When it comes to puppy vaccinations, there is much to consider from both a health and socialisation point of view. Vet in the City’s Dr Ciara and leading dog behaviourist Louise Glazebrook of The Darling Dog Company offer their advice on why and when vaccines should be given.

Puppy Vaccination Background

Major infectious diseases of dogs (and cats) have been effectively controlled by vaccination programmes over the past decades. Where vaccination is practised widely, killer diseases such as Canine Distemper and Parvovirus infections are quite rare occurrences. Vaccination also prevents undue suffering by controlling infectious diseases that do not necessarily kill our dogs but do cause clinical problems, such as Kennel Cough. Of course, in countries where vaccination is not as actively practised, these diseases remain just as prevalent as they always have been.

Vaccination is a process by which exposure to a form of an infectious agent leads to the generation of an adaptive immune response, and most significantly, to the generation of a memory immune response.

One of the main drivers for change in companion animal vaccinology over the past decade has been a desire to improve the already very high safety level of vaccination. There can never be a guarantee, in either human or veterinary medicine, that every single administration of a vaccine will be without some adverse effect. There is a realisation that on rare occasions, vaccination of a dog (or cat) might lead to an unexpected reaction. Such reactions are for the most part mild and temporary. Overall the benefit of robust immunity to potentially dangerous diseases far outweighs the small risk of a vaccine-associated adverse event.

Source: World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) vaccination guidelines.

Dr Ciara’s perspective:

All puppies, regardless of their background, should receive a minimum course of two puppy vaccinations, with some vets recommending the third vaccination in higher risk environments.

Many will have their first vaccination with the breeder when they are 6 weeks or older. This is then followed by a second vaccination 2-4 weeks later.

There are a number of pharmaceutical companies that supply vaccines to vet practices throughout the UK. Each pharmaceutical vaccine “brand” contain specially derived antigen components and to ensure protection, must be followed with the same “brand”. If not, a restart programme is required, and this delays the age at which protection or immunity is inferred.

Transmission of a disease can occur by direct and indirect contact and can enter the body by inhalation or ingestion. Unfortunately, for this reason, it is not advisable to introduce your puppy to unvaccinated dogs or where dogs of unknown vaccination history visit.

However, your home, garden and fully vaccinated family or friends’ dogs are all safe places and ways to start social interactions.

At the beginning of their lives, all animals go through what is known as a sensitive development or socialisation period. During this time, they encounter the world for the first time and learn to accept what they find. It is important, therefore, that an owner introduces their puppy to as much of their environment and lifestyle as possible.

Consequently, a puppy vaccination course should not be delayed and started at the earliest opportunity.

The ideal vaccination schedule would involve the breeder vaccinating the puppy at 6-8 weeks, and the second booster vaccination at 8-10 weeks with the breeder or new owner.

This is beneficial for a number of reasons:

Its first interaction at the vets (and maybe even its first ever outing, car journey, etc.) is in the security and familiarity of their litter mates and mother.  

It allows for an earlier second vaccination with the earliest possible onset of immunity.

This then allows for socialisation and training while still in their sensitive development period. Remember, however; puppies can interact with fully vaccinated dogs at any time.

Louise the trainer and behaviourist’s perspective:

Puppy owners should be asking their breeder/rescue centre for the brand of the vaccine that they will be using. So that research can be done to find a vet who can continue this vaccine two weeks later. Instead of restarting a vaccine programme and delaying taking your puppy out. You can always find a vet for the long term elsewhere, the practice that does your vaccines does not need to be your long-term veterinary practice.

I would like to see all healthy puppies out and about as early as possible. Living in a city is unlike living in a suburban or country location, there is a great deal for a dog to get used to, to learn to tolerate and the earlier the better for me. If your dog has not completed or started their vaccine programme, the dog should still be carried in a carrier or bag so that they can start to experience London life. They should not be kept inside. Mistakes in socialisation can have long term effects on dogs in later life so it is crucial that this process is started as early as possible.

Dr Ciara and Louise both recommend:

  • Keeping your puppy away from unvaccinated dogs.
  • Not allowing your puppy to ingest or come into contact with unknown dog body matter (e.g., faeces, urine or saliva).
  • Not allowing your dog to interact with dogs you cannot vouch for.
  • Allowing your puppy to walk in areas that are clean with vaccinated dogs
  • Carrying them in areas which you are unsure of, but still taking them out and about.