What Shots Do Puppies Need?

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM February 12, 2020

A new puppy comes with a lot of responsibilities such as potty training, obedience, exercise, and of course veterinary visits for their shots. Puppy shots are an important first step in keeping your puppy healthy for a lifetime, so be sure that your puppy is getting the vaccinations that they need when they need them.

What Shots Do Puppies Need?

Puppy vaccinations can be divided into two categories: core and non-core. All puppies, regardless of lifestyle, should be given the core vaccines of DA2PP or DHPP (distemper, parvo, parainfluenza, adenovirus) and rabies. More at risk puppies may need additional vaccinations.

With this in mind, let’s take a look in more detail at what those core and non-core vaccinations are.

Core Vaccinations

These vaccinations are considered core because all puppies should receive a series of them. Regardless of lifestyle and risk level, these are diseases that every puppy can come across that have serious implications. The core vaccines come in one convenient combination shot called either DA2PP or DHPP (distemper, adenvirus or hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvo) and a separate shot for rabies.

  • Distemper

Distemper is an age-old viral disease that can affect your puppy’s respiratory, digestive and/or nervous systems. It is contagious from other infected dogs as well as wildlife such as skunks, raccoons, and foxes. There is no known cure, and it can be fatal. Even animals that recover usually have permanent nervous system issues.

  • Adenovirus

Core vaccines contain two forms of adenovirus which vary greatly in the symptoms that they produce. Adenovirus 1 is known to cause respiratory issues and hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be very serious and even fatal if left untreated. Adenovirus 2 is a little more favorable since it usually causes mild respiratory symptoms. Both viruses are passed through infected urine, respiratory droplets, and saliva.

  • Parainfluenza

Similar to the flu in humans, parainfluenza usually affects the respiratory system and causes coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and even pneumonia. Symptoms can vary from barely noticeable to severe.

  • Parvovirus

Probably the most well-known disease by dog parents is parvo. I don’t know how many times new dog parents come to me believing that any sign of illness in a puppy automatically means parvo. Parvovirus can wreak havoc on a puppy’s digestive system, causing horrible smelly diarrhea and vomiting. Dehydration becomes a major risk as these little pups have a hard time keeping enough water coming in to balance the fluid that they are rapidly losing. Parvo is contagious between dogs as well as from interacting with infected feces.

  • Rabies

The rabies virus can affect all mammals. The virus doesn’t discriminate, and it’s nearly 100% fatal. Rabies affects the brain and central nervous system and can lead to wide swings in behavior and personality. It is passed through contact with infected saliva and other secretions from infected animals, including humans.

Non-core Vaccinations

These shots are left for the more adventurous pups that will be traveling, boarded, or groomed regularly. They may also be necessary depending on where you live.

  • Leptospirosis

The leptospirosis bacteria come in many different forms, so most vaccinations will contain at least four variants and may be part of the core vaccine combination. Lepto can be passed through the environment, so your puppy can contract the disease from infected water or soil, especially the water or soil frequented by wildlife. Lepto is multisystemic meaning that it can infect different systems including the kidneys, liver, lungs, eyes, and the reproductive system.

  • Bordetella

Bordetella, or kennel cough, is a common vaccine given to puppies that will be in close contact with a lot of other dogs, mainly those that are shown, groomed, or boarded. Bordetella affects the upper respiratory system causing a hallmark goose-honking cough that is very contagious.

  • Lyme disease

Depending on where you live, Lyme disease may be a big problem. This little bacterium hitches a ride on common ticks, so infection always coincides with a tick bite. Lyme disease may affect the joints leading to intermittent or chronic lameness, and in more severe cases can cause kidney or heart failure. Lyme is most commonly found on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and in the upper Midwest.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Now that you have an understanding of the core and non-core vaccinations, let’s learn about when you should have your puppy vaccinated.  Fortunately, puppy vaccination schedules are fairly easy to follow and your veterinarian will help you remember along the way. Puppies should receive their first round of core vaccinations around eight weeks of age. Any earlier and the vaccine will be overrun or canceled out by the puppy’s maternal antibodies that are still circulating. Boosters should be given every two to four weeks for a total of three rounds. The final round should fall around the 16 weeks of age mark. Rabies vaccinations can be given with the final round of core vaccines in order to be on the same schedule. After that, boosters should be given one year later and then every one to three years after that depending on your veterinarian’s recommendations.

For non-core vaccinations like Bordetella and Lyme disease, the first shot can be given at eight to nine weeks of age with a booster two to three weeks later. Yearly or biannual boosters can be given following the series of puppy vaccinations if the dog is still at risk. Leptospirosis vaccination can be given as early as eight weeks, with a booster two to four weeks later.


Core Vaccinations (Every puppy)

Non-core Vaccinations (Dependent on lifestyle)

8 weeks



12 weeks


Bordetella, Lyme, Lepto

16 weeks

DA2PP, Rabies

Bordetella, Lyme, Lepto

16 months

DA2PP, Rabies

Bordetella, Lyme, Lepto

Can My Puppy Be Over Vaccinated?

You may be thinking that’s an awful lot of holes to be poking into your poor pup. Fortunately for you and your puppy, most vaccines available today are completely safe and won’t produce a reaction. Even if your puppy gets a booster two weeks early, everything will be fine. However, if your puppy is sensitive or has had vaccine reactions in the past, your veterinarian may decide to either omit certain non-core vaccines, mainly Leptospirosis and Lyme disease, or may choose to spread them out over several days or even weeks. This is because Leptospirosis and Lyme vaccines are the most likely culprits to elicit a vaccine reaction. However, all vaccines are capable of causing a negative reaction depending on the pup. Spreading out the vaccines can also help prevent overloading your puppy’s immune response and help them to better respond to vaccines. For example, your veterinarian may choose to give the DA2PP one week and the rabies the next. Overvaccination is only really a problem when looking at the non-core vaccines. That is why it’s so important to discuss your dog’s lifestyle with your veterinarian in order to best determine what vaccines are absolutely necessary.

What Vaccinations Should My Puppy Receive As They Mature Into Adulthood?

The nice part about the vaccination schedule for adult dogs versus puppies is that it includes the same vaccines, just given less frequently. That means you don’t have to learn any new long names or acronyms, and you won’t have to visit your vet as often. Once your puppy completes their series of three puppy shots, they’re good to go until one year from that last shot, for most this is around 16 months old. If their lifestyle or traveling habits change, be sure to inform your veterinarian as they may choose to add additional non-core vaccinations to the schedule.

What Are The Consequences Of Not Getting Your Puppy Vaccinated?

If you’re thinking that you’d rather not put your little pup through what seems like a grueling series of shots, please think again. Vaccinations are an important part of providing your pup with lifelong health, and they can greatly reduce your veterinary costs in the future. All of the diseases that the core vaccines protect against are contagious, and some of them don’t even require direct animal-to-animal contact. So even if you’re certain that your puppy will never come in contact with another sick dog, they could still be at risk for other serious illnesses. Some of these illnesses can be fatal, like parvo and distemper, and some can be very costly to treat.

It’s also important to remember that getting your puppy properly vaccinated is only part of the process. If you want to keep your puppy as healthy as possible, it’s also important to take precautions like avoiding sick animals or areas where sick animals may be. Always clean up after your dog when in a public space and disinfect toys, bowls, and beds often. Take your pup to the vet at the first sign of illness to prevent the spread of disease to others as well as preventing the illness from getting worse.


Getting your puppy vaccinated should be considered part of the deal when you’re deciding on becoming a new dog parent. Not only are vaccinations important to keep your puppy healthy, they’re also important for keeping all puppies healthy. Working together with your veterinarian will help ensure that your puppy gets the proper vaccinations at the proper time to optimize protection. You should also exercise caution when mingling your puppy with other dogs until they’re fully vaccinated to further protect them. This will help them live a healthy, happy, rambunctious life.

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