Why are puppy vaccines so important? Can my pup play with other dogs without them?

Written by Dr Louisa Lane
3rd Oct 2022
6 mins read
Puppies are still growing, which means their immune system is still developing and isn't as able to fight off illness and infection. Puppy vaccines help to build immunity and protect puppies against uncomfortable, and sometimes life-threatening, illness.
A responsible breeder might have given their puppies their first vaccine. So check your puppy’s paperwork when you get them, and book your pup in to see the vet for their final jabs.
When you get a puppy, you’re probably preoccupied with getting them settled in, and making sure they’re getting spoiled with new toys, treats, and cuddles.
Amongst all the excitement, a trip to the vet might seem annoying. But, making sure you book your pup in to get their puppy vaccines is one of the most important things you can do to protect your puppy’s health and prevent illness.
Responsible breeders should make sure your puppy has their first vaccine before they go home with you.
You can also check out these tips to make visiting the vet as stress-free as possible.
This guide written by vet Dr Louisa Lane will explain what you should expect from puppy vaccines. Including why they’re important, when to book them, and how much they cost.

Do puppies need vaccines?

Yes, absolutely. Puppies need vaccines because they are extremely susceptible to illnesses, because their immune system has not yet matured. Vaccinations give your pets protection against common and potentially fatal illnesses.

Why is it important to vaccinate a puppy?

Puppies have a very immature immune system (which fights infections) predisposing them to illnesses very quickly in those earlier weeks and months. 
Just like in humans, we need something called ‘immunity’ to help fight infections and prevent serious illness. Vaccinations help build this immunity. 
When a puppy feeds from its mother, they receive some immunity (via antibodies) in the milk. But when the puppy leaves its mother, this immunity diminishes making them susceptible to getting seriously unwell. 
Puppy vaccines at an early age trigger their own body to start creating their own antibodies and immunity which is why they’re so important. Vaccinations are a safe way and proven way to help protect our puppies (and adult dogs) developing serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses. 

What happens if I don’t vaccinate my puppy?

If you do not vaccinate your puppy, they are at risk of contracting very serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. One of the most common diseases we encounter here in the UK is parvovirus, which is life threatening, and something we vaccinate against. 
If you for whatever reason miss a ‘booster’ vaccination then your vet may recommend you restart your vaccinations to make sure that immune response is as good as it can be. We recommend vaccinations once yearly against certain diseases. Some other vaccines can be taken every 3-5 years, unless you choose to titre test. A titre test is a blood test that looks for antibodies.

When are puppy vaccinations due? / What age does a puppy have injections?

The time puppy vaccines are given depends on the situation and the vaccinations used. But generally, most puppies are vaccinated at 8 weeks and 10 or 12 weeks.
Some initial puppy vaccines can be given as early as 6 weeks. This would be for puppies perhaps in a ‘high risk’ environment e.g., breeding facilities, or where puppies have left their mothers early. 
The ‘primary course’ of vaccinations normally consists of 2 vaccinations given 2-4 weeks apart. Most puppies leave their mothers around 8 weeks, in which case the vast majority of them receive their first vaccination at 8 weeks old. The second vaccination is therefore 2-4 weeks later, when the puppy is 10-12 weeks old.
You cannot complete the ‘primary course’ too early and generally, your puppy needs to be at least 10 weeks old before a second vaccination is given.
There are certain vaccinations that require a slightly different protocol where your vet may give a vaccination at 8 weeks, 10 weeks and 12 weeks, but your vet can guide you on this.

Why do you have to wait after puppy vaccinations?

After a vaccination, the body works hard to create an immune response. It does this by creating antibodies which can fight infection.
This response takes a few weeks to develop, it isn’t just immediate. 
We allow your puppy to go out when we believe their new immunity levels have reached a sufficient level. If we allowed puppies out sooner, they would still have a very poor immune response and be at risk of contracting an illness and getting poorly. 

How long will my puppy be protected by their vaccinations?

After the primary course of vaccinations your puppy is protected until around their first birthday in which case, they require a ‘booster’ vaccination. This is their first annual top up vaccination to make sure that their immunity remains at a healthy level.

How much are puppy vaccinations?

It’s hard to give a set answer on how much puppy vaccinations are. This varies depending on location and veterinary practice so unfortunately there isn’t a consistent set price. Typically, a ‘primary vaccination’ course can cost around £60-£80 (sometimes over £100), with a booster costing anywhere between £30-£70. 
The cost is not purely for the vaccination itself though, it encompasses the veterinary professional’s clinical examination as well as any recommendations and advice given.

Do I need to wait until my puppy has all their vaccinations before they can go outside on walks? 

Yes. It is paramount that you follow your vet’s advice on not allowing your pet outside in public areas until a week or two after their primary vaccination course is completed. As mentioned before, it takes a week or two for their immune system to reach a level that is safe after they’ve had their puppy vaccines.
If you’re looking for some ideas on how to entertain and exercise your puppy in the house? Try a few of these fun activities!

Can my puppy go in the garden when they’re not vaccinated?

If your garden is enclosed and safe, then your puppy can absolutely go in your garden before they have all their puppy vaccines.
Whilst we should not put puppies at risk by exposing them to infections in the environment (which is mostly where other dogs go), we need to start their socialisation and training . A safe, secure garden is perfect for this. We don't expect you to just keep them indoors if you do have a nice garden or outside space. 
If you don't have an outside space, then it may be safer to keep your pet mostly inside. You can still carry them around outside to expose them to noise and people etc, I would just avoid letting them walk on ground that lots of other animals have access to.

Can an unvaccinated puppy meet other puppies?

The recommendation is to socialise puppies together when they have all safely completed their primary vaccination course. Other unvaccinated puppies may be harbouring infectious disease unbeknown to their owners.

Can an unvaccinated puppy meet vaccinated dogs?

Firstly, we need to clarify that a "vaccinated dog" is one that is
up to date with regular, yearly vaccinations
. A dog that had vaccinations as a puppy, but not as an adult, is not a vaccinated dog as their immunity has diminished.
The recommendation is that you socialise puppies with other dogs when the puppies have safely completed their primary vaccination course. 
The reason for this is because even seemingly "healthy vaccinated dogs" can still pick up diseases and bugs on their feet, or shed disease themselves (e.g in their poo). These infections may be harmless to the adult dog, because they’re vaccinated or de-wormed, or de-fleed. But to a puppy who hasn’t yet developed a healthy immunity, they could be harmful. The risk is relatively low, but it's whether you’re prepared to take that risk. 

Can my new puppy meet my older dog?

In this situation then as long as you are mindful of what infections and illness your other dog
theoretically transmit. The risks to your new puppy are relatively low if you are up to date with worming and flea treatment and vaccinations with your older dog. 
You could try and be extra safe by cleaning your dog’s feet after walks to try and reduce anything being brought in on their paws, and being diligent about poo picking so nothing can spread through your other dog's faeces.

Other than puppy vaccines, what else can you do to protect your puppy’s health?

Lots! Regular de-worming and flea treatment according to your vet’s advice is important to prevent a flea or worm burden in your puppies, which could make them sick. 
I absolutely recommend pet insurance, ideally a policy that covers any illness for that pet’s lifetime, with a minimum of £4,000-£7,000 a year per condition (even more for certain breeds). Both of my pets are insured! 
Make sure you feed your puppy a complete balanced dog food appropriate for their age and lifestyle (e.g. puppy large breed, or puppy small breed). And seek advice from your vet if you're ever unsure about what to feed them.
As well as physical health, it’s important we think about our pet’s mental health with early socialisation, lots of training, and fun activities to harness their natural instincts as well as keeping them entertained, focused, and happy. Poor socialisation, interactions, and training can lead to a whole host of unwanted behavioural issues.

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