The Complete Guide To Dog Vaccinations

Alright folks, here we go. One of the first biggest and probably the most challenging and nerve wracking hurdles to overcome when stepping into the world of puppyhood is what vaccines does Fido need??

How do you know what those scary looking needle pokes mean?

Do I need to get the lepto vaccine? What’s “bordetella”?

Can I get puppy vaccines at home? What are puppy vaccine’s side effects?

How do I keep track of all this?!

Ok. Relax. Take a deep breath.

I know all this can seem a bit overwhelming, but I’m here to help, and I’ll make it easy for you to understand, and Fido can rest easy too. I know you’ve probably got a lot of questions about this topic, so let’s get the ball rollin’ with the big 3 questions:

  1. What are all the vaccines that my little Fido will be getting?
  2. How often do I have to take in the lil’ guy to get poked by those needles?
  3. Is there any tool to help me keep track of Fido’s vaccination history?

These questions should cover most of general info regarding puppy vaccinations, and obviously I’ll go more in depth with it as well.

Puppy Vaccines

When you first proudly take your little pup into the vet’s office, you’re gonna be hit with a big list of vaccines that Fido should get. Some of them are legally required, others are recommended, while a select few are optional based on your personal preferences.

I’m going to assume that ya’ll are responsible loving owners that don’t want to scrimp out and risk your beloved Fido’s health, so for simplicity sake I’m going to lump those legally required and those recommended into one category: core vaccines.

What are the core vaccines? Glad you asked! Here’s the answer.

The core vaccines are the basic vaccines that your vet will start Fido off on, and once fully vaccinated, will continue to get at a yearly basis. These vaccines that comprise the core vaccines is what people refer to when they say they took their dog in for their yearly shots.

Here’s what the lineup of the core vaccines generally looks like:

  • Distemper
  • Canine parvovirus
  • Canine hepatitis
  • Rabies
  • Bordetella

Now this may vary slightly, depending on where you live. There tends to be different requirements, as the risks of exposure to certain diseases changes based on where Fido spends his time. A city prowling Fido will have a different lineup than a countryside Fido.

As I mentioned earlier, these vaccines are just the core vaccines. If you’re a first time pup owner, you’ve probably never heard of most of these, so I’ll explain what each of those mean.


distemperContrary to what it sounds like, the distemper has zero relevance to your pup’s temper, emotions, or any variation of temperament. I know, it’s hella confusing, and whoever came up with the name oughta be smacked.

True story time: I was giving a new client that brought in their first puppy the “new puppy” talk, where I provide them with basic information and answer any questions they may have about their pup. When I was done with my spiel, I asked if they had any questions, and they did! (I always loved it when clients had questions for me. It showed me they came prepared, and most importantly, it kept me on my toes) Unfortunately, though, the question they asked was “Hey what’s the shot I can get so my dog here doesn’t get a bad temper? And I ain’t talking about that rabies one” I wanted to roll up into a ball and dribble myself out of the room! But of course, I did not. I just patiently explained to him what the distemper vaccine actually was.  

What distemper IS however, is a rather nasty virus that can most of Fido’s bodily systems, including: respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal. In short, it can attack all three fronts of Fido at once.

Even though most puppies get vaccinated before they contract the disease, let me arm you with the weapon of knowledge. How does the disease spread, and what are its symptoms?

How Distemper Spreads:

  • Usually contracted from an already infected dog
  • Any direct contact with bodily fluids:
    • Urine, feces, saliva, blood
  • Sharing of toys, food bowls, or even leashes.

Symptoms of Distemper:

  • Respiratory distress:
    • Sneezing, coughing, discharge from the nose
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Discharge around the eyes
  • Seizures, death

Canine Parvovirus

parvo virus

The canine parvovirus the probably one of the more commonly found disease, especially amongst the puppies found by most animal rescues. However, don’t let it’s commonplace familiarity lure you into dismissing its seriousness.

As the name implies, the canine parvovirus is caused by a virus that wreaks havoc on Fido’s gastrointestinal tract. The most commonly affected by this, unfortunately, are puppies.

More in depth information on exactly what parvo is and how it can affect your pup’s health can be found here:

How the Parvovirus Spreads:

  • Any contact with an already infected animal
  • Can spread via bodily fluids, such as saliva and diarrhea
  • Any secondary contact can also transmit the disease
    • Touching a food or water bowl used by a sick animal
    • Sharing a cage or run with an infected animal

Symptoms of Parvovirus:

  • Decreased energy level
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea and loose stools
    • Can be bloody Warning sign! Take to vet!
  • Vomiting

Canine Hepatitis

hepatitis dogsCanine Hepatitis is a disease named after the illness that took the life of the dog of Queen Hepatiti of ancient Egypt. The royal canine succumbed to a mysterious sickness and about 600 years later was later resurrected from the dead by accident when a treasure seeking American by the name of Rick O’Connell awoke it during a brief firefight with the ancient guardians of his tomb.

Oh wait. No. I’m thinking of the plot of The Mummy.

Good movie! Brendan Fraser’s best role yet, I’d have to say.

Anyways, hepatitis is a disease in dogs caused by the canine adenovirus 1. It’s a highly contagious infection, and can cause anything from as slight as a fever, up to white blood cell reduction and deficiency of blood clotting.

How Canine Hepatitis Spreads:

  • Any contact with any bodily fluids:
    • urine, feces, or saliva from already sick animals
  • Shedding period
    • Even if Fido has recovered from the infection, he can and will continue to shed the virus in his urine for about 6 months afterwards

Symptoms of Canine Hepatitis:

  • Slight fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Watery discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Small bruises in or around the mouth


Here we are. Rabies. The biggest baddest boy in the yard. The cruel disease that wrenched old yeller away unfairly punishing him for his heroism, and tore our young hearts open!

I don’t doubt your intelligence, so I’m fairly confident in saying that you have heard of rabies, and have a general understanding of what the disease is, how it spreads, and what the symptoms are.

Buttt, just in case, lets briefly go over the details.

How Rabies Spreads:

  • Really only one way: bite from an infected animal
    • The virus is contained within the saliva of the animal, so any exchange of those fluids will transmit the virus

Symptoms of Rabies:

  • Severe behavioral changes:
    • Loss of appetites
    • Signs of unusual nervousness
    • Hyperexcitability
    • Uncharacteristic aggression


Of all the diseases I’ve covered thus far, bordetella is probably going to be the most common, and the one you’ll come across as a requirement the most.

Bordetella is a upper respiratory infection caused by a bacterial agent, commonly referred to as kennel cough. You’ll find that places you take Fido, they’ll require proof of bordetella vaccination. Places such as the groomer, doggy daycare, dog parks, or kennels for weekend or vacation stays.


How Bordetella Spreads:

  • Highly contagious
  • Easily spread by any aerosols from an infected dog
    • Sneezing, coughing
  • Any residue aerosols can contaminate surfaces or objects
  • Dogs in close proximity to sick dogs, such as in kennels

Symptoms of Bordetella:

  • Watery discharge from the nose
  • Persistent coughing
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

Vaccine Schedule

The next question to be answered is: how often does Fido need to get these shots? You may be saying “That’s easy Tommy! You said that ‘core vaccines’ refer to the yearly shots, so obviously you only need to get them once a year!”

Well that’s where you’re wrong kiddo.

Sort of, anyways.

While it is true that adult dogs only need to be vaccinated once a year* the story is a little different for puppies.

*it is worthy to note that some veterinarians do offer 3 year vaccines for certain shots.

A puppy however, gets their vaccines in a sort of rotating schedule, where they initially get inoculated with a vaccine at a specific age, only to get that vaccine again at a later age. This process of getting vaccinated multiple times with the same vaccine is referred to as booster shots.

There are a lot of variables to keep in mind, so here’s quick breakdown of the booster vaccine schedule for your puppy.

I’ve tried to make things easier to understand, because some vaccines get boostered every 4 weeks, while others every 2 weeks and such, so I tried to group them together in separate charts.

4 Week Schedule

Age Vaccination
6-8(weeks) Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Bordetella
9-11(weeks) Booster: distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus
12(weeks) Rabies
12-14(weeks) Booster: distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus
[Continue to booster at this rate until 16 weeks old, then booster only once a year]

2 Week Schedule

Age Vaccination
6-8 (weeks) Bordetella
10-12 (weeks) Leptospirosis, Booster: Bordetella*
12-16 (weeks) Booster: leptospirosis
*After the second dose of bordetella, booster every 6-12 months based on risk

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