared agent called an antigen that is similar to the virus itself.  Your puppy’s body recognizes the antigen as a foreign agent which triggers the immune system to make antibodies or protective agents within the body that fight against the virus. 

Puppies receive disease immunity while nursing with their mother.  Disease immunity is in the form of antibodies passed through the milk (colostrum, or  first milk).  Antibodies received from mom will provide the puppy with a temporary immunity (passive immunity) to whatever mom is immune to.  Because this is “passive” immunity, antibodies in the puppy’s body are from mom and have not yet been produced by the puppy’s own body.  Mom obtains antibodies from prior vaccination or by natural exposure to the disease.  If mom is immune to the common infectious canine diseases, her puppies will most likely be protected for about 6 to 16 weeks after birth, but, only if they consumed the colostrums just after birth. 

At some point during this 6 to 16 week period, the protection against disease, received from mom’s antibodies, will wane and the puppy will have to start making his own antibodies.  There is a period of time when there aren’t enough maternal antibodies to protect the puppy against disease, but just enough antibodies remaining that will cause the vaccine not to work.  It is during this “window of susceptibility” when maternal antibody levels drop, and before the puppy’s own immune system is competent, that they are vulnerable to many diseases.  This is why breeders often times take the greatest precautions in asking you to wear clean clothes when visiting, remove your shoes at the door, don’t visit kennels or places where other dogs have been prior to you visiting their home, and to please not touch and play with the puppies. 

The reason vaccines are given in a series?  The maternal antibodies temporarily afford protection from disease however, they can also block active immunization from vaccines while antibody levels may be high.  If there is still adequate maternal antibodies present, the vaccine virus will be destroyed just as if it were a real infection.  Since there is no way to determine exactly when mom’s antibodies decline to a low enough level for the vaccination to be effective, it is necessary to give several more vaccinations at appropriate intervals during those following weeks.  Remember, when puppies are between 6 and 16 weeks of age that mom’s antibodies will decline, but when is the question. 

By the time a puppy reaches 16 to 18 weeks of age, they should be immuno competent. 

An ongoing series of vaccinations are important to insure that the puppy’s maternal antibodies are low enough for the vaccine series to be effective.  By giving a series of vaccines, it is hopeful that a vaccination will have been given shortly after the maternal antibodies disappeared, leaving as small as possible an unprotected “window” of time; that if maternal antibodies interfered with the early vaccinations, one of the later doses will still stimulate the puppy’s immune system to produce its own antibodies.

It is important to understand that vaccines are preventive measures, nothing is guaranteed!!  Despite the puppy being inoculated, the puppy is still susceptible to disease and may actually get the disease if exposed before the vaccine takes effect.  Remember, vaccines are not effective immediately, so, a vaccination today does not protect overnight. 

My recommendation is to wait at least one week until after completing the full series of puppy vaccinations before taking your puppy out and about to public places, especially to places where other dogs have been known to congregate.  Herein lies another issue – nurture vs. nature.  Common sense is paramount during this time. 

It is also extremely important that you exercise caution when taking your puppy to your veterinary clinic for his appointments.  Remember, dogs that are sick are in the clinic for a reason – treatment.  This is the perfect place for your puppy to come in contact with the very diseases that you are trying to prevent with vaccinations.   

When you visit your veterinary clinic, do not put the puppy down anywhere outside the clinic or on the floor inside the clinic.  Hold your puppy on your lap until it’s time for your appointment.  Make sure you take a towel with you to cover the exam table.  Yes, this may be stretching it but, it is highly possible that someone was busy and the table didn’t get properly disinfected before your exam time.  People are human and to err is human.  Do not pet strange dogs and do not let another dog sniff your puppy.   

Something else to think about is the weight scale.  The technician may want to take your puppy to the treatment area to weigh him.  It most likely won’t offend anyone if you ask that they cover the scale with a clean towel before setting your puppy on the scale.   

If you take all precautions, it will be much easier for you to decide where you might have been and what you were doing if your puppy gets sick.  If you take all precautions, it’s pretty safe to say that you don’t have to worry about your puppy getting sick. 

Important things to remember: 

Stay on schedule with the vaccinations and complete the entire series. 

Do not take your puppy to public places where dogs unfamiliar to you, have been. 

Do not let your puppy interact with dogs whose health and vaccination status is unknown. 

Do not let your puppy investigate any other dog’s feces. 

Between 6 and 16 weeks of age is a very stressful time in your puppy’s life.  He will have undergone the stress of weaning, moving to a new home with a new family, and housebreaking.  Stress lowers resistance to disease, both in humans and in animals. 

If you have had a dog or puppy with Parvo, or your yard or your home has been exposed to an animal with Parvo, please wait a minimum of one year before bringing a new puppy to your home.  Parvo is a very hearty disease that survives a blanket of snow in the Winter.  Contaminated clothing, shoes, blankets and crates can also spread the virus.  Bleach is a very good disinfectant. 

Discuss with your veterinarian, the need to vaccinate for any specific diseases in your area for which your puppy may be at higher risk. 

Veterinary vaccinologists are now recommending new protocols for dogs:
(Dr. W. Jean Dodds, DVM, J Am Vet Med Assoc 217:1021-1024, 2000) 

  • Puppy vaccination series as discussed above, followed by a booster at one year of age.
  • Administration of further boosters in a combination vaccine every three years or as split components alternating every other year until the pet reaches geriatric age, at which time booster vaccination is likely to be unnecessary and may be unadvisable for those with aging or immunologic disorders.  In the intervening years between booster vaccinations, and in the case of geriatric pets, circulating humoral immunity can be evaluated by measuring serum vaccine antibody titers as an indication of the presence of immune memory.  Titers do not distinguish between immunity generated by vaccination and/or exposure to the disease, although the magnitude of immunity produced just by vaccination is usually lower.

When adequate immuno competence has been established there is little reason to introduce unnecessary antigen and preservatives by administering booster vaccines.  By an annual titer, one can assess whether a given immune response has fallen below levels of adequate immune competence or immune memory.  In that event, an appropriate vaccine booster can be administered.
(Dr. W. Jean Dodds, DVM, J Am Vet Med Assoc 217:1021-1024, 2000)

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Last Updated:  January 29, 2008

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